Posted by: ckckred | April 29, 2013

The King of Comedy

I review Martin Scorsese's highly underrated classic

I review Martin Scorsese’s highly underrated classic

Out of all the movies director Martin Scorsese has made, The King of Comedy has tended to be one of his most neglected pieces, along with The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out The Dead.  This is a real shame, as The King of Comedy is one of the director’s best films.  It’s a harrowing, black comedy that’s as convincing of a movie Scorsese has ever made.

Like many of Scorsese’s other pictures, it’s a film about pain and suffering, about unhappiness and ignorance.  Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a classily dressed man who still lives with his mother who dreams of becoming famous.  He obsesses over comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis in a dramatic role), who runs a Tonight Show-like program.  In his basement, Pupkin has cardboard cutouts of Langford and has conversations with him and his guest, which is another cardboard cut out of Liza Minnelli.  Eventually Pupkin confronts Langford in his limousine and talks to him about his stand up act and how he wants Langford to see it and put on him on the show.  Langford tells Pupkin he’ll look into it, but Pupkin takes as a seal of friendship.

The rest of The King of Comedy is about Pupkin’s attempt to show Langford he’s a star.  Pupkin regularly goes up to Langford’s office, bickering with a receptionist about how he’s supposed to meet Langford.  He records a tape of some of his jokes with an intro of Jerry’s show.  He tracks Langford’s every move, knowing his history, sayings and punch lines, and even his schedule.  Eventually, Pupkin, desperate for fame, kidnaps Jerry with the help of a fellow diehard Langford fan played by Sandra Bernhard.

The King of Comedy is not a pleasant picture.  It deals with hidden subjects and dark themes that prevent it from being thoroughly upbeat.  But The King of Comedy is without a doubt in my mind a masterpiece.  It’s a darkly humorous picture, full of laughs and shocks.  It’s unlike anything Scorsese has done before and yet at the same time it is.  The King of Comedy could be described as a satire of television and celebrity (like Sidney Lumet’s Network), but it also is a character study.  Many of Scorsese’s characters, from Travis Bickle to Jake LaMotta to even Jesus Christ, are flawed individuals; people who seek to express themselves and their emotions.  Pupkin is an intriguing character, one who is closer than what meets the eye.  Throughout the movie, Pupkin imagines himself with Langford, such as a sequence with Jerry asking him to take over the show. The audience never learns if Pupkin ever believes his daydreams or that he is literally insane.  It isn’t necessary either, as that’s what’s so fantastic about the character.  In another sequence, Pupkin takes his girlfriend Rita (Diahnne Abbott) to Jerry’s home, where’s greeted angrily by the host.  Pupkin argues to Jerry that he invited him over.  What gives the scene such intrigue is the mystery behind it, whether Pupkin’s lying or literally believes what he’s saying.  De Niro gives one of his finest performances as Pupkin and plays the character flawlessly.  I’ve said plenty of times before that De Niro is my favorite actor, and only he could play the part.

Scorsese directs the movie with the vitality that’s behind all of his movies.  There’s a sense of fearlessness behind the camera only the famed director could do as well as the visuals.  Scorsese uses humor to sweeten the movie and often utilizes long takes to emphasize the monologues.  Not only does he emulate the atmosphere of television by color correcting shots, but he adds the tension to it as well.  He never cuts too quickly to a comic payoff, waiting for the scenes to unravel.  Few, if any directors, have accomplished as much as Scorsese has in his entire career and The King of Comedy further proves the director’s fame.

A highly neglected picture, The King of Comedy is a masterpiece, an essential part to Scorsese’s career.  One of the director’s best movies that boasts some of the darkest material ever put on screen.

Editor’s Note: I got the chance to see this at the Tribeca Film Festival, which screened a new restoration for the 30th anniversary.  I’ll talk about the experience tomorrow as well as seeing Scorsese, De Niro, and Lewis on stage.



  1. So jealous of you right now 🙂

    • Haha, I knew you would. I was really lucky to get really good seats as well. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Loved this movie; may be my co-favorite Scorsese film alongside “Cape Fear” which coincidentally also has De Niro playing a crazed stalker; but I think Max was a tad more menacing than Rupert! lol. De Niro was hilarious in this role! (and I think you meant “Jake” LaMotta)

    • De Niro was great in the role! Thanks for commenting, I just fixed that typo.

  3. Great review. I actually got this film last week as I’d been meaning to see it for ages… it just looks so dark and twisted! Can’t wait to watch it.

    • Thanks! It’s a really great movie and one of Scorsese’s best.

  4. Still have to watch this (I’m planning to). Have seen his Christ movie, which I really liked…

    • I highly recommend it. One of Scorsese’s best.

  5. This one’s still on my to watch list, but I’m even more excited about watching it now! i love i when Scorcese appears to be leaving his comfort zone in some ways, but in other ways he actually isn’t. He does it more often than you’d think, and it’s always interesting. I can’t wait to read what it was like to see them on stage! That must have been amazing!

    • It was really interesting to see Scorsese’s direction of the film, almost like a mixture between Taxi Driver and Network. This is one of Scorsese’s best in my opinion and it was great to see him on stage. Thanks for commenting.

  6. That’s amazing you get to see those guys on stage! Awesome stuff. I love this film, it’s definitely one of his most underrated pieces.

    • It was great to see them on stage. I was really lucky to get tickets.

      I agree it’s one of Scorsese’s most underrated movies. Really amazing film. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Nice review. Few people seem to cherish this film and it’s a bit strange, really. I agree with you that it’s one of Scorsese’s better films…maybe not up there with his very best, but not far off. It’s a good companion piece to Taxi Driver, albeit not quite as dark.

    • Thanks! It is a good companion piece with Taxi Driver, Rubert Pupkin isn’t too different than Travis Bickle.

  8. Nice review and it exposes me as well. This is one of Scorsese’s pictures that I still need to see. I think I’ll hurry to that after reading this!

    • Thanks! I highly recommend it. The blu-ray is coming soon I believe and the restoration looks great.

  9. Solid review. Such a strange and weird movie, but one of Scorsese’s funniest and one I still don’t know if I can quite figure the ending out to. Is it real, or a dream? Never know.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I felt that the entire final sequence is just another daydream by Pupkin. That’s what’s so amazing about the film.

  10. I dont know if I’d go so far as to call it a masterpiece, but it definitely doesn’t deserve the bad rap it got around its release (I think if its ever mentioned nowadays its in this sort of context – the hidden gem). It’s a funny, dark comedy. De Niro is great here, as is Lewis. And of course, Scorsese is Scorsese how can you go wrong!

    Nice choice CK

    • Thanks! It is a pretty underrated movie, and both De Niro and Lewis are in top form.

  11. Have never seen this, must check it out.

    • I highly recommend it. One of Scorsese’s best. Thanks for commenting.

  12. one of my favourite films

    • I love it as well. Thanks for commenting.

  13. Thanks for the awesome review. I’m a big Scorsese and De Niro fan. Will definitely make this a must see ASAP.

    On a side note, if De Niro was cast in Insomnia instead of Pacino, it probably would have been an awesome movie. Harvey Keitel would have been a good choice too.

    • I highly recommend it. The blu-ray’s coming out in a few months I believe and the restoration is simply stunning.

      Yeah, Insomnia would be better if De Niro or Keitel played Pacino’s part. As much as I love Pacino, his later performances don’t hold a candle to his earlier ones. Thanks for commenting.

  14. I love this movie. Rupert Pupkin is perhaps De Niro’s greatest performance.

    • Thanks! Pupkin’s one of De Niro’s best roles/

  15. I totally agree – a great film. And a very well written review. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the comment! It’s a great movie indeed, one of Scorsese’s best.

  16. […] Ebert’s review  Cinematic review The Guardian […]

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