From the many times Robert De Niro has collaborated with Martin Scorsese and created many of the director’s most famous (and best) works whether they go from Taxi Driver to Raging Bull and Goodfellas, one of the least recognizable in that bunch is The King of Comedy. Yet the fact it feels so forgotten in comparison to many of Scorsese’s most recognizable works has not been able to overshadow what was most important, The King of Comedy is also one of his finest efforts. Arguably his most demented work under his body of work, this deserves more recognition than what it has at the moment.
Robert De Niro now stars as Rupert Pupkin, a delusional wannabe standup comedian who idolizes Jerry Langford all his life. The two of them finally meet and now Rupert Pupkin finally believes that his big day has come. Not long after the meeting, the already deranged Rupert now fantasizes about where his life is set to come forward after he acquires fame and his obsession with Jerry only grows stronger much to the point of stalking. Right there we have the premise for what would eventually be made into one of Martin Scorsese’s darkest films to date – even with the fact it is supposedly a comedy at heart. It may not be his funniest film but because of how sinister it is, there’s a reason it deserves much more credit.
In The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese takes what he already had formed through Taxi Driver with the eyes of a loner protagonist and now placed inside of a more demented perspective. Travis Bickle was a figure disgusted with the direction he sees the world around him is going, whereas Rupert Pupkin was a man who only craved attention more than anything else. Scorsese’s film is one about how people perceive the idea of fame and how it damages one’s own mind, whether it be from the aspiring or those who have already managed to acquire it. This sort of cleverness is what makes The King of Comedy the cynical picture that it is and that’s why it deserves placement amongst Scorsese’s very best efforts – for it may be funny first, then it pulls the rug under oneself.
When Martin Scorsese goes down to focusing on such characters, what he observes in such pieces ultimately results in fascinating studies of character and his observations in The King of Comedy are no less intriguing. On both sides in The King of Comedy, we have fame mixed together with the actual character. The worshipper meets a celebrity, who may already have been just as damaged by the fame as the worshipper has been trying to acquire said fame. Since we are watching the whole film as it takes place from the eyes of Rupert Pupkin, perhaps a greater power has risen because we get closer to the unhealthy nature of this mentality which he carries – sooner everything is helped by Robert De Niro’s dedicated performance.
Jerry Lewis, a funnyman during his youth now playing a beat-down version of his own self in here, is no less for as we witness everything coming at odds between Langford and Pupkin, it adds a greater depth to the social commentary which Scorsese aims for regarding the heights to which celebrity worship can go. Everything about one’s life is dedicated to somewhere else to an unsettling degree and Lewis’s more dramatic performance adds more to this depth since one can only go ahead and imagine what all of these years had done to him now that he seems so beat down. Neither Pupkin or Langford create any other impression from their viewers rather than dryness all about and it all comes not only from Scorsese’s brilliant direction but the sharpness of the script written by Paul D. Zimmerman, who would go on to acquire Sesame Street fame.
I believe the fact that The King of Comedy has such a maddening outlook upon the world is where its relevance has only found itself growing stronger. When one looks upon the ending, it’s up for debate whether or not Pupkin’s goal has been achieved but the clarity has been so blurred considering how much of the film have we been watching from his perspective. The best way to describe what The King of Comedy truly is though would be something its original time couldn’t handle. Maybe even now, because of what great lengths people would go to for fame, even if it were just for one brief period of time, we might not be able to handle such an idea after all. Don’t let the word “comedy” throw you in out of nowhere for what we have here is truly a frightening experience on all counts and thus, one of Scorsese’s best films.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by Paul D. Zimmerman
Produced by Arnon Milchan
Starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard
Release Year: 1982
Running Time: 109 minutes