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   THE KING OF COMEDY (1983) 

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CAST
Robert De Niro
Jerry Lewis
Diahnne Abbott
Sandra Bernhard
Ed Herlihy
Lou Brown
Shelly Hack
Doc Lawless

DIRECTED BY
Martin Scorsese

PURCHASE


DVD



About Scorsese




Time: 101 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Black Comedy


THE KING OF COMEDY was Scorsese and De Niro's fourth film together and their first and only comic collaboration, which is a real shame considering De Niro has recently been showing a real talent for comedy. This film is, of course, given who's behind the camera, more on the dark and twisted end of the comic spectrum, but is very funny nonetheless. De Niro's character Rupert Pupkin – one of the best film names ever – is more than a little deranged, so the territory is not exactly new for either star or director. It's just this time around their sick, little world just happens to be more funny than dangerous. Though I guess that would depend which character you were. De Niro completely disappears into this nerdy, wacky, obsessive stand-up persona, so much so, at first you almost believe Rupert's fantasies are actually happening.

I saw this film for the first time several years ago and it struck me as one of those movies that should be more popular than it is. Maybe most people can't relate to a delusional kidnapper, but I don't see why not. He's only going after what he's always wanted – one shot to prove that he's the latest and greatest stand-up comedian. See, Rupert knows that his material is good. All he wants is for Jerry Langford (Lewis), host of the most popular late night talk show, to listen to his material. He actually gets to meet Jerry when he helps him escape from Marsha, one of his more rabid fans. Jerry's not exactly thrilled with Rupert's presence either, but allows him to stay in the limo because he seems harmless.

Rupert cajoles Jerry into agreeing to listen to his audition tape, which isn't very hard since Jerry will say just about anything to get Rupert to leave him alone. Rupert, of course, takes him at his word and even begins fantasizing about their new "friendship." He even tries to convince an old high school acquaintance Rita (Abbott) that he's old friends with Jerry and is going to appear on his show. Rupert creates his tape and drops it off at the show. When he's brushed off by one of Jerry's assistants, Ms. Shaw, who thinks the material was good, but needs some refining, he goes crazy and refuses to leave, demanding to see Jerry.


"Better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime."

After getting thrown out of the building by security, he encounters Marsha (Bernhard) who ridicules him for letting them push him around. Refusing to give up, Rupert shows up at Jerry's country house unannounced with Rita in tow. In his mind, he was invited up for the weekend by Jerry. Jerry threatens to have him arrested if he doesn't leave immediately. All Rupert wants is for Jerry to listen to his routine, but he discovers that his idol isn't the kind, open man he imagined in his head. Rupert doesn't let this minor setback bother him. Instead, he teams up with Marsha, who has plans for Jerry of her own, and together they kidnap Jerry. Since Jerry refuses to listen to him, Rupert was forced to take matters into his own hands. He's going to get on the Jerry Langford Show if it kills him, and if he has to take Jerry out as well, so be it. While Rupert gets ready for his national television debut – one of his demands is to be called the new King of Comedy – Marsha has her way with the taped up super star. Rupert eventually realizes his dream and proves to Jerry and the world that he is the King.

It's amazing that Scorsese foresaw the advent of people doing anything to get their 15-minutes of fame and America's obsession with making these people celebrities for doing nothing of merit at all. Rupert is a criminal and yet he ends up being the films' biggest winner. If Jerry had just put him on the show, he would have faded right back into the obscure little hole he crawled out of. Instead, he becomes a household name and comic sensation, no one taking his walk on the criminal side seriously. He did what he had to do to get ahead. De Niro is amazing as Rupert, a man who will stop at nothing to prove his genius. Sandra Bernhard is perfectly cast as the deranged fan Marsha. I couldn't think of a better role for her unique talents. However, the best thing about this movie is Jerry Lewis. I can't believe he agreed to some of wacky crap they do to him in this movie. I know he's an actor, but his willingness to play this character enables the whole movie to work.

You also never expect Rupert to actually be a good stand-up comic. Why should you? He's never played a single club and only practises alone in his room. When he walks onstage, you expect disaster, but that's the best part of the story. Despite the fact that he's completely deranged, he's very funny. If he wasn't the film would just fall apart. Nobody likes a failure and the audience has to like Rupert or they wouldn't enjoy the ride. If he's good you can forgive him his little idiosychrosies. If he's bad he's just a creepy loser. Though this is a much smaller film than Scorsese usually directs, it's one of his most complete and enjoyable. He understands Rupert's dreams and creates the perfect tone for his craziness. If you want to see a different side of De Niro and Scorsese, check out this lighter version of their urban angst. It stills makes you uncomfortable, but at least you get to laugh through it.



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