Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a passionate yet unsuccessful comic who craves nothing more than to be in the spotlight and to achieve this, he stalks and kidnaps his idol (Jerry Lewis) to take the spotlight for himself.
Despite it being very well praised by critics at the time, The King of Comedy generally seemed to receive a mixed reaction at the time, even bombing at the box office. It’s a really good movie, led by an uncomfortably great performance by Robert De Niro, and has gotten only more praise the older it gets.
The King of Comedy is quite an original and well written movie. Content wise this is definitely one of Scorsese’s cleaner movies, but this isn’t necessarily an easy watch by any means, in fact it’s very likely one of his more unnerving films. This movie can actually be quite uncomfortable to watch, especially as lead character Rupert Pupkin does more and more embarrassing things and crossing more lines. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I felt at least as uncomfortable watching Pupkin here as I did Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. This movie is a social commentary about celebrity-obsession, and unfortunately in that regard I don’t think The King of Comedy will ever stop being relevant. The movie is definitely satirical, such as playing off the whole trope of the main character living with his mother and pretending that he’s on a talk show as he speaks to cardboard cutouts of guests and Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). It’s not a laugh riot as the title suggests, but it has a few moments of dark comedic humour. On the whole though it is a dramatic thriller for the most part. This movie has been compared to another Scorsese movie, Taxi Driver, with both movies following unstable protagonists played by Robert De Niro. Indeed they are similar in that regard but they are definitely different from each other, both movies are generally about different things and you’re certainly not going to see Pupkin attempt to kill someone, but they are both disturbed people that we have to follow. The ending is also similar to Taxi Driver’s in that it’s ambiguous, and both protagonists are unreliable. However I feel like your interpretation of the ending here will really matter in regard to your takeaway from the overall film, whether to take it literally or not. I myself haven’t decided yet, but I’d personally say that the literal way is a lot more disturbing.
Robert De Niro is fantastic here as Rupert Pupkin, and honestly I’d say that it’s one of his best performances. We’ve seen De Niro play plenty of tough and dangerous people, but this is such a different role for him, a sad, weird, obsessed man, and very uncomfortable to watch, I can barely see the actor in the performance. While De Niro is really great and is undeniably the star of the show, Jerry Lewis should also get more praise for his performance for Jerry Langford, the talk show host that Pupkin is obsessed with. He is definitely playing against type as he’s not a source of comedy really, as Langford he’s a more tired version of his own self. Definitely not a very nice person to say the least, but at the same time you can kind of get why he’d act how he does given Pupkin’s antics and boundary crossing. The supporting cast is also good. There’s Sandra Bernhard as another unstable fan of Langford, and Diahnne Abbott as Pupkin’s love interest.
Saying that Martin Scorsese directed this well is redundant at this point. Now it’s not nearly as flashy or memorable as in movies say Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, but I guess it didn’t really need to be that for the movie that it is, and it’s still on point all the way through. However there are some memorable scenes and setups, especially one involving Rupert Pupkin towards the latter portion of the movie.
The King of Comedy is not one of my favourite movies from Martin Scorsese but it’s generally known as one of his more underrated movies, and for very good reason. The story about celebrities and obsession with fame is still relevant to today, and of course the acting was really good, especially with a magnificent performance from Robert De Niro. It’s an uncomfortable movie to watch, nonetheless still pretty good and worth watching, especially if you’re looking to explore Scorsese’s filmography.