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.
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) and 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.
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.
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
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.
Trivia about The King of Comedy starring Jerry Lewis
- Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin were considered before Jerry Lewis.
- Robert De Niro used anti-Semitic remarks to anger Jerry Lewis while filming the scene where Rupert Pupkin crashes Jerry Langford’s country home. Lewis, who had never worked with method actors, was shocked and appalled but delivered an extremely credible performance.
- Director Cameo: Martin Scorsese Man in van – as Jerry Langford is walking across the street and is greeted by a woman at a phone booth where she wants him to talk to her nephew Morris, Scorsese can be seen in the driver’s side of a green van.
- In the scene where Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard argue in the street, three of the “street scum” that mock Bernhard are Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon, members of the British punk rock band, The Clash.
- In the original script, when Rupert and Rita meet in the diner, there is a stranger sitting behind Rupert who flirts with Rita; later this stranger propositions her successfully. Although he is glimpsed in the film, it is not clear what he is doing. Another change is that in the script, when Rupert is being interviewed by the authorities who are looking for Jerry, Rupert is beaten, this does not happen in the film.
- The talk show segments were filmed on videotape (like a real talk show) and later transferred to film. An unedited version of Jerry’s monologue in its original video format can be seen as part of the DVD’s special features.
- In preparation for his role, Robert De Niro studied Richard Belzer’s stand-up comedy acts.
- George Kapp (“Mystery Guest”) was an actual NYC high school chemistry teacher in the 1960s-1970s.
- Jerry Lewis found Martin Scorsese’s working method initially frustrating, as he was made to wait around for the first 3 days of shooting. Lewis told Scorsese that he was a professional and was going to get paid for all the time he was made to wait, and that if Scorsese wasn’t going to use him, then he could tell him that he wasn’t needed.
- Martin Scorsese said later that making this film was an “unsettling” experience, in part because of the embarrassing, bitter material of the script. Scorsese said that he and Robert De Niro may have not worked together again for seven years because making “The King of Comedy” was so emotionally grueling.
- Director Cameo: Martin Scorsese as a TV director.