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1983 Scorsese classic revisited

The Joker owes a debt to The King of Comedy

King of Comedy
King of Comedy

Last year’s blockbuster Joker owes a huge debt to the dark satire The King of Comedy. Time to re-appraise Scorsese’s 1983 movie – more relevant in today’s cult of the celebrity than it’s ever been and out on Amazon Prime, says N2 film reviewer CAMERON BLACKSHAW

The King of Comedy (PG)
Running time 1hr 49min
Rating: *****

WITHIN Martin Scorsese’s esteemed filmography, The King of Comedy is one of the lesser-known pictures directed by the great American filmmaker. It was a huge flop when it was released in 1983, making only $2.5m from its $19m budget. Its strangeness was mostly well-received by contemporary critics, but the film’s surreal story of obsession and desire for fame maybe wasn’t well-suited to the tastes of the general public.

It’s a film that should be re-appraised, particularly in our modern era where the lives of celebrities are omnipresent, ruling the realms of social media and beaming themselves to every one of our mobile phones. Scorsese’s film is perhaps more relevant today than it ever has been, and this can be seen through the massive critical and commercial success of last year’s Joker, a film which owes a huge debt to The King of Comedy in both its themes, characters and overarching story.

The film’s protagonist is Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), a hopeful comedian who has nothing really funny to say, but is adamant that he will become one of America’s funniest men.

So much so, that he becomes obsessed with comedian and talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and after meeting him one night after his show, sees him as his equal. He spends the rest of the plot attempting to get himself on to Jerry’s show, which results in him and another fanatic (Sandra Bernhard) kidnapping him.

Pupkin’s mental instability is reflected throughout the film, which constantly weaves in and out of reality and Pupkin’s own delusions. At first, it’s quite easy to tell between them, but by the time the credits roll it’s hard to be sure if you’re witnessing true events or all the film is within Pupkin’s head. This oscillating instability is one of the film’s greatest assets, and its
something that will leave you pondering for days.

De Niro puts in one of his greatest and perhaps most underrated performances as Pupkin. He’s a character that evokes laughter and sympathy and De Niro deftly brings the right quality of pathos to pull off the childlike fanaticism needed for the role. Jerry Lewis is also great as Langford, his understated sternness being a great counterpoint to the madness of Pupkin.

The King of Comedy is certainly a film that will never cease to be relevant. Like all of Scorsese’s films, it’s paced brilliantly with intriguing unique characters that you’ll want to revisit again and again. It may not be as well-known or lauded as Goodfellas or The Departed, but it stands tall against anything else the great director has made.

The King of Comedy is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.

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