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USA 1983
Directed by
Martin Scorsese
109 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The King Of Comedy

Martin Scorsese’s satirical comedy sees Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a major schmuck and novice stand-up comedian who decides to fast-track his career by kidnapping a popular talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) with the assistance of his friend Masha (Sandra Bernhard) and demanding as his ransom a spot on Langford’s show.

Paul Zimmerman's first-class script is merciless in its portrayal of the excruciatingly delusional Pupkin and the even more deluded Masha. Pupkin's fantasy sequences are marvels of wince-inducing self-deception. De Niro and Bernhard are brilliant in bringing home these pathetic characters, the one convinced that he is a comic genius, the other that her love for the talk show host will sweep all before it. 

De Niro, who plays Pupkin like a nerdy version of Travis Bickle from Scorsese's 1976 classic, Taxi Driver, is mesmerizing in his powder blue suit, two-tone shirts and white slip-ons, neatly coiffed hair and ceaselessly beaming smile as he inexorably pursues his goal. Bernhard is like a gangly and gauche Annie Hall, the scene in which she confesses her passion to the man himself is a surfeit of embarrassing loucheness.  Although probably largely playing himself plaudits must also go to Lewis as he tries to deal with the two unparalleled dunces. Ditto to Diahnne Abbott (who had appeared in a small role with De Niro in Taxi Driver) who plays a former college acquaintance on whom he has a crush and who Pupkin enmeshes in his scheme and, in a smaller role, Shelley Hack who plays Langford’s PA and deals with Pupkin with unflappable savoir faire.

Although Scorsese is better known for his more cinematic work, The King Of Comedy still has plenty of the director’s characteristic New York sensibility and it is this sense of place and time which adds breadth to the strictly comedic aspect of the film. Of course some people will be simply turned off by the dysfunctionality of the Pupkin character but if you have a taste for the dryly offbeat, this is a treat.

FYI: Pupkin's mother, only heard off-screen is voiced by Catherine Scorsese, the director's mother whilst Scorsese appears briefly as the director of Langford's show,

If you like this you should check out Ben Stiller's The Cable Guy (1996).




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