The King of Comedy

1983

The King of Comedy

Critics 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.

88%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 58

90%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 26,902
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Movie Info

Martin Scorsese's satirical comedy/drama caustically explores the lengths to which a nobody will go to be as famous as his idol. Practicing his patter in his basement with cardboard cut-outs of his favorite celebrities, mediocre aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) believes that one appearance on the evening talk show of the Johnny Carson-esque Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) will be his ticket to stardom. After he helps Jerry escape the advances of amorous fan Masha (Sandra Bernhard), Rupert takes Jerry's patronizing brush-off as a true promise for an audition and begins haunting Jerry's office. Provoked by Masha's needling and a rejection from Jerry's smooth production exec Cathy Long (Shelley Hack), Rupert makes a disastrous trip to Jerry's country house with embarrassed date Rita (Diahnne Abbott), then hatches an even more outlandish scheme to get ahead. With Masha's help, Rupert kidnaps Jerry and demands as ransom the TV appearance that he believes will turn his fantasy into reality.

Cast

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 Restaurant
Leslie Levinson
as Roberta Posner
Margo Winkler
as Receptionist
Sel Vitella
as Man at Telephone
Tony Boschetti
as Mr. Gangemi
Loretta Tupper
as Stage Door Fan
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
Charles Scorsese
as Man at Bar
Kim Chan
as Jonno
Mardik Martin
as Man at Bar
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News & Interviews for The King of Comedy

Critic Reviews for The King of Comedy

All Critics (58) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (51) | Rotten (7)

Audience Reviews for The King of Comedy

  • Aug 03, 2018
    An unsettling, underrated and for a very long time misunderstood Scorsese film that benefits from excellent performances by De Niro, Lewis and Bernhard, and it is its cynical ending that elevates it to the level of brilliant satire about the power of sensationalism in our times.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 06, 2017
    GOOD, OLD-FASHIONED, ALL-AMERICAN FUN - My Review of THE KING OF COMEDY (5 Stars) Since Jerry Lewis died on August 20, it seemed only fitting to rewatch the 35th Anniversary screening of THE KING OF COMEDY on Labor Day. Having been raised watching him on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethons every year on that holiday, I thought it fitting to honor him by revisiting what I feel is his greatest acting achievement. Initially a box office bomb and largely ignored by critics, this prescient film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by the late Paul D. Zimmerman, a former NEWSWEEK film critic, is right up there with NETWORK and A FACE IN THE CROWD in predicting the onslaught of crazy or untalented people achieving fame and power. Sound familiar in this age of social media stars and Presidents? I also think it's Scorsese's best film and Robert DeNiro's greatest performance to date. It also brought us a blazing, unforgettable performance by Sandra Bernhard in her debut. Did I also mention it's one of my favorite, squirm-inducing, funcomfortable, funny/sad anti-comedy comedies of all time? Since I wasn't in the game of writing movie reviews when it was first released, I thought it appropriate to take a stab at it now. DeNiro plays Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring standup comic who lives with his mother and makes money as a messenger in NYC. He idolizes Jerry Langford (Lewis), a Johnny Carson-esque late night talk show host, and dreams of a slot on his show as a ticket to instant stardom. God forbid Rupert should pay his dues and go to every open mic night available. Instead, he practices his appearances on the show in his basement, complete with cardboard cutouts of Langford and guest Liza Minnelli. Every now and then, his daydreams get interrupted by the voice of his mother (a hilarious cameo by Scorsese's own mother), instantly reminding us of Rupert's place in the world. We don't know yet if Rupert is talented or not, in fact we won't know until a scene near the end, but his corner-cutting entitlement predated so many Hiltons, Kardashians and Trumps. When we first meet Rupert, he's outside Langford's studio along with a throng of autograph hounds. When Jerry enters his limo, a crazed fan jumps in after him. That would be Masha (Bernhard). Langford, adept at clocking a stalker when he sees one, immediately gets out and comes face to face with Rupert. From inside the limo, the frame freezes on Masha's hands pressing against the window, aching to make contact with Jerry. Ray Charles' "Come Rain Or Come Shine" plays on the soundtrack: "I'm gonna love you, like nobody's loved you/ Come rain or come shine" - so eery in this context. It's such an indelible image of obsession and one in which I knew we were in for a masterful filmgoing experience. Seizing the moment, Rupert parts the crowd, shepherds Jerry to safety and then climbs into the limo himself. He uses him time just long enough to convince Jerry to listen to a tape of his material. Never mind that he hasn't recorded it yet, Rupert takes Jerry's condescending brush-off and uses it as invitation to much more subversive actions. Scene after scene shows Rupert trying to infiltrate Jerry's offices, but he comes across the expert deflection of a knowing receptionist or Cathy Long (Shelley Hack in a cunning, astute performance), Jerry's Development Rep. Masha also schemes to get a love letter to Jerry, but also gets the cold shoulder. In one amazing sequence, Masha chases Jerry down the street, but gets turned away at his revolving office door. Eventually, Rupert and Masha team up to kidnap Jerry, allowing Rupert to appear on his show and for Masha to have some personal time with her prey. What works so well in this fairly straightforward, simple story is the tone. It's meant to keep you in a constant state of queasiness. Scorsese, with his cinematographer Fred Schuler, locks the camera down most of the time so that we're forced to sit still with our main characters...the better to make you squirm. Things only get zippy when we're out in the New York streets. Lewis himself directed one of those scenes in which we watch Jerry walk to work. With calls out from construction workers and cab drivers, Jerry has a little spring in his step. A woman at a phone booth stops him to praise him. Jerry thanks her but demures when she asks him to talk to her nephew on the other end of the line. Turning on him instantly, she yells, "You should only get cancer! I hope you get cancer!" And that, in a nutshell, is the brilliance of this film. The journey from top to bottom, and vice versa, can be very short. At one point, Rupert reunites with his high school crush Rita (Diahnne Abbott). She sees him for what he is, but can't resist an offer to go to Jerry's with him for the weekend. Unbeknownst to her, they weren't invited. Jerry's dead-inside reaction to this home invasion speaks volumes. In scene after scene, Lewis plays against type. Gone is the wacky clown, replaced by years of knowledge of the exact toll celebrity can have on a person. It's an astonishing, scary, unforgettable performance. A prisoner of his own fame, Jerry can do nothing but be numb to the atrocities on display. Rupert is a delusional, entitled, lazy dreamer. He was decades ahead of social media stars who made fortunes by posting a picture of their breakfasts. DeNiro has never given a performance that's anything like this. He's constantly gesticulating and unwilling to take no for an answer. He's dangerous. Who would have imagined that 35 years later, a Rupert would become the leader of the free world? When we finally get to see Rupert's act, done in one incredible single take, it's mediocre at best. Sometimes mediocrity is celebrated. Oh what the hell am I saying? This country has a history of putting mediocrity on a pedestal. It explains Twenty One Pilots. I look at THE KING OF COMEDY as TAXI DRIVER's funnier but just-as-ugly little brother. Two delusional men find fame by committing crimes. They both go after ideal but disinterested women. One does it to save an innocent soul while the other is completely self-serving. On second thought, which one is the darker film? There's too much to unpack, but I want to point out some details that get me every time: -Rupert eyes the ceiling of Jerry's waiting room. It makes the weary receptionist look up. He notices and then asks her, "Is that cork?" Probably the best use of insipid small talk in a film since NASHVILLE. -Masha's entire head shaking wildly when she goes on one of her tirades -Rupert standing in front of a giant audience photo as he fantasizes about his big debut -The guy imitating Rupert behind his back, sending a signal to Rita that she's having dinner with a schmuck. -The never-ending mispronunciation of Rupert's last name (Pipkin, Pumpkin, Pupnik) -Members of The Clash in the scene where Masha yells at everyone, calling them "street trash" -Masha's reprise of "Come Rain Or Come Shine". Funny how Bernhard's career after this film always included a little comedy and a little singing. -Masha casually tossing the wine glass away. -Masha clearing the candlelit table as everything comes crashing down. They threw in cat noises just to make it even funnier. -Masha's one-sided conversation with Jerry, telling him, "I want to be black" and then doing an adorable yet frightening Tina Turner imitation. -Rupert asking Cathy, "Are you speaking for Jerry?" Makes my skin crawl. -Editor Thelma Schoonmaker, a legend, smash cutting to the Jerry Langford show logo right after Masha strips down to her underwear and says that she and Jerry are gonna have "Good old-fashioned, all-American fun!" -Masha hauntingly blowing a kiss to Jerry. She's crazy scary. -Rita proves she's just as susceptible to the glow of fame when she steals a little box from Jerry's house. She's supposed to be the saint of the story, yet even she can be bought. -The announcer cheerily chimes, "Rupert Pupkin, everybody! Rupert Pupkin!" -The line: "Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime." I kept thinking about NETWORK and A FACE IN THE CROWD when watching THE KING OF COMEDY this time. How ahead of their time these films were, and what would a prescient film made today look like? Would we be predicting the end of fame? The end of mediocrity? A return to hard work and talent? If only.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer
  • May 16, 2015
    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 H Super Reviewer
  • Jun 15, 2014
    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 r Super Reviewer

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