Mystery Fest: The King of Comedy

1982 black comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A prospective comedian tries to forcefully befriend a talk show host in order to get his chance and make it big. When that doesn't work, he teams up with another delusional person to attempt something a little more drastic.

A more lighthearted, albeit not exactly uproarious, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy is a great example of the type of comedy I usually like--depressing ones. Rupert Pupkin, one of my favorite movie names, is delusion incarnate, and Robert De Niro's ability to shrink is an important part of what makes the character who he is. Pupkin's a bundle of dichotomies. He's a loser or a schmuck, but there's this strange confidence that can trick you into thinking he really is something. He's fragile, but he's in complete control. He's calm, completely unassuming, but you just know it's not going to take much to make the guy snap. He's lost his mind; however, every move he makes is too calculated to come from a damaged psyche. He's insignificant, just another autograph hound, but he carries himself he's not just a man but the man. He's a criminal, but it's really hard not to like and root for him anyway. Pupkin's a great character, and De Niro's performance is exceptional although a lot quieter than his previous exceptional performances. Jerry Lewis is really good, too, and it's almost startling how the character isn't funny at all. I'm not sure what that says exactly. Well, there is one line--"It's not grammatically correct, but I think you get the idea."--is funny. Sandra Bernhard plays the other key character, and although I've never been a fan of her or her face, the unhinged red-haired feisty personality fits naturally here. I almost with her character didn't exist though. Not that I want Bernhard gone or anything, but with that red hair and vitriolic goading, she could almost be a figment of Pupkin's imagination, more a symbol of temptation than anything else. Characters can see her and her actions affect others directly, so she is, of course, really real. So is Tony Randall, and I know I've said this before and will probably say it again, but things are just better when Tony Randall is involved. I like how Scorsese tells the story here. It's not anything outrageously funny even though every moment Kim Chan is on the screen as Jerry Lewis's butler is funny and there's definitely an excuse for outrageous comedy in there. There aren't big moments exactly. Things sort of proceed matter-of-factly, and it's almost shocking how non-shocking it all is. I think it's a tribute to the performances but also, maybe, on what the idea of fame has become in the last thirty or so years. Here's a guy in Rupert Pupkin (seriously, can't get sick of typing that name) who has taken Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" idea and dove nutsack first into it all to become that titular king of comedy. One moment I really like in this: Pupkin, alone, performing in front of a wall of fake people with canned laughter drowning out his jokes. Powerful scene there.

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