The King of Comedy review by The Grim Ringler

The King of Comedy

Leave it to Martin Scorsese to make even what should be the tamest of farces into a long look into obsession and fame. And yet still make it funny as hell. So friends, I present to you The King of Comedy, a brilliant comedy from Scorsese and interpreted by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis in two stellar performances.

Rupert Pupkin is a boob, but a lovable boob. Desperate to be a star and to live in that world of glamour and fame, Rupert collects autographs and obsesses over one star in particular Jerry Langford, a sort of amalgam of the old late night talk greats and plots how he can get into Langfords life. More than just knowing Jerry though Rupert wants to be him, to become and even better Jerry at his own game as a late-night comedian. Not really seeming to have a job, or at least one that is ever worth mentioning, Rupert is a dreamer, which isnt such a bad thing (at least I hope not lest I start dumping manure on my own shoes here movie-nerd = dreamer), but worse than that, his ambitions are greater than his motivation. He wants to be a comedian, he wants to be famous, but he doesnt want to work at it, as he is told to do as Jerry, his assistant, and others tell him, instead spending his time planning how he will deal with his inevitable fame. Rupert tries desperately to place himself in Jerrys life, saving him as he leaves the studio after a taping as fans mob him, or pestering his assistant to listen to his tape and put him on the show. Going so far as simply showing up (with a high school crush that works at a nearby bar in tow) at Jerrys vacation home and telling the staff he is expected. None of it works though, only pushing Rupert further away from Jerry and solidifying his loneliness and desperation. Feeling he has no choice, Rupert and another Jerry fan (Sandra Bernhard) plot to kidnap their idol and use him as a bartering tool to get Rupert a gig doing the opening for Jerrys show. Needless to say, things dont go as planned but I shall leave you to find that out for yourselves.

Brilliantly acted, this is a total showpiece for DeNiro as a genuinely funny comedic actor, showing perhaps a flipside of his Taxi Driver role if he were more desperate and had been raised on television. How is it that DeNiro is so damned funny in this but he never really works in his modern comedies, coming off more as a self-parody than as a new and real character? Is he just lazy? Or the writing that bad? Or was King of Comedy that good? Makes ya wonder. And man-alive, seeing this, you almost see why the French love Jerry Lewis so much, turning a hilariously deadpan performance, playing perpetual straight-man to everything Rupert does, coming off as simply bored with his life and with fame. And thats the most interesting thing about the movie each man is a Hall of Mirrors reflection of the other Rupert lives to be famous and loved, Jerry seems bored to death by fame and the strain it puts on life, and neither know quite how to be happy with what they have. Lewis and DeNiro are both brilliant but I really have to say that Lewis steals the show, really playing the clown that laughs on the outside and cries on the inside to perfection.

Scorsese does another wonderful job of direction, using New York as sort of a background character in which everyone loves to see Jerry, to talk to this star, but hates him in equal parts when he wont fulfill their every whim as if he were a genie. His direction is pretty low-key otherwise though, allowing the script and the actors to do their thing and just staying out of the way, which is what the film needed.

Is it funny? Yes, absolutely yes. Sometimes its funny in blatant ways, in the writing, the manic oddness of Rupert, and the maniacal obsession of Sandra Bernhards character, but below that aspect the story is funnier. Funny in the way that Taxi Driver and all Scorseses films are funny, as dark looks into the minds and lives of Gods Lonely men, men we can laugh at because they arent real, can laugh at because their struggles are so macabrely funny, but that we can also fear, because we know that these men exist, forever walking the tightrope between madness and sanity. And often stepping too far to one side, never knowing which is which. On the surface this is a pretty biting look at media and our ever-expanding obsession with fame, but below that surface is a dark portrait of what this obsession with fame creates, the parasitical people that, desperate to be famous themselves, forge their fame in blood and pain, having only those tools to work from.

The DVD is a special edition of sorts, presenting us with some deleted footage and a really interesting documentary on the film but little else. But hell, just to have the movie on DVD and in its proper scope is a sight for sore eyes in itself.

Easily Scorseses most over-looked film, this is Marty at his most fun, able to put two brilliant actors (did I just called Jerry Lewis brilliant?) in a movie thats almost precognitive when it comes to our growing obsession with fame. Very few movies have the insight and fascinating characters that King of Comedy lays claim to, and to find those things in a comedy is a rare thing indeed.


8 out of 10 Jackasses

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