King of Comedy: a review

Aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) has one dream: to meet late-night TV host Jerry Langford (played with startling acuity by Jerry Lewis) and, through him, to achieve fame. The problem: he has no experience, no bookings, no stand-up act… except the one he’s practiced in his mother’s basement for years.

Pupkin doesn’t see that this might be a problem. He believes, with the fervent belief of the slightly mad, that if he can just meet Jerry, everything else will miraculously fall into place. His only friends are similarly starstuck and mad (particularly notable is Sandra Bernhard as another stage-door stalker), and they only reinforce his loony certainty, giving him a curious air of confidence.

Revisiting Scorsese’s underwatched film The King of Comedy, I saw that it was a perfect companion piece to his much-lauded Taxi Driver. Once again, Scorsese and DeNiro conspire to create an indelible portrait of a man obsessed.

Indeed, King of Comedy presents a hellishly complete anxiety by repressing every chance for emotional release; where Taxi Driver offers moments of recognizable violence and vulgarity to relieve the audience’s building tension, King of Comedy simmers with a terrible submerged anger and a deep sense of dread. The plot unfolds with excruciating deliberation and dreadful humor that only Scorsese could deliver. This movie is all about the power of the pathetic and the pathological, and — boy oh boy — does it deliver.

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