The King of Comedy Movie Review

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The King of Comedy is a wholly original and entirely offbeat, dark comedy about fame, obsessive fandom, and the medium from which they both feed: television. The film careens from witty satire to difficult melodrama to downright silly and back again. And while King, made in 1983, does appear slightly dated, Scorsese's first film after Raging Bull and perhaps most underappreciated work (or at least a close second to The Last Temptation of Christ) deserves to be seen. And with the recently released DVD, maybe it will.

The film concerns aspiring comedian and completely obtuse Rupert Pupkin, played by Robert De Niro in one of his few comic performances. Kings, however, is no Analyze This or ; De Niro gives a brilliant and, at times, disturbing portrayal of a man so obsessed by fame and enthralled with his idols that he kidnaps comedian and late night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis in a thinly veiled parody of his own star image) in order to get his big break and show the world that Rupert Pupkin is the new king of comedy. The problem is that he is not that funny, and his self-deprecating brand of humor quickly becomes sad as it traverses the line from joke to personal trauma.

The funny thing is - and I hesitate to use the word funny, but for lack of a better one I must - that one is never sure how much of Pupkin's life is true and how much is part of his act. It is much like watching a guest on a talk show: You can never be sure what is true and what is made up for camera.

Thus, not only do Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Zimmermann (who may very well be depicting himself) manage to create a comedy based on something that isn't funny, but they have come up with a poignant satire on comedy, fame, and the ambiguous epistemological nature of television. King also puts to great use the often overlooked but always cheesy aesthetics of television - i.e. swelling music, slow cross-fades, forced drama, and overdetermined comedic moments, among other things. This "look" is used throughout the film in order to depict Rupert's elaborate fantasy sequences, which are akin to John Schlesinger's (Billy Liar, Midnight Cowboy) characters' aptly depicted, never tangential fantasy musings. It just seems perfectly funny, both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar, that a man's fantasy life can be reduced to the shallow flow and lo-fi aesthetic of television.

King also boasts a strong, if hard to watch, performance by Sandra Bernhard as Marsha, Rupert's clingy friend in fandom and kidnapper accomplice. The scene where she tries to seduce Jerry Lewis, who is so wrapped up in white tape that he looks like a mummy, is almost too surreal to believe. Another bonus is the blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo by Scorsese himself, playing, of course, a director. The DVD features widescreen format and a making-of featurette.

King is better, in my opinion, than Scorsese's other foray into "dark" comedy, After Hours, although the two films do share a certain sense of indescribable paranoia and uneasiness, not only as thematic elements but also in the process of viewing them. They are hard to watch but I mean that in a good way, if that makes sense.

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The King of Comedy Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1983


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