Film / The King of Comedy

"Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime."
Rupert Pupkin

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 follows the autograph hunter and aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (De Niro), whose ambition far exceeds his talent. One day Rupert meets Jerry Langford (Lewis), a successful late night talk-show host who craves his own privacy. Rupert believes his "big break" has finally come and he attempts to to get a place on Langford's show by stalking him, and he soon begins to indulge in elaborate and obsessive fantasies where he and Langford are colleagues and friends.

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.


  • Abhorrent Admirer: Masha, where Jerry Langford is concerned.
  • Anti-Hero: Rupert, if not a Villain Protagonist.
  • 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. Comic piano player Victor Borge and Dr. Joyce Brothers appearing on Jerry's show.
  • 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.
  • Conversation Cut: Rita the bartender, subject of Rupert's high school crush, asks if 15 years isn't a little too long for Rupert to ask her out on a date. Cut to Rupert laughing heartily, as they're out on a date.
  • Creator Cameo: Martin Scorsese as the talk show's director.
  • Cringe Comedy: Rupert's series of humiliations as he chases his hopeless dream. It's been argued that this film was an early Trope Maker.
  • 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. Meanwhile, Rupert has No Social Skills and is an embarrassment to his mother; his love for Langford is a shallow desire for acceptance and affection.
  • Fan Disservice: Masha in her underwear 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 has not been dead for nine years, as he claims in his act) 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.
  • Imagine Spot: Various imagine spots as Rupert has daydreams about success and fame and appearing on Jerry's show.
  • Implacable Man : Rupert is a dark example; rejection after rejection, rebuke after rebuke will not make this man give up on his dream.
  • Inherently Funny Words: You can tell that Rupert Pupkin is a real sad-sack just by the sound of his name.
  • Malicious Misnaming: The staff at the TV studio get Rupert's name wrong in many different and creative ways.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jerry Langford is pretty obviously based on Johnny Carson (Carson was offered the role but turned it down. Carson's producer Fred de Cordova played his fictional equivalent, however).
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Practically every single time Rupert interacts with someone else is an example of one. Rupert only hears what he wants to hear and twists everything anyone else says to fit his view of reality.
  • Rubber Face: Jerry gives Rupert's face a thorough workout.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Rupert Pupkin, which he never tires of correcting people, who call him "Mr. Pumpkin".
  • Stalker with a Crush: Masha for Jerry is a memorably disturbing example.
  • Stepford Smiler : Rupert is always relentlessly cheerful and never gives any impression of losing his cool. But underneath those smiles is a cold and uncompromising 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.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Jerry, after he talks Masha into cutting him loose, slaps her and escapes.