Written by: Paul D Zimmerman
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott & Shelley Hack
*The Story *
Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) plays a wannabe stand up comedian who idolises celebrity, fame and Jerry Langford (Lewis) a famous television host and comedian. A story of obsession and delusion the King of comedy is a character piece and deep dive into the mind of someone willing to do anything for his 15 minutes of fame.
* My thoughts *
The King of comedy is a satirical masterpiece from the King of cinema himself Martin Scorsese. This film was decades ahead of it’s time, that’s the reason it’s one of his biggest flops. A story of obsession for fame couldn’t be more poignant or relevant right now in the present. The world is yearning for their 15 minutes of fame and as Andy Warhol also predicted in the future everyone will have their 15 minutes in the spotlight. With social media, YouTube and all the other seemingly infinite platforms anybody can become famous. In 1982 there simply wasn’t these options just the studio systems and late night comedy. The extremes and possibilities for fame that are so prevalent in our society today simply didn’t exist back then.
Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime
– Rupert Pupkin
The character of Rupert Pupkin was such an incredibly underrated and misunderstood role for Robert De Niro. Right after Raging Bull, Godfather part II and Taxi driver this role couldn’t have come further from left field. Rupert Pupkin is obsessed with celebrity and becoming a famous stand up comedian. He’s a goof and constantly acting like a child almost. The way he records his comedy monologue and is interrupted by his mother which leads to an argument that a teenager has with his mother. Pupkin is the polar opposite of Travis Bickle yet they are both social outcasts striving for fame or in Travis’ case infamy. Rupert goes as far as jump into the car of Jerry Langford (Lewis) , he obsessed over autographs, he’s willing to sit forever to just wait and see Jerry, he goes to Jerry’s House and acts as a friend he goes as far as to kidnap the guy with Masha (Bernhard)
Jerry Lewis gives such a brilliant performance as Langford in this film. He brought the gravitas and believability that someone like Jerry Lewis could do. One of the most famous comedians of all time he’s an icon of Hollywood before the film came out. The man created the video village on movie sets for fuck sake he knows his stuff and he’s brilliant here. The subtleties he brought to his performance here is incredible he always seems that he’s on the verge of exploding on Rupert and thankfully we’re treated to a few of those moments in the film.
Sandra Bernhard as Masha is one of the weirdest and most wild performances I’ve ever seen. She’s unhinged from the first scene. By the time she’s tying up Langford and setting the scene and dancing in her underwear around him near the end of the film as an audience member you’re terrified and laughing at the same time. She’s exceptional in this film and honestly could’ve been nominated for an academy award. She gives her everything to this role and she’s the most unstable character in the film. The way her and Rupert interact with each other is comical, ridiculous and criminal even. I use the term plan here loosely but they plan a kidnapping together and essentially it is successful for the most part, or at least for Rupert anyway.
By the end of the film there’s a feeling of unease. How the hell did Rupert manage to pull this off seemingly successfully. He got onto TV and has a book released as we see a stunned Langford looking through the window at the success of this man. He got his fifteen minutes of fame and I guess Rupert at the very least was a king for a night on the biggest late night talk show.
If you’ve not seen this film yet it’s an incredible character study by the greatest actor of all time while being directed by Martin Scorsese the greatest director of all time. The King of comedy suffered from being too ahead of it’s time but its not too late to go back 40 years and check out a classic.