The story of a deranged wanna-be comedian arranging his big break by kidnapping a talk show host, THE KING OF COMEDY was both a product of its time and a prophetic warning about our future. Released two years after ex-Beatle John Lennon was shot to death by a fan, and one year after the assassination attempt on President Reagan's life by a kid who wanted to impress actress Jodie Foster, THE KING OF COMEDY captured the paranoia of a time when the line between real life and celebrity was beginning to blur.
Although it seems like a departure for both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, THE KING OF COMEDY is actually a close cousin to TAXI DRIVER. There is little difference between cab driver Travis Bickle and aspiring standup comedian Rupert Pupkin. Both men are obviously mentally unstable when we meet them, and both are pushed over the edge by a series of humiliations they brought on themselves. After their respective crimes, both men achieve a certain level of fame and recognition. Add a disastrous date that brings everything to a boil in both films, and THE KING OF COMEDY, written by Paul D. Zimmerman, is actually a retelling of the Travis Bickle tale. It is little wonder that both De Niro and Scorsese were attracted to this script.
Essentially playing himself (the real life unctuous "show biz" Jerry of talk shows and telethons), Lewis gives the best, most controlled performance of his long movie career as Jerry Langford. Scorsese originally wanted Johnny Carson and settled for Lewis after several other potential actors didn't come through. Carson may have been too likable in the part, although I suspect he might have been just as brilliant. Lewis strikes the perfect tone for this dark comedy. You can sympathize with him, but he always remains untouchable, aloof and difficult to love. In his own way, he is as isolated as Rupert Pupkin, eating his meals alone, walking the streets of New York basking in the glow of his own celebrity but rarely being seen with anybody in any social context. De Niro's characterization of Rupert Pupkin is hilarious. Immature, prone to fantasy, looking as awkward in a suit as Lewis/Langford looks good, Pupkin is one of De Niro's most atypical parts, and the actor is amazing. The third of the three most prominent cast members, Sandra Bernhardt, throws herself into the part of Pupkin's Jerry-obsessed friend with such energy, she turns Masha into one of the most off-putting, frightening movie characters I have ever seen. I confess that I have despised the actress ever since I saw her spit on another guest simply because he had different political opinions than her one one of Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect shows. But I cannot deny her outstanding performance in this film, one of the best in any Scorsese movie.
THE KING OF COMEDY bombed big time at the box office in 1982, but it came into its own on video and DVD and is now generally considered one of Scorsese's most unique films. Today In an era where talentless drug-addled and sexually promiscuous celebrities get their own "reality" shows and entertainment relies more on shock and sleaze than on value to capture our attention, the warped cynicism of THE KING OF COMEDY still rings true. - JB
ADD ANOTHER QUOTE AND MAKE IT A GALLON
"And what about the time I gave you my last album of The Best of Jerry, what about that? It wasn't anybody else, it was me and I didn't even ask you for money and I can't even pay my rent! What are talking about? I live in a hovel! And you live in a townhouse! I can't believe this girl!"
As in TAXI DRIVER, Martin Scorsese can be seen twice in this film. The first appearance requires freeze frame on your DVD. In the scene where Jerry is accosted by a woman on a pay phone, Scorsese can be seen driving a van as Lewis crosses the street. Later, he is seen as the director of The Jerry Langford Show, going over the opening jokes with fill-in host Tony Randall.
Hitchcock's cameos in his film are legendary, but not Scorsese's. Here is a list of some of the cameos we know of:
Mean Streets: Man who guns down character at the end of the film
Taxi Driver: Cab Passenger/Man on steps
Raging Bull: Stagehand for Jake La Motta's show.
The King of Comedy: See above
After Hours: Light operator at club
New York Stories: Man having his picture taken with Nick Nolte's character
Age of Innocence: Photographer (see Scorsese graphic at the top of this page)
Gangs of New York: Wealthy homeowner
Scorsese's voice can often be heard in his own films as either a narrator or an off screen voice. He is sometimes the inner voice of Harvey Keitel's character in Mean Streets, and can be heard as the ambulance dispatcher over the radio in Bringing Out the Dead. He has also dabbled in acting over the years, and can be seen in such films as 'Round Midnight, Guilty by Suspicion, Quiz Show and Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. He is hilarious playing himself in Albert Brooks' The Muse ("I want to do a remake of "Raging Bull" with a really thin guy. Not just thin, but really thin. Thin and angry, thin and angry, thin and angry. Can you see it? Can you see it?")
OBLIGATORY USE OF DIRECTOR'S MOM
Catherine Scorsese, Marty's mom, can be heard as Rupert Pupkin's mom throughout the film.