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The King of Comedy

Catalog Number
35635
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Primary Distributor (If not listed, select "OTHER")
Release Year
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VHS | SP | Slipcase
108 mins (NTSC)
N/A | N/A | N/A
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The King of Comedy (1983)

Additional Information

Additional Information
. . and when it's all over one of them won't be laughing
Nobody knows Rupert Pupkin, but by 11:30 tonight, the whole world will know he's . . . THE KING OF COMEDY

It's no laughing matter.

Nobody knows Rupert Pupkin, but after 11:30 tonight no one will ever forget him.


Martin Scorsese's satirical comedy/drama caustically explores the lengths to which a nobody will go to be as famous as his idol. Practicing his patter in his basement with cardboard cut-outs of his favorite celebrities, mediocre aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) believes that one appearance on the evening talk show of the Johnny Carson-esque Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) will be his ticket to stardom. After he helps Jerry escape the advances of amorous fan Masha (Sandra Bernhard), Rupert takes Jerry's patronizing brush-off as a true promise for an audition and begins haunting Jerry's office. Provoked by Masha's needling and a rejection from Jerry's smooth production exec Cathy Long (Shelley Hack), Rupert makes a disastrous trip to Jerry's country house with embarrassed date Rita (Diahnne Abbott), then hatches an even more outlandish scheme to get ahead. With Masha's help, Rupert kidnaps Jerry and demands as ransom the TV appearance that he believes will turn his fantasy into reality.


The King of Comedy is a 1983 American black comedy film[3] starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis, and directed by Martin Scorsese. The subject of the movie is celebrity worship and the American media culture. It was released on February 18, 1983 in the United States by 20th Century Fox.


Film scholar David Bordwell, writing in Film Viewer's Guide, mentioned the (un)reality of the ending as a topic for debate. A number of scenes in the film—Rupert and Jerry in the restaurant, Jerry meeting Rupert after having listened to his tape and calling him a genius, Rupert getting married "live" on Jerry's show—exist solely in Rupert's imagination, and Bordwell suggested that some viewers would think the final sequence is another fantasy.
In his commentary on The Criterion Collection DVD of Black Narcissus, Scorsese stated that Michael Powell's films influenced The King of Comedy in its conception of fantasy. Scorsese said that Powell always treated fantasy as no different than reality, and so made fantasy sequences as realistic as possible. Scorsese suggests that Rupert Pupkin's character fails to differentiate between his fantasies and reality in much the same way. Scorsese sought to achieve the same with the film so that, in his words, the "fantasy is more real than reality".

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 93% of 40 critics gave the film positive reviews. Its critical consensus states: "Largely misunderstood upon its release, The King of Comedy today looks eerily prescient, and features a fine performance by Robert De Niro as a strangely sympathetic psychopath."[16] Although the film was well received by critics, it bombed at the box office. De Niro said that the film "...maybe wasn't so well received because it gave off an aura of something that people didn't want to look at or know."[17]
Timeout called it "Creepiest movie of the year in every sense, and one of the best".[18] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, writing, "The King of Comedy is one of the most arid, painful, wounded movies I've ever seen. It's hard to believe Scorsese made it..." He also wrote, "Scorsese doesn't want laughs in this movie, and he also doesn't want release. The whole movie is about the inability of the characters to get any kind of a positive response to their bids for recognition." He concluded the film, "is not, you may already have guessed, a fun movie. It is also not a bad movie. It is frustrating to watch, unpleasant to remember, and, in its own way, quite effective."[19] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader gave the film a favorable review, calling the film, "clearly an extension of Taxi Driver" and the "uncenteredness of the film is irritating, though it's irritating in an ambitious, risk-taking way".[20] Joyce Millman of Salon called it, "Martin Scorsese's second least popular movie, after The Last Temptation of Christ. Which is a shame, because it's Scorsese's second greatest film, after Taxi Driver."[21]
Not all critics gave the film positive reviews, however; Adam Smith of Empire Magazine called it "Neither funny enough to be an effective black comedy nor scary enough to capitalise on its thriller/horror elements".[22]
David Ehrenstein, author of The Scorsese Picture noted the mixed response of the film in his 1983 review. He stated that The King of Comedy "cuts too close to the bone for either large-scale mass audience approval or unanimous mainstream critical acclaim". He noted how far apart the film stood to other films made in the early years of Reagan's America which the film presented a very critical portrayal of (although the script was written well before Reagan's election, and shooting began less than five months after Reagan took office). "At a time when the film world piles on simple-minded sentiment in thick gooey gobs, a picture like The King of Comedy appears a frontal assault. The triumph of the 'little guy' is revealed to be nothing more than lumpen neo-Fascist blood lust."[23]
Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was one of the critics who disliked the film, describing the character of Rupert Pupkin as "Jake LaMotta without fists". She went on to write that "De Niro in disguise denies his characters a soul. De Niro's 'bravura' acting in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and New York, New York collapsed into 'anti-acting' after he started turning himself into repugnant flesh eggies of soulless characters.....Pupkin is a nothing." Scorsese says that "people were confused with King of Comedy and saw Bob as some sort of mannequin". Scorsese has called De Niro's role as Rupert Pupkin his favorite of all their collaborations


Release Date: February 18, 1983


Distribv: 20th Century Fox


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