Archive for October 1st, 2012

by Maurizio Roca

The title and look of Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film can be misleading. I initially assumed it was some broad 80s comedy that the director was making as a peculiar genre exercise similar to New York New York with Liza Minelli in 1977. What with De Niro’s flashy outfits and hairstyle, plus the inclusion of Sandra Bernhard, a false perception of what to expect is not an impossible stretch. While I had personally heard good things from various people about the film, I waited a long time before finally getting the motivation to watch it. When the day inevitably came, I was surprised by the content and the tone presented in The King Of Comedy. It has certainly been overlooked to some degree and for superficially obvious reasons in my case.

“I’m going to work 50 times harder, and I’m going to be 50 times more famous than you.”


Rupert Pupkin as played by Robert De Niro is an autograph hound who aspires to be a stand-up comic. He procures a “chance” meeting with Langford, a Johnny Carson-like talk show host (played by Jerry Lewis), who is struggling with a mob of crazed fans after a broadcast taping. Pupkin takes advantage of the situation and pitches himself incessantly to him. Langford halfheartedly promises to listen to his act, but once Langford and his colleagues hear his tape of comedy bits, Pupkin gets continuously rejected and outright dismissed. The initial adrenaline rush of a possible break into the big time followed by the realistic disappointment of being rebuffed results in increasingly elaborate imaginations—first filled with elation and then slowly become dire and desperate. Pupkin eventually resorts to kidnapping Langford, forcing hostage-like demands on the comedian, his network, and police to book an opening spot on that evening’s show. The elusive fantasy of fame and immortality are finally achieved through severe means…or so it seems. With The King Of Comedy, like the conclusion of Taxi Driver, we are never quite sure what is real and what is fabrication. For all we know, Pupkin may actually be reduced to banging his head against a brick wall in a jail cell after his various transgressions. The ending is undoubtedly ambiguous and open to interpretation. (more…)

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