One from Under the Radar: King of Comedy

One of Robert De Niro’s least well known roles: 1983’s The King of Comedy is also one of his most remarkable. Want to see De Niro prove he can do more than act the slick, tough guy? The King of Comedy is the perfect demonstration.

Not a typical role for De Niro at all, playing Pupkin is an amazing display of his range…

Directed by Martin Scorsese, a master of his craft, the film is a dark comedy that follows De Niro’s character, Rupert Pupkin, in his quest to make it big as a stand up comedian. Successful US comedian Jerry Lewis also stars as TV comedian Jerry Langford. Pupkin is an aspiring comedian and a wildly enthusiastic fan of Jerry Langford. When he meets the star, he believed he’s gained his shot at the big time- hounding Langford for a place on his TV comedy show.

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As well as being an immersive, enjoyable film, The King of Comedy is also a thoughtful piece of hate-mail to our increasingly celebrity obsessed culture. This message is likely even more pertinent now then it was in the early eighties, when the film was released.  Pupkin, as an aspiring stand up, is obsessed with Jerry Langford, as is Pupkin’s friend Masha, (Sandra Bernhard). The pair become hooked into a dangerous cycle of hero worship and after his meeting with Langford, Pupkin comes to believe, (and repeatedly claim,) that he and Langford are close personal friends. The danger of this belief though is that Pupkin begins to believe it himself and his confidence in gaining a place on Langford’s television comedy showcase only grows as the film progresses.

Private moments with Pupkin see him perform alone in the mock TV studio erected in his basement, speaking familiarly to card-board cut outs of Langford.

In one particularly memorable and cringe worthy scene Pupkin takes Rita, the girl who was his high school sweetheart, to stay at Langford’s country home. Pupkin of course expects to be greeted with open arms and Rita’s embarrassment when the pair are spurned is palpable. It also comes after the build-up of Langford’s absence from the house, in which Pupkin attempts to convince the butler that he’s expected; the viewer’s tense wait for Langford to show up is nail biting and Pupkin’s awkward manner only adds to the cringe-factor.

The King of Comedy is an amazing showcase of De Niro’s talents and a massively enjoyable film.

This un-couth, mis-placed confidence characterises Pupkin perfectly. Not a typical role for De Niro at all, playing Pupkin is an amazing display of his range, which some argue he hasn’t always gone out of his way to show. Normally a commanding, masculine presence, De Niro instead was tasked with portraying a man who’s confidence far out-stretches his ability and he rises to the challenge perfectly. Private moments with Pupkin see him perform alone in the mock TV studio erected in his basement, speaking familiarly to card-board cut outs of Langford and regailing his wall-mural audience with joke after joke before being interrupted by his mother, shouting from upstairs.

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The criminal climax see’s events spin wildly out of control as Pupkin attempts to realise his dreams alongside the dangerously insane influence of Masha. Ultimately The King of Comedy is an amazing showcase of De Niro’s talents and a massively enjoyable film. The fact it didn’t seen box office success and is one of the least-known Scorsese/De Niro film’s out there is a crying shame. If the idea of a fantastic Scorsese-De Niro dark comedy still hasn’t quite got you sold, maybe The King of Comedy’s 91% Rotten Tomatoes rating will. This film is massively under-appreciated and well worth your time.

By George Storr

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