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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.57%
Average: 4.29%
Pretty Bad: 1.43%
Total Crap: 1.43%

2 reviews, 58 user ratings

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King of Comedy, The
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by MP Bartley

"Funny? Funny how? Like a clown?"
5 stars

Some films are just far too far ahead for their times and 'The King of Comedy' is a prime example. A massive flop on initial release, it's only now that it has a startling relevancy. Because it's only now, in an age where those with the least talent are almost sought out to be famous and where there are magazines devoted to just where George Clooney is eating tonight, that we realise just how scarily relevant Rupert Pupkin is.

My favourite tv programme of the last few years has been the BBC's 'The Office', starring Ricky Gervais. In it, a small company boss, David Brent, is the 'star' of a documentary capturing the life and times of his workplace. Not an episode goes by without Brent playing up to the cameras, desperate to pass himself off as a great entertainer. Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is exactly like that, except that the cameras are all in Pupkin's head.

Pupkin is obsessed with chat show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Pupkin is convinced that he is the new king of comedy and if he can just land himself a slot on Jerry's show, he can prove it to an audience of millions. The trouble is, despite saving him from being crushed in a crowd of fans, Jerry wants nothing to do with Pupkin. But Pupkin will not take no for an answer and instead shows up in the station building day after day, before deciding to take matters into his own hands with fellow obsessee Marsha (Sandra Bernhard)...

'The King of Comedy' is one of Martin Scorsese's least talked about films, which is a damn shame, because it's one of his absolute masterpieces. It's a disturbing, sometimes funny, sometimes downright terrifying trip into the mind of someone who's deeply disturbed. But it's not all blood and thunder like Travis Bickle, it's much more subtle than that. It's the way we're just given small aspects of Pupkin's life, like the fantasy stand up scenes he conjures up in his basement surrounded by cardboard cut-outs of Jerry and an audience while the applause rages in his head. It's the way that Pupkin and Marsha have a screaming match on the street over who loves Jerry the most and instead of being funny, it uncomfortably reminds us of two mentally disabled people having a fight. It's the way we never see Pupkin's mother, but only hear her screaming at Pupkin to keep the noise down.

Even a seemingly normal scene of Pupkin having dinner with a barmaid (Diahnne Abbott) quickly becomes disturbing when you realise just what the guy on the table behind them is doing...(put it this way, it's like something out of a Lynch film).

It's this skill at drawing out the subtle things that are just wrong with Pupkin's life, that means that 'The King of Comedy' is a film that will rattle uneasily around your brain for days afterwards.

And there's three terrific performances that anchor this deeply chilling tale. Bernhard is terrific as someone who is deeply messed up and is spilling out mentally all over the place, while you have to admire the bravery of Lewis to play a famous personality who also happens to be an unrelenting shit. You get the sense that there's a lot of personal truth in that performance.

And then there's De Niro, who at this point, was at the absolute top of his game. He never over-plays Pupkin, almost making him a blank slate so you can never tell whether you should find him funny, sad or downright terrifying. It's De Niro's talent at finding the smallest amount of humanity, in even the most detestable characters that's the key here. So as annoying or scary as Pupkin's refusal to just go away is, there's always something going on just behind the eyes that hints of years of pain and pools of aching loneliness and despair. So while his constant attendance at Jerry's office may be funny at first, it quickly becomes sad and then disturbing without ever losing the humanity of it.

'Raging Bull'. 'Goodfellas'. 'Taxi Driver'. Most people will name those as Scorcese's and De Niro's greatest achievements. But for me, it's got to be 'The King of Comedy' that finds them both at their absolute pinnacle. And when you think about it, it's just not remotely funny at all.

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originally posted: 03/17/05 23:29:45
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User Comments

6/30/20 Louise (the real one) OK, but rather watch a Jerry Lewis film. De Niro looked like Boycie from OnlyFools&Horses 3 stars
3/08/15 stanley welles beautifully dark, incisive and fascinating 5 stars
2/19/15 yulfiana IDIOT 1 stars
1/22/12 Richmonde von Charleswerthe Hilarityie ensuedde. 5 stars
1/11/11 Jason M. Scorsese's most underrated film. 5 stars
12/14/10 moose rapper Dark and funny 4 stars
6/01/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Jerry Lewis is great in a dramatic role 4 stars
1/03/10 Jeff Most underrated film of all-time. 5 stars
6/02/08 Sham Hardly It's the Shiz von Iznit. 5 stars
4/06/08 Alec Frost Simply the best, better than all the rest. 5 stars
4/01/08 Rupert P Second best Scorsese film, after Taxi Driver. 5 stars
1/26/08 Klint Donoghue It raaawcks. 5 stars
11/30/07 Richard Larghus Ashtonishin'! 5 stars
12/27/06 Agent Sands Lewis, if so late in his career, demonstrates the extent of his ability as an actor. 5 stars
4/30/06 Joshua Not just the most underrated De Niro/Scorsese film, but of all-time. 5 stars
1/17/06 John Dog One of Scorsese's best. 5 stars
8/02/05 ALDO Scorsese's best, loses some steam toward the end 4 stars
6/03/05 Pinkline Jones Scorcese Masterpiece Weirdly Hysterical and Thought Provoking 5 stars
2/11/05 Jeff Anderson One of the sickest, but unquestionably one of the most brilliant comedies I've ever seen! 5 stars
11/12/04 The Mean Machine De Niro is amazing!!!! 5 stars
10/23/04 UMER the MOST underrated movie of deniro-scorsese combination 5 stars
10/23/04 R Smith Pupkin is not scary. Gangsters are scary. 5 stars
9/27/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Great but only if you're in the mood; if not, you can hate easily hate it 5 stars
6/17/04 kitfo1 will make you squirm. Jerry Lewis is perfect. 5 stars
3/02/04 Moses "You talkin' to me?" Roth Great.... 5 stars
1/24/04 CC Yep real stuff... 5 stars
11/26/03 Rochelle stupid 2 stars
6/29/03 joshx42 A truly distrubing masterpiece about the dark side of celebrity. 5 stars
5/20/03 Jack Kael was wrong...often. Great film, great performances. Not for everyone. 5 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby Emotionally devastating Scorsese film is easily his most underrated. Lewis is superb. 4 stars
2/20/03 R.W. Welch Bizarre and vaguely creepy tale of obsession; it's something different. 4 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones Sensational and clever film. Pupkin and Marcia Rule! 5 stars
12/25/02 c boyd pauline kael was wrong -- incredibly good and funny look at our obsession with celebrity 5 stars
10/29/02 Charles Tatum Funnier than "After Hours" 5 stars
1/16/02 Andrew Carden Great Comic Team. 5 stars
8/11/01 Mr. Hat Basically dark, but Robert De Niro's pretty good. 3 stars
6/11/01 R. Johnson Astonishing, chilling, brilliant film! 5 stars
4/08/01 A.K. offbeat yet enjoyable. an underrated film. 4 stars
2/18/01 Jake Very intriguing. De Niro is really out there baby! Nowhere near as dark as Very Bad Things 4 stars
2/14/01 Richard Wright Theres a message in this underrated film .. but I'm too busy enjoying the film to find it. 4 stars
12/03/00 Stewart Tillman Brilliant overlooked gem. My pride and joy. 5 stars
11/11/00 Brenton Priestley One of the best films I've ever seen - audacious, hilarious. 5 stars
10/06/00 john foster a truly dark and satiric Scorcese film 4 stars
5/09/00 TH Yep. This is certainly one of the funniest and saddest American films ever. Brilliant. 5 stars
12/11/99 nero Revealing the intimacy of illusion apparent in celebrity/fan culture 4 stars
9/21/99 Skip Young One of the 10 best movies of the 80's! 5 stars
9/14/99 Richard Suchenski A brilliantly directed minor masterpiece with poignant and prescient social commentary. 5 stars
9/08/99 howard s. greenberg jerry lewis was magnificent; don't have to say this about De Niro because it was so obvious 5 stars
8/11/99 Gregory Hart De Niro's chilling finest 5 stars
7/20/99 Wade Walsh Mad...and entertaining...the stand-up climax is very funny. 5 stars
7/09/99 Brilliantly acted, great work by Marty, a film that can or should be watched several times 5 stars
6/06/99 Movie Freek In total agreement with Hawkboy... Scorsese can do comedy just as well as drama 5 stars
4/16/99 JonnyAngel A solid film. 4 stars
11/26/98 little jerry Unfortunately too successful in creating a sterile,TV movie feel.Where's the Scorsese heat? 3 stars
11/25/98 DrEvil Jerry Lewis is bound and gagged by an underwear-clad Sandra Bernhard. Killer ending. 5 stars
10/29/98 Silent Rob Could qualify as a forgotten gem! Sandra is great in this one. 4 stars
9/15/98 Badass Funny. 4 stars
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  18-Feb-1983 (PG)



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