The King of Comedy
is a 1983 black comedy film, directed by Martin Scorsese
and starring Robert De Niro
and Jerry Lewis
. This film was a real departure from his earlier films, such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver,
and Raging Bull
for being highly minimalistic and lacking the stylishness of the earlier films and for its absolutely unique tone. Robert De Niro is also cast against type as a "real nerd", the definitive Loony Fan
The film was a huge commercial and critical failure in the year of its release, with critics not knowing what to make of it, with Jerry Lewis in a dramatic role and De Niro as the Psychopathic Manchild
typified by the former's films. In the years since its release, it has acquired a cult following with many a Big Name Fan
and is popular among stand-up comedians and the likes of Paul McCartney
for its poignant portrayal of celebrity culture.
- As Himself: Tony Randall fills in for Jerry Langford.
- Ascended Fanboy : A major Deconstruction of the concept.
- Big Applesauce: Rupert must venture into the swarming, chaotic hive of Manhattan from his home in the relatively quiet suburbs.
- Black Comedy: Perhaps a textbook example.
- The Cameo: The Clash walking around Times Square.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Rupert Pupkin is pretty much the poster boy for this trope. More precisely a Darker and Edgier and Stepford Smiler of the same, in that he's actually much smarter than he pretends and indeed has a nasty, ruthless edge.
- Cringe Comedy
- The Danza: Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford.
- Dark Chick: Masha (Sandra Bernhard) is Rupert's partner in crime, and in many ways the mastermind behind their scheme.
- Deconstruction : Years before its time, this film is an Unbuilt Trope of some of the features of celebrity culture that we have come to accept but was still new at the time.
- The film is a very dark look at the concept of celebrity worship, of audience's identification with an artist and the work and how that relationship affects both the artist and the fan. Langford is lonely, isolated and utterly committed to his job, his fame preventing him from having a normal life. While Rupert has No Social Skills and is an embarrassment to his mother and whose love for Langford is a shallow desire for acceptance and affection.
- Fan Disservice: Marsha when Jerry Langford is alone with her, at least for Langford given his situation.
- Freudian Excuse: Rupert establishes this in his act during the climax, with the majority of his material deriving from his unhappy childhood and abusive parents.
- Given that Rupert is a Consummate Liar and his craving for sympathy and respect, there's a fair chance that this is not to be taken seriously. Rupert is shown to be a literal Basement-Dweller with a mother who's justifiably fed up with him.
- Funny Background Event: When Rupert and Rita are in the restaurant, you can see the man behind Rupert (the actor Chuck Low, who played Morrie in Goodfellas and was a good friend of De Niro's) imitating Rupert's hand gestures.
- I Just Want to Be You: Essentially what Rupert expects from Jerry.
- Implacable Man : Jerry Langford has dealt with a lot of crazies and even when he is kidnapped he is highly dignified and composed, not losing his cool until the end.
- Rupert is a darker example; rejection after rejection, rebuke after rebuke will not make this man give up on his dream.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jerry Langford is pretty obviously based on Johnny Carson.
- Real-Life Relative: Robert De Niro's then-wife Dihanne Abbott plays Rita, the girl Rupert takes to Jerry's house on a date.
- Martin Scorsese's mother provides The Voice of Rupert's mom.
- Reality Subtext: Jerry Lewis had more experience with fame than both Scorsese and De Niro and contributed a few suggestions to the script. The scene of the old woman shouting "you should get cancer" was based on a real incident that had happened to him, he also directed the actress to get the timing right.
- Martin Scorsese said that he identified with both the main characters. As a young boy, he wanted to be a film director and relentlessly sought out every film he could see. Yet, at the time he made The King of Comedy he had become like Jerry Langford, a Consummate Professional who had Seen It All. Sergio Leone on seeing the film, told Scorsese, that it was "a mature film".
- Small Name, Big Ego: Rupert Pupkin, which he never tires of correcting people, who call him "Mr. Pumpkin".
- Stepford Smiler : Rupert is always relentlessly cheerful and never gives any impression of losing his cool. But underneath those smiles is a very cold, ruthless man.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Rupert is this to the core. While Jerry gives him advice on how to proceed in his career and take his craft seriously, all he is interested in is the fame. The network executives who in other films would be presented as bad guys are patient and even a little too polite in dealing with Rupert. Rupert's return for this kindness is to kidnap Jerry and hijack the show for his own ego.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy : All Rupert expects from Jerry is his approval and a chance to be on TV despite having undeveloped talent and weak routines.