The King of Comedy (1982)

Don't let the title fool you. Don't let the quick one-liners and the general star power fool you. Don't let the outlandish plot fool you. There is nothing funny about Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy" and there's not supposed to be. It's amazing that the gangster director could pull such a picture out of his pocket. To put this is perspective, Scorsese had yet to make "Goodfells" and "Casino" so the pictures most associated with him were a decade away from being created. What he had made already was "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull", which was the picture that came right before "The King of Comedy".
Switching from "Raging Bull" to this movie is like getting punched in the jaw. Scorsese's style is still there, probably seen best the way the opening credits randomly freeze a scene while a jazzy song plays in the background.
Rupert Pupkin (yes, everyone mispronounces or misspells it), is a stand-up comic wannabe. He doesn't want to start at the bottom like everyone else—he just wants to be famous without doing all the work and I think that most of us can sympathize with him.
He has dreams of grandeur, he has dreams of Jerry Langford. This late night talk-show host, modeled after Johnny Carson no doubt, is a funny man. Langford got a break into the business when he guest-hosted a show, now he's incredibly famous.
While leaving from his regular show, Langford is bombarded with crazy fans and doting idolizers. They just want to have a conversation with him, want his autograph, or want to touch his shirt.
One of these people is Rupert Pupkin. As Jerry exits and makes his way to his car, he is stopped by a crazy lady inside the vehicle, wanting a small piece of Jerry. Rupert pushes the crowd away and gets Jerry into his car, minus the lady, and quickly steps in after him.
Once inside, he asks Jerry for a break, a chance. Jerry tells him to call his secretary and set up a meeting.
Immediately, we are taken into Rupert's mind. On his quest to become famous, he will stop at nothing, and we start to realize how un-funny Rupert's life is.
Scorsese likes movies that make us think, he likes movies that can inspire, but he really likes movies about fractured people. We see it in "Raging Bull" a movie that I didn't like, because of how despicable the main character was. We see it in "Taxi Driver", which is pretty much one of the grittiest Scorsese films. We can also see it in "The Aviator" and here I think is the film with the greatest similarity to "The King of Comedy".
"The Aviator" is about a man who is crazy, and "The King of Comedy" could just as well be about the same thing. The script for the movie comes from Paul D. Zimmerman, whose writing credentials are impressively short.
In all honesty, this movie is a masterpiece; but one that I couldn't fully engage with. I wasn't completely with the characters the entire time; but that could be my fault and not the film's.
The films dances between laughter and weeping many, many times. It lives for the awkward moments, the tense scenes—Scorsese's most famous example of these scenes being the "why is so funny about my laugh?" scene from "Goodfellas".
What James Stewart was to Hitchcock, Robert De Niro is to Scorsese. He is very stunning in this movie. In fact, all the performances in the film are keen and precise.
Feeling like a dream, the movie's ending brings thoughts of "Network" to mind. The film could be making a statement on our pop probably is...but more interesting is the vortex of madness on screen that you didn't even realize was present until the final scenes of the film have long since passed.
"The King of Comedy" is glorious insanity.

Score: ★★★½

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