Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime
Scorsese, like Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola and the rest of the so called “Movie Brats” from the seventies is recognized for a small collection of his titles and less his sprawling body of work. Spielberg has E.T, and Indiana Jones, Lucas Star Wars and Coppola The Godfather trilogy and in all cases it does the director a disservice.
Narrowing Scorsese to his gangster movies is reductive and simplistic, not taking into account that his attempts in different genres with emphatic (and sometimes not so emphatic) results. The King of Comedy is a film that if viewed through the prism of Scorsese’s work would look and feel distinctly unlike him. There’s little of the whirlwind-like energy he’s known for or a look at familial relationships. Take a peak beneath the surface and it does feel more like the director on a filmic and personal level.
The King of Comedy is about Robert De Niro’s Rupert Pubkin, an aspiring comedian who looks to gain the support of talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). At first what appears out to a series of amicable meetings soon devolves into a morass of obsession, ambition and fanaticism that takes both characters to strange places.
The title may imply a comedc tone but it absolutely is not. De Niro’s Pubkin is a desperate man, walking the New York streets in his smart suit and briefcase, constantly on the lookout for Langford. It’s apparent that something is not right with him, whether it’s his insistence on meeting Langford or that he lives in his mother’s basement (was he cinema’s first fanboy?). The film exposes his delusion, a man with no social skills and who’s may not even have a job. De Niro brings a fanaticism to the role, a character with the blinkers who can’t see that the world isn’t how he imagines it.
The film’s final reel provides is a fertile bed for discussion, playing with reality and fantasy and ending on an ambiguous note as to whether Pubkin has achieved his ambitions. It’s a fascinating end that could be viewed as a parable on fame. An ordinary person’s wish-fulfillment fantasy combined with a lack of talent makes you wonder if Scorsese was damming society’s relentless need to consume every detail about those who entertain us for a living.