The King of Comedy (1982) – Film review

3 stars

Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, and Shelley Hack

Director: Martin Scorsese


The King of Comedy was released in 1982, and stars Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis as the two main protagonists. Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) is an aspiring comedian who is desperate for a chance to display his talents and gain some popularity on the popular talk show: The Jerry Langford Show. Hosted by the popular celebrity: Jerry Langford, played respectively well by Jerry Lewis. Rupert finally gets this chance when he pushes past crowds of people, desperate to get an autograph from Jerry, and squeezes into Jerry’s personal limousine, much to his disgust. Rupert talks him into possibly getting a chance to appear on the show, and eventually Jerry gives in.

The King of Comedy is as much a story of dedication as it is a story of madness and obsession. The character of Rupert is a complex one. He is a man who wants to achieve and make it big, and will do absolutely anything to get there. Participating in crime doesn’t bother him, as long as he gets his chance to perform on the Jerry Langford show. And this is where the film delves into the complexity and possible insanity of Rupert Pupkin. And although it’s garnered a preconceived reputation of being a comedy, it is quite the opposite. In fact, it’s quite a dark and uncomfortable film due to the unsettling themes of crime and the spontaneous attitude of Rupert.


The King of Comedy has no laughs. There are no hilarious or comedic scenes – contrary to the title, and even the slightest use of humour is created with such dark ideas and motivations, that you would feel terrible for even thinking about laughing. But that’s not a complaint. There is nothing wrong with that, but make sure you don’t anticipate a fun, happy and hilarious film filled with lighthearted characters and slapstick humour. Because that’s not what you’ll get with The King of Comedy. You’ll get something much darker. More horrific. And more uncomfortable.

Martin Scorsese has described Robert De Niro’s performance as the best he has ever directed. And for the most part I agree. De Niro’s performance is haunting, and the acting is completely flawless from him. Trying to recreate his scenes in The King of Comedy is an impossible task, simply because he is Rupert Pupkin. You can’t see De Niro. You just see Rupert. And that’s the best compliment an actor can get.

Jerry Lewis as the charismatic talk show host is quite good. He’s forever being tormented by psychotic and crazy fans, and can’t walk down the street without someone begging for an autograph. His character obviously plays a big part in the plot of the film and features in most of the best scenes in the film.


The King of Comedy falls flat in certain places due to the lack of violence and profanity because of it’s PG certificate. If Scorsese had increased the rating, he would’ve reduced the amount of restrictions he had. This means he could capitalise on the uncomfortable and dark scenes, making them even better. But because he didn’t, there is no real payoff from those particular sequences.

Outside of De Niro’s incredible performance, there really isn’t anything else to praise in this film. It is by no means a bad film, but it definitely isn’t Scorsese at his best. The ending caused a lot of complaints from audiences, but I think it was probably the perfect way to finish The King of Comedy. And this definitely is a film you should consider watching at least once in your life, whether it’s for De Niro’s outstanding performance, or for the uncomfortable tale of a mans insanity and desperation to make it big.

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