The King of Comedy – Review

The King of Comedy

with Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard
Written by Paul D. Zimmerman
Directed by Martin Scorsese
(Columbia, 1983)
by Mark Phinney

Everyone wants a piece of the action, a shot at the big time, to stand in or even just walk past the footlights. Some work ’til their hands bleed, others get lucky, and then there are the few, the proud, the insanely obsessed who just TAKE IT. But it’s a living hell of constant calls, being peered at through windows and begged for autographs for those who live above the common herd in show business, especially when there are those who, with their own delusions, feel they can take the reins (and the reign) from the royalty that walk among us, celebrities. The King of Comedy takes this notion past the usual fame/fan dynamic and shoots the needle well into the red, putting into perspective the desperate plight of those who seek fame at any cost. Martin Scorsese is, of course, best known for his moralistic Mafia fairy tales, but is also very versatile – for example, New York, New York (1977), After Hours (1985), and the case before us now. After being smashed by critics for not quickly following up Raging Bull (1980) and, when finally doing so, not living up to expectations, he came back with this dark tale starring his prize fighter Robert DeNiro, who delivers one of his funniest and scariest roles ever. Rupert Pupkin (a name almost as memorable as Travis Bickle in the ranks of great DeNiro characters) is a lonely would-be stand-up comic, one of the millions in the Big (Rotten) Apple who feeds off the fame of others and the bright lights that elude him. At his nerved-out, annoying best, Rupert sets out to kidnap Carsonesque talk-show host Jerry Langford (played to perfection by Jerry Lewis) with a single demand: To let him do his act on Langford’s show. His psychotic accomplice Masha (Sandra Bernhard in her film debut) comes along for the ride, hilariously fessing up her sick, obsessed love for Langford at her dining room table in one of the tensest (and best) scenes of the film. All Rupert wants is his shot. Does he get it? Well, I won’t say – this film is worth seeing for its many classic scenes either way. Dark, lonely, and damn funny, this is one of Marty’s best.

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