The King of Comedy (1983)

I was recommended this movie made by Martin Scorsese, and by the title and DVD box alone, I figured it to be about stand up comedians and all about jokes. Especially having seen Jerry Lewis’s name on the box (still think that his performance in the Disorderly Orderly is one of his best ones). But then I figured, “hey, Robert De Niro funny?” (besides his attemps in Meet the Parents and Analyse This – I leave the question of funny-ness in the middle on these). Cause I do not doubt De Niro’s acting skills. Au contraire. But funny? Hm, I had to really think about this. Cause stand up is sometimes a hit and miss thing.

Strangely enough this is not an ode to stand up. Oh no. It’s an obsession gone wrong. It’s about a man so desperate to get at the top of comedy, that he is willing to sacrifice morality, common sense and his freedom for it. De Niro is so in idolization of comedy host Jerry, that in his idolization he wants to replace him and even hurt him. He wants to be better than his idol. Almost distroy him, as it were.
You see the character of De Niro, Rupert Pupkin, at first as a nerdy and overachieving man. A man who wants to be living life in the fast lane, but not quite there yet. Seemingly clumbsy and simple minded. But his actions, words and bodylanguage all are aggressive. In his daydreams, imagining himself talking to his idol Jerry, who pleads him at every daydream to help him save his comedy show… it puts him in the leading role, as if Jerry is whithering in his fame.
He decides to gang up on Jerry – after being rejected, by him and Jerry’s secretary for not wanting to listen to his demo tape – with the number one stalker of Jerry, Masha, played by Sandra Burhard. Now here is an actrice that can be very intimidating and unpredictable, perfect for the part of Masha. She’s loud-mouthed, big-mouthed and heck, pretty impressive. In other movies she sometimes gives me a headache, cause she can yell a lot of the time.She’s like a tornado when she loses it. So it was very believable when Rupert Pupkin and Masha kidnapped Jerry, tied him up with tape and went all coockoo on him.
Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford was amazing to me too. He did not try to be the funny guy. No, he was a man, who happened to have a career in showbizz and comedy but only wanted a normal life, be himself outside of work. Enjoy a walk down the street without being bothered. Have a meal at home without fans calling. But he could not enjoy his off-work-time. He got yelled at everywere. Asked for autographs constantly and the ever maintaining presence of Masha kept him on edge.
I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, because it destroyed all my expectations I had before viewing. Sometimes I thought “what is this? where is this going to?” and I am a bit pleased I had those reactions. That meant it was unpredictable.
I also watched the DVD extras with Scorsese and Bernhard. I agree with them that a movie like that could not have been made these days. In fact, in those days it was not that well received either. Because it talked about people and how far they can be pushed. And scaringly (I hope that’s a word that exists) it foretells what we have today: obsessive fans, people in search of fame without willing to work for it or start at the bottom, always having the camera on you wherever you go…
I was also impressed that the actors were able to ad lib a lot of the time. Improvisation was free and might have given an edge to the performances.


It’s certainly a different kind of film, but well worth it. I was pleased with what I got to see, and the fact it had so many layers within it was a bonus I didn’t expect.
Categories movies

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