The King of Comedy

DVD review of The King of Comedy (1982), starring Jerry Lewis, Robert Deniro, Sandra Bernhard

Jerry Lewis‘ The King of Comedy is not the typical Jerry Lewis movie.  It’s not a comedy, it’s not for the children.  It’s a very dark comedy (although rated PG).  The King of Comedy looks at the behind-the-scenes life of Jerry Langford (played straight, and brilliantly, by Jerry Lewis), a talk-show host seemingly similar to Jay Leno or David Letterman.

Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, with his cardboard cutout "friends" in his mother's basement

The basic plot involves an obsessed fan of Langford’s, played brilliantly by a young Robert DeNiro, as Rupert Pupkin. Rupert is a young man who dreams of becoming a comedian like his idol, Jerry Langford. The movie is told with alternate flashes of reality, and Rupert’s dream life. This makes him somewhat sympathetic — and clearly dangerous. He teams up with another obsessed fan of Jerry’s named Masha (Sandra Bernhard). They have an unusual plan to reach their respective goals. The duo ultimately kidnap Langford—in exchange for Rupert doing a comedy monologue on Langford’s nightly show.

Jerry Lewis as late night TV host Jerry Langford in The King of Comedy

It’s a very dark movie, looking at Hollywood behind the scenes—and it’s not a nice view at all, although riveting.  It’s not the normal Jerry Lewis movie at all, but definitely worth watching.

Editorial Review of The King of Comedy, starring Jerry Lewis, courtesy of Amazon.com essential video

The King of Comedy, which flopped at the box office, is actually a gem waiting to be rediscovered. Like A Face in the Crowd (a not-so-distant cousin to this film), Network, and The Truman Show, its target is show business–specifically the burning desire to become famous or be near the famous, no matter what. Robert De Niro plays the emotionally unstable, horrendously untalented Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe Vegas-style comedian. His fantasies are egged on by Marsha, a talk-show groupie (brilliantly played by Sandra Bernhard) who hatches a devious, sure-to-backfire plan.

Sandra Bernhard as the obsessed fan with her idol, Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis is terrific in the straight role as the Johnny Carson-like talk-show host Jerry Langford. De Niro’s performance as the obsessive Pupkin is among his finest (which is saying a lot) and he never tries to make the character likable in any way. Because there’s no hero and no one to root for, and because at times the film insists we get a little too close and personal with Pupkin, some will be put off. Yet it’s one of Scorsese’s most original and fascinating films, giving viewers much to consider on the subject of celebrity. Its inevitable climax is clever and quietly horrific. —Christopher J. Jarmick

Product Description of The King of Comedy, starring Jerry Lewis

Kidnapped Jerry Lewis at gunpoint

Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy is a funny depiction of the dangers of celebrity fandom. Robert De Niro plays the ridiculously inept Rupert Rupkin, an aspiring comic who idolizes talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Still living at home with his mother, Rupert spends his days trying to arrange a meeting with his hero. When he isn’t doing that, he’s at home talking to cardboard cutouts in his makeshift television studio. After Rupert convinces Rita (Diahnne Abbot), a pretty bartender, that Langford has invited them to his house outside the city, the reality of the situation makes itself painfully apparent upon arriving at the star’s front door. Trouble is, Rupert’s too delusional to take the hint. He eventually hatches a plan with an equally obsessed fan, Masha (Sandra Bernhard), to kidnap Langford in exchange for a chance to let him deliver his routine on the air.

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