The King of Comedy (1983) - Rotten Tomatoes

The King of Comedy (1983)



Critic Consensus: Largely misunderstood upon its release, The King of Comedy today looks eerily prescient, and features a fine performance by Robert DeNiro as a strangely sympathetic psychopath.

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Movie Info

Having already consigned one character name, Travis Bickle, to the national lexicon, director Martin Scorsese, in his mordant and pungent black satire The King of Comedy, adds another -- Rupert Pupkin. Scorsese takes aim at the cult of celebrity and the self-deluded victims of media hype who are willing to sell their souls for a shot at the big time. Or as Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) puts it, "It's better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime." Rupert is in his mid-thirties, still living at home with his mother, and has manufactured a fantasy world for himself where he imagines he's a great comic, host of his own television talk show. and friendly with such celebrities as Liza Minnelli and talk show king Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Rupert gets the chance to turn his fantasies into reality when he helps Langford escape from rabid autograph hounds after a taping of his talk show. Rupert dreams of appearing on Jerry's show and Jerry, in an effort to blow him off, agrees to listen to an audiotape of his stand-up routine. But when Rupert comes to Langford's office, he is ignored by his staff and thrown out by security. Still convinced that Jerry is his pal, Rupert travels to Jerry's upstate home with his girlfriend Rita (Diahnne Abbott) in tow, ostensibly to spend the weekend and work on comedy material. When Jerry is summoned by his Chinese houseboy and sees Rupert standing in front of him, he orders him out of his home. Rupert tells him he's making a mistake; Jerry replies, "So did Hitler." Rupert realizes that he has to resort to harsher measures in order to get a spot on his show. So with the help of Marsha (Sandra Bernhard), a wealthy and obsessive Langford fan, Rupert plans to kidnap Jerry, with the condition of his release being Rupert must be allowed to appear on his television show to do his act.more
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Paul D. Zimmerman, Paul Zimmerman
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 17, 2002


Robert De Niro
as Rupert Pupkin
Jerry Lewis
as Jerry Langford
Ed Herlihy
as Himself
Whitey Ryan
as Stage Door Guard
Doc Lawless
as Chauffeur
Lou Brown
as Band Leader
Marta Heflin
as Young Girl
Katherine Wallach
as Autograph Seeker
Charlene Kaleina
as Autograph Seeker
Scotty Bloch
as Crockett's Secretary
Richard Baratz
as Caricaturist
Catherine Scorsese
as Rupert's Mom
Charles Low
as Man in Chinese Resta...
Leslie Levinson
as Roberta Posner
Margo Winkler
as Receptionist
Sel Vitella
as Man at Telephone
Loretta Tupper
as Stage Door Fan
Tony Boschetti
as Mr. Gangemi
Shelley Hack
as Cathy Long
Matt Russo
as Cabbie
Thelma Lee
as Woman in Phone Booth
Joe Strummer
as Street Scum
George Kapp
as Mystery Guest
Victor Borge
as Himself
Marvin Scott
as Newsman
Ralph Monaco
as Raymond Wirtz
Ellen Foley
as Street Scum
Martin Scorsese
as TV director
Tony Randall
as Himself
Tony Devon
as Plainclothesman
Edgar J. Scherick
as Wilson Crockett
Peter Fain
as Plainclothesman
Ray Dittrich
as Giardello
Jay Julien
as Langford's Lawyer
Scotty Block
as Crockett's Secretary
Jeff David
as Announcer
Mick Jones
as Street Scum
Diane Rachell
as Mrs. McCabe
Jimmy Raitt
as Stage Manager
Kim Chan
as Jonno
Charles Scorsese
as Man at Bar
Mardik Martin
as Man at Bar
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The King of Comedy

Critic Reviews for The King of Comedy

All Critics (45) | Top Critics (7)

It is frustrating to watch, unpleasant to remember, and, in its own way, quite effective.

Full Review… | January 25, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

The uncenteredness of the film is irritating, though it's irritating in an ambitious, risk-taking way.

Full Review… | March 31, 2008
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

To be sure, Robert De Niro turns in another virtuoso performance for Martin Scorsese, just as in their four previous efforts. But once again -- and even more so -- they come up with a character that it's hard to spend time with.

Full Review… | March 31, 2008
Top Critic

Creepiest movie of the year in every sense, and one of the best.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

It's very funny, and it ends on a high note that was, for me, both a total surprise and completely satisfying. Yet it's also bristly, sometimes manic to the edge of lunacy and, along the way, terrifying.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

...remains a high-water mark in terms of De Niro's onscreen work...

Full Review… | October 19, 2014
Reel Film Reviews

Audience Reviews for The King of Comedy


This movie came straight outta left field really, after two mean thrillers and hard hitting biographical, a black comedy felt like an odd turn. Scorsese was still kinda finding his feet at this point, almost at a fork in his career in what to do, his following two movies after this ('After Hours' and 'The Colour of Money') confirms this. From very raw emotional adult films, then branching out into a comedy, even with De Niro, seemed brave. Scorsese could of easily slipped into the mainstream realms at this time. 'After Hours' was another quirky black comedy, but the type of comedy that you could easily see Tom Hanks leading, whilst 'The Colour of Money' was most definitely a mainstream movie with the man of the moment Tom Cruise.

Luckily this didn't happen and we have a string of adult targeted movies to enjoy...mainly mobster movies. Nevertheless looking back its cool to see these more unique Scorsese projects, how he handled them and how or if his now infamous trademarks and style are still visible. First up, its a Scorsese movie, De Niro? check, New York setting? check, plot about a wacko loner? check...annnnd we're done.

The film feels like an extension of Scorsese's 1976 film 'Taxi Driver' to be honest, naturally this is down to the simple fact that De Niro plays another lonely weirdo who inadvertently becomes a hero of sorts by the end. You could almost call this a remake really, just a more light-hearted version. We follow the celebrity worshipping Rupert Pupkin (great name) as he tries his utmost to get on Jerry Langford's (Jerry Lewis) talk show with his stand-up act. This takes up pretty much the entire film until an encounter with Langford at his home shows Pupkin he has no chance of getting on the show. The ever resourceful Rupert doesn't let this fade him though as he hatches a plan to kidnap Langford in order to demand his act be shown on the talk show. At the same time Pupkin has the help of another fellow celebrity worshipper/stalker in Masha (Sandra Bernhard).

I can't help but think De Niro is gonna explode in a tidal wave of blood soaked violence when I watch this movie. Its probably down to his previous performances and roles (and the era when this was made), but its like you're just waiting for his character to pop and kick someones head in. Its really quite unnerving at times, that's how good De Niro is, the man is a twitching time bomb ready to blow. I love watching De Niro in this movie, its almost hypnotising with his little quirks, his little nuances, everything we now know about the man but ramped up to ten.

I could probably go on record saying this is one of De Niro's best performances. Not only is he uncomfortable to watch with his sleazy used car salesman-esque appearance complete with a little annoying tash, but he's both funny and kinda lovable at the same time. His character is always very polite and well mannered to everyone he meets, he's smart, gracious, keen and accepting of criticism to a degree. I adore how he oozes around the top brass in the networks main building in NY, still very polite and pleasant but also such a slippery, slimy, creep, trying his best to talk his way into a meeting with the mighty Langford. Its amusing because you know this guy probably doesn't really have much talent but he clearly thinks he does. He's clearly overly ambitious and overly confident in himself which is funny but at the same time not exactly a bad thing, that's why you kinda love the guy for persevering, he's got balls but no sense of tact.

The little moments where we see Pupkin pretending to be on the show with Langford, in conversation with him either professionally or in private and setting up his own overblown introductions for the show etc...are priceless. The funniest thing is he's doing this at his home with his mother in the next room type of thing, a typical middle aged man still living at home with him mum scenario. These brief scenes also show us how crazy Pupkin is, his room (or basement) is decorated like a real talk show studio with a big picture of an audience on one wall, mock-ups of Langford he can talk to etc...This shows us his potential scary side and makes you wonder if he will go hyper nuts at some point.

The other cast members are all very good in their roles too. Jerry Lewis really nails that old fashioned 70's (I'm guessing) talk show host look with the big rimmed glasses, dapper suits, slick hair and smoking whilst on the air. He really does look like one of your old relations in a family photo from back in the late 70's early 80's perhaps. Not only that but you really feel his frustration and anger as he puts up with the constant unwanted attention and pestering from fans and nutjobs. The scene where he confronts Pupkin at his private home is probably his strongest. I was also really impressed with Bernhard who gives us an excellently crazy yet sexy stalker. I don't much about Bernhard outside of the TV show 'Roseanne' and her role in the Bruce Willis turd 'Hudson Hawk', but towards the end of this film she really gives it her all. The sequence with her character having a romantic dinner with the kidnapped Langford (duct taped to a chair) is amusing, sexy and obviously disturbing. All three being perfect traits of Bernhard.

Of course the twist in the film is that Pupkin's stand-up routine is successful, he doesn't end up killing anyone or himself in a blaze of glory and he actually manages to achieve what he always wanted. On one hand that might seem anti-climatic but on the other hand the more predictable ending of him getting killed along with his idol would be errmm...predictable. For me this ending is just right, it could of easily been a subdued finale but I think Pupkin was too likable, as was Masha, neither of them really do anything unlikable throughout. In the end I was really happy Pupkin manages to succeed with his dream, sure he's a bit twisted and unhinged in a strangely calm way (he did kidnap someone after all), but he's still a really nice guy at the end of the day.

I like this film very much, I think its a cute yet slightly off-kilter story which shows both a gutsy win for the little guy and the heartache a famous personality may have to deal with. But at no point is it ever deadly serious to the point of being a thriller, the crime committed is serious but its all done in a very tame almost apologetic way. Its a breath of fresh air to see an early performance by De Niro where he isn't a psychopath for the mob or just out of his mind. This movie was a bomb on release and has been largely forgotten about ever since, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy is a highly entertaining drama that has enough comedic moments to make this film entertaining and memorable. The film's choice of actors is great as well, and Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard have great chemistry together, and overall the film is a highly memorable picture that is entertaining due to the fact that it possesses a winning formula that is brought to life by Scorsese's great direction. The King of Comedy is an engaging picture that boasts memorable performances, a great story, and brilliant direction to really make the film standout. I really enjoyed the movie, and felt it was another standout feature from Martin Scorsese, who is one of cinema's finest directors. With this film, being a slight change of pace, as Scorsese would be more at ease with the crime, and gangster genres, it's great to see him movie in the comedy genre, and he is able to pull it off because he is a phenomenal filmmaker and storyteller. The way Scorsese crafts a film is unmatched by any other director, he is able to get the simplest ideas and make them into a terrific, well layered picture that delivers some truly engaging entertainment. Scorsese is one of my favorite directors, and I've seen a lot of his movies, The King of Comedy would rank among his best films, a film that is funny, dramatic, thrilling from start to finish and is sure to appeal to fans of the director. With that being said, Whenever Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese would make cinematic gold. If you enjoy Martin Scorsese's work, then you're surely going to love this film. The King of Comedy successfully mixes comedic elements with drama, and in turn, it delivers one of the most memorable films of Martin Scorsese's career.

Alex roy

Super Reviewer


Rupert Pupkin: Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.

"It's no laughing matter."

The King of Comedy has to be one of Martin Scorsese's most underrated films and also one of De Niro's most underrated performances. This film, like many have said, has a style that is similar to Taxi Driver, and since it's again a Martin Scorsese-Robert De Niro film, it's easy to lose this one in the shuffle. Although being similar to Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy definitely has a life of its own. There's so much to like about this movie.

Rupert Pupkin weasels his way into talk show host Jerry Langford's limo after his show. He pleads with Jerry to let him go on the show and that he's a stand up comedian, but Jerry explains to him that he has to start at the bottom. Trying to get rid of him, he tells him to call his office and they'll set something up. Rupert thinks this is his shot at the big time, but when he calls the office, he is ignored. So he goes into the office, but slowly begins to realize that he's getting the brush off.

This is a great film about the worship of the celebrities and also the desire to become a celebrity. This is even more relevant today then it was when the film was made. Also, I loved how insightful the writing of Rupert's stand up comedy was to get a little background into his early childhood and see why he seeks the attention of the world. I believe this is something that is glanced over when I read other reviews that say there isn't enough character development of Rupert's character. His stand up comedy it tells it all, as he says early in movie, in one of his practice/fake meeting with Jerry scenes, that he takes all the screwed up stuff from his life and makes it comedy.

The King of Comedy is an excellent film from Martin Scorsese. Robert De Niro is outstanding as the delusional and tragic figure of Rupert Pupkin, and Jerry Lewis is a surprise as Jerry Langford. He's terrific in both the real life scenes and Rupert's delusional fantasies. This isn't a film to be missed. It may not be talked with Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or even Casino, but this is every bit a great Scorsese/De Niro collaboration.

Melvin White

Super Reviewer

The King of Comedy Quotes

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