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TV Movie Of The Week: The King Of Comedy

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Mark Kermode Mark Kermode | 11:50 UK time, Friday, 12 October 2012

Each week on the Five Live show we single out the best film on television in the coming week. We never have time to discuss it so I've decided to do it here on the blog. My choice this week is Martin Scorsese's chilling 1983 King Of Comedy

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  • Comment number 1.

    100% agree - I've been saying this for years and just get funny looks.

    This and After Hours are horrifically underrated.

  • Comment number 2.

    For those that need the info; it's on Film4 on Wed. 17th October at 9:00pm

    Looking forward to watching it myself.

  • Comment number 3.

    It gives the transmission details on screen at the end of the blog!

  • Comment number 4.

    Yeah, I can barely read it, it's quite scrambled up on my view, so just making it a bit clearer. :)

  • Comment number 5.

    Really love this film, tragic and comic at the same time, and more than that. Very underrated film and performances. De Niro's role here is unexpected and plays it with aplomb (a few years later he'll do another out of type characterisation in the excellent Awakenings). Possibly his best performance or at least up there.

    Maybe the film was unsuccessful because it hit too close to home with the audience and critics. ;)

    Oh, and Sandra Bernhard probably would consider it a compliment to be called grating. In this film, though, as you say, that becomes an asset.

  • Comment number 6.

    I do think it is De Niro's greatest performance. And it is also a film that fully delivers on its promise. We know throughout that we are being set up for Rupert to deliver his comedy monologue and when it finally comes it is both a brilliant piece of writing and direction. The most perfect thing about that sequence is how stunningly mediocre Pupkin's routine is, and it is perfect fulfillment of that character and his actions up until that point in the narrative. It is pitched absolutely perfectly.

    The comment about the film putting Taxi Driver in the shade is interesting but also a tad unfair as The King of Comedy wouldn't exist without Taxi Driver and the two serve as fascinating companion pieces and both work better because the other exists.

    It is an absolutely marvellous piece of work, perhaps the most savage indictment of celebrity culture and the cult of personality ever put on film. A motif which is perfectly captured in Jerry Lewis performance, who is absolutely vile in the role. It is one of Scorsese's crowning works. I still think as achievements in furthering the cinematic language and the influence they had on filmmakers all these years down the line, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver are the 'better' films but King of Comedy is up there with them.

  • Comment number 7.

    A friend of mine wrote this after watching the movie the first time: "One of the things I liked most about the movie is that when we finally hear Pupkin's routine, it's pretty bad, but it's realistically bad: not completely over-the-top bad, but the kind of bad you'd hear from an actual really lame stand-up comic. Jokes about how crummy Passaic, New Jersey is. And he actually gets a few chuckles from dimwits in the audience."

  • Comment number 8.

    Along with After Hours, this is by far the most underrated of Scorsese's films, and unfortunately, the overlooked one out of the eight films he made with DeNiro. For my money, DeNiro's Rupert Pupkin is just as unnerving and creepy as his Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta. Whereas Bickle and LaMotta expressed their violence, both physical and psychological, through their lack of words, Pupkin does so through his gregarious and extroverted nature; but all three are equally violent men. Pupkin doesn't mean to be the way he is; he is programmed to respond to the media's bigging up of celebrities, and can't see through the facade. Today's society is literally a sea of Rupert Pupkins, which makes the film extraordinarily prescient for something made over thirty years ago. It always gets under my skin in a way that Raging Bull, for all its awards and technical brilliance, fails to do. That scene at Jerry's house in which Rupert gatecrashes never fails to make me cringe and sink into my armchair. The scary thing is, we're on Rupert's side, and we loathe the smug, self-loathing Jerry (the man who sits at dinner with his back to the city, and looks down on people like the common man; ie...Jerry). It's a scary film, and frighteningly funny. In fact, its one of my favourite films of a pretty lousy decade in film...

  • Comment number 9.

    I do agree that this one of the best collaborations between Scorsese & De Niro, vastly underrated.
    But is the fact that it is underrated the reason why Mark has put it right at the top.
    If the roles were reversed and Taxi Driver was the one no one spoke about, what then Dr K ?

  • Comment number 10.

    I've been telling my friends for years to seek out this film. Everyone knows the Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas. This one (a box office flop, just like raging bull at the time it came out, i think) is sadly a very, very overlooked piece - almost forgotten by younger audiences particularly.
    It is certainly one of my favorites of Scorsese and even though it is a (bittersweet) comedy it fits Scorsese's track record so perfectly with a great DeNiro as the obsessive wannabe comedian who desperately searches for his place. Just great.

  • Comment number 11.

    I have been flying the flag for this film for absolutely ages and whenever I mention it in conversation, most people look at me like I'm going mad. I adore this film. Great performances from everyone involved and it has aged spectacularly well into today's celebrity obsessed culture.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think this is a gem of a movie, II think its up there with the classic scorsese. I think Pupkin is a reat performance, however the thign you dont mentiuon is because he is with his then wife ain the film, so there relationship seems realistic. I like the crowd reacion to him saying he had kidnapped the host. I also likethat imagined conversation wand the reality

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm going to have to stop myself from watching it right now on DVD. Undoubtedly brilliant, with a cast at the top of their game and as grim and bleak as Taxi Driver. I would likely rate this as my favourite Scorsese/De Niro film.

  • Comment number 14.

    Excellent underated gem of a film

    I love the scenes where they keep mis-pronouncing his name

    Jerry Lewis is outstanding

  • Comment number 15.

    It's bizarre - i was watching this film last week. It is always a film i return to amongst the obvious heft of other Scorsese classics. You are right to ascribe to the psychopathy in the Robert De Niro character: a zany, unpredictable performance that, makes one feel unnerved at times. It's like Travis Bickle six years later, trying to make a career for himself. "King Of Comedy" to this day is prevelant in the current craze of wanting to obtain immediate fame and recognition. It will always be that gem, along with "The Last Temptation Of Christ" that will remain overlooked.

  • Comment number 16.

    For me King Of Comedy is the improved version of Taxi Driver. Both films are built around a central character who is extremely delusional, naive and is a danger to anyone around him, the problem with Taxi Driver is that it's misunderstood by many people who end up idolizing Travis Bickle, King Of Comedy on the other hand makes its point very efficiently clear.

  • Comment number 17.

    It was the one Scorsese picture I avoided for years based mainly on the negative reviews surrounding the film - I eventually bought a copy on DVD for £3 (thought I'd give it a go) - I completely agree it's Scorsese's masterpiece - I like it head and shoulders above his recognised classics - It gets better every time I've seen it -

  • Comment number 18.

    I suspect many younger viewers new to this film may view Rupert Pupkin differently. Pupkin's mantra through out the film is "better a king for a night, than a schmuck for a lifetime" i wonder how many wannabes would be nodding in agreement. Ultimately Pupkin is a winner here, he gets his moment in the limelight and whilst in prison he writes a bestseller and on his release probably goes on to appear on TV talk shows and is hired as a pundit to talk about celebrity stalkers. In an era when people willingly debase themselves on Jeremy Kyle, i think many would consider a spell in prison a legitimate cost of fame.

    The ending also has parallels with Taxi Driver in which the equally psychotic Travis Bickel becomes a tabloid hero, an irony not lost on scorsese.

  • Comment number 19.

    I do love King of Comedy. It's easily my second favourite Scorsese film alongside Taxi Driver, and even though he's done a lot of great films, it's those two which in my mind ought to sit in the pantheon of the best films of all time. But don't you think you're undercutting Taxi Driver here Mark? Perhaps the fact that Taxi Driver is one of those films which is so massive and so well-respected that it's reputation precedes itself, and you end up knowing half the film before ever watching it thanks to the way it permeates pop culture - similar to The Godfather, Pulp Fiction and Citizen Kane. That is it's only flaw, and it rises above and beyond in a way that other films of it's stature don't.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think to call King of Comedy Scorsese and De Niro's best collaboration is a stretch (for me it's probably Raging Bull which is a near perfect film, with director and star both on top of their game - there's also an argument to be made for Goodfellas, although it's more of an ensemble effort and De Niro takes a back seat for much of the film, so it never really feels like a true Scorsese-De Niro collaboration), however it is certainly a vastly under-rated film. Its portrayal of psychopathy is pitch perfect and deeply unsettling, far more so than Taxi Driver, which at times I felt veered towards pastiche. I long for the days when both De Niro and Scorsese were making films of this calibre.

  • Comment number 21.

    I agree with your assessment of the film, but, Mark, saying that it throws Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Raging Bull "in the shade" is a bit of a stretch. Does Salvador Dali's "Three Sphinxes of Bikini" do the same to "The Persistence of Memory"? No, of course not. The King of Comedy is definitely highly underrated, but that doesn't make it any better than the more regarded films of Scorsese's canon. As theironlung previously stated, because its so nonexistent compared to Scorsese's other work in popular culture, it just seems like it's better. Deniro's performance is great, and I would say that it's much better than his performance in Goodfellas, but practically all of his performances in Scorsese's filmography holds an equal amount of value as both the performance of an actor in a film and the performance of an actor alone.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think the King of Comedy is a great film, although at first I was unsure about the gothic setting near the end, but gradully got used it. I think that the screenplay is brilliant. I agree that it is one of De Niro's best performances and one that can be more easily distinguished amongst his other roles. It is intriguing and very funny. I agree that Bickle and Pupkin share a psychopathic nature but I think that what sets them apart is what they want. Pupkin is delusional and his goal to become a known comedian becomes an obsession and this is shown through him several times going to visit Jerry Langford at his office and even waiting there. I love the dream-like parts because at times I wasn't even sure if this was happening inside Pupkin's crazy mind or not.

  • Comment number 24.

    Oh Mark. Thank you so much for bringing this up. This is one of my favourite movies of all time. I couldn't believe how good this movie was when I first saw it. De Niro's performance and the script did it for me though I do understand why it flopped, it's not an easy movie to watch, but it definitely stands the test of time, just like other great movies of that era which were totally misinterpreted by the audience (eg. Blade Runner).

  • Comment number 25.

    It's one of favourites, probably second to Raging Bull for me in terms of Scorsese and De Niro's oeuvre.

    When I watched last year again, whilst showing some friends it. It just made me sad the rut that Ol' Bobby has got himself into.

  • Comment number 26.

    Aaahhh....The good old days, when Bobby D used to put effort in.

  • Comment number 27.

    I first saw KOC in the throes of a skull-numbing new year's day hangover and it was a very disconcerting experience, but I suppose that's the point.

  • Comment number 28.

    I have to agree with Mark, I was forced into watching this by a friend who is Scorsese obsessed. I found myself highly uncomfortable watching it and felt like it was awkward, but in a brilliant way. The way you should feel watching this, the feeling is eery and unsafe, as if Bupkin could do anything at any moment, and that all comes to a point when he kidnaps Jerry Lewis. Incredible film by an incredible director starring an incredible actor.

  • Comment number 29.

    I don't think 'KING of COMEDY' is better than 'Taxi Driver or 'Goodfellas' or "The Aviator"-Which I think could be Martin Scorsese's best film.

    But it definitely deserves to be in his top 5.
    And Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis & Sandra Bernhard are amazing in it.

  • Comment number 30.

    Yes Mark Love it love love it ... got it on DVD ,Can sort of quote it like "This Is Spinal Tap" not THAT Diane Abbott ..freeze frame hands on the window... "Come Rain or Come Shine" Jerry!! .. "you did good Mr langford" "you wanna see my Pride and Joy" "..." he made YOU bigger" .. a stand alone masterpiece,that has also led me through a pop-culture lineage of the tortured talk-show host ...from "the Larry Sanders Show" with all it's backstage/back office machinations ,through to the ultimate "crossover" with reality "the Daily Show" with (Larry's replacement) Jon Stewart!
    "Better to be King for a night than shmuck for a lifetime"

  • Comment number 31.

    Saw this movie a few years ago with my parents, and I think it's left a huge impression on me. A lot of people like to consider the ending to be ambiguous- as if it was all a dream and Rupert never got famous. I actually disagree, and think the ending feels far more sinister- in one moment, Rupert Pupkin receives everything he ever wanted at an alarmingly fast rate. His return to the stage doesn't depict his act, instead nearly a full few minutes of the audience merely applauding him, and there's clearly an element of doubt present in his character. I like to think that at that moment, Rupert and Jerry have become absolutely alike, and now Rupert understands all of Jerry's worst fears. Rupert is simply continuing the cycle of fame and the burden that comes with it.

  • Comment number 32.

    I was told to watch this by a good friend a few months back after I lamented on the likes of Mean Streets and Raging Bull. They were not for me, and I felt that - when watching them - I was watching them simply because I felt I had to as a film lover. I put off watching The King of Comedy for nearly six months for exactly the same reason. I didn't want to watch it because everyone told me I must because it was a "Deniro/Scorcese Film". One evening, when at home by myself, I ended up popping the DVD in. And my God, I am so glad I did. Perhaps because it didn't have the baggage that their other films have to carry.

  • Comment number 33.

    "Taxi Driver... *even* Raging Bull."

    Mark are you implying Raging Bull is a better film than Taxi Driver? Heresy!

  • Comment number 34.

    Dr. Kermode,

    First, allow me to thank you for recommending this film. It's astonishing (and a bit tragic) this film isn't more widely known. The satire is on the level with "Network" in my opinion.

    But I want to ask you and some of the older visitors to the blog: don't you think the ending was less believable and more outlandish when you first saw it in 1983? You see, I was born that same year, and seeing this film now for the first time while in the midst of the youtube generation, I not only find Pupkin's unorthodox rise to stardom possible; it seems highly probable.

    And that is frightening, no?

  • Comment number 35.

    Well I love The King of Comedy, I am certain that it was actually intended as the obvious compaion piece to Taxi Driver that it is but I still think Taxi Driver has the edge over it. Still it is right behind Taxi Driver as scorsese's 2ns best film with the third being After Hours.

  • Comment number 36.

    Unfortunately, this film wrong footed audiences and critics on its initial release, and I don't think you can blame them. A title like King of Comedy promises more funny ha ha, than funny, erm -- not that it isn't funny, but the humour is bitter, jet black, and seething with the suppressed anger of the much thwarted Pupkin.

    The first time I saw it, I was knocked out by DeNiro's performance, but felt the film was flawed. I couldn't get past the Bernhard performance, which, even though much less grating than many of her other roles, on that viewing seemed like it belonged in a different film. I wanted easier answers from Scorsese: are we supposed laugh at/with/fear/root for DeNiro/Pupkin. It seemed like a good idea on paper that couldn't quite decide what it's target was. I was wrong. On the second view I realized it was pitch perfect, for almost exactly the same reasons. It's edginess derives from Scorsese's refusal to pin DeNiro's performance down. As monstrous as he and Jerry L are, they are human monsters, their delusions are exaggerated but recognizable. The satire is less broad, less obvious than the likes of Network, but strikes at an almost subliminal level.

    (Had a similar problem with Raging Bull, 1st time couldn't see past how loathsome La Motta was, undeserving of Cavalleria rusticana's Intermezzo as an anthem).

    Can't agree King of Comedy as above Raging Bull, but I'd put it alongside Taxi Driver and ahead of Mean Streets, but there's no need for us all to collectively go Feng Shui on our individual Scorsese/DeNiro collaboration preferences.

    It's slightly solipsist to laud the "prescience" of King of Comedy, or Network, or, for that matter Shock Treatment. These films were made for their times, and if the seeds of reality / celebrity culture planted then have grown into the mess we have now, where any X Factor contestant seems to be only one Sandra B-like accomplice away from Pupkin with entitlement to fame, then not enough of us were paying attention. We were warned.

  • Comment number 37.

    Pupkin's routine is purposely unfunny as it gives us his back story. Through his 'jokes' he tells us of a harrowing childhood. He was neglected as a child by alcoholic and physically abusive parents and bullied and beaten by everyone at school (eventually they worked it into the curriculum!)

    He cleaned up his mother's vomit and was kicked in the stomach by his abusive father. His father would drink till he vomitted at the local bar rather than have a home life with his family. It's little wonder that Rupert lives in a fantasy world where he can't distinguish between fantasy and reality or right or wrong. This is brilliantly acted by De Niro and the point of the film where we get to understand the real Rupert.

    Arguments about whether this is a better film than either Raging Bull, Taxi Driver or The Color of Money are irrelevant. There is no finite limit to 'appreciation'. In other words, if you decide to like one film more this does not have to be balanced by liking another film less.

  • Comment number 38.

    Am I right in thinking that Pupkin's routine as described here is actually the sob-story that a typical X-Factor contestant has BEFORE they sing the song?

  • Comment number 39.

    Loved The King Of Comedy when I saw it for the one and only time a few years back. DeNiro is genius. But if we are talking of under rated, let's consider Casino. It's ALWAYS overlooked in favour of Goodfellas, but it really is a tremendous film, and is sone of Sharon Stone's best work

  • Comment number 40.

    I watched it on youtube as we dont get Film 4 in the IOM on freeview. I didnt like it. I found it slow and nearly every scene just very uncomfortable to watch. Lewis was natural but I thought De Niro as Rupert Pupkin just didnt work for me at all. I felt he was pretending very hard to be someone, whereas Lewis did convince. The best scene was when Pupkin got on TV and the audience laughed at his real life story. That scene had real pathos. The end i felt was very pat.
    It has a loose comparison to Misery which is i think a much better film. Better paced,scripted and I think Kathy Bates knocks De Niro out in the acting boxing match .
    I dont think King of Comedy is in Taxi Drivers league.

  • Comment number 41.

    I would agree with Mark it is an underated film, but it was also ahead of its tme.
    At the time it would have been an oddity but if you look at what we have now. reality tv and stalkers et al its scary on that level

  • Comment number 42.

    The vile nature of the Lewis character reads as a searing indictment of the poisonous nature of celebrity. Believing your own hype can take you to dark lonely places if you then believe you are above and beyond the morality of the common man..... The film is extremely bleak and the dark pool of obsidian, morally corrupt bile that it wallows in should act as a stark warning to anyone who cannot look themselves in the eye when their shadow is cast back upon them.....

  • Comment number 43.

    Thanks @KamiTheGamer ...

    Dr. Kermode ... I really thought you'd have covered the when and where following such a great introduction. #fail

    On a plus ... you should do this more often as sadly I'm in work when you're 2 hour radio show plays out and simply can't fit it in over the weekend.

  • Comment number 44.

    kermode get over yourself. its obvious you worship the ground you walk on. certainly youre no barry norman and never will be.

  • Comment number 45.

    The King Of Comedy is undoubtedly one of my favourite films of all time, and instead of waiting until wednesday night to watch it again, I dug out my dvd copy of the film and watched it last night.

    Now, I must have seen this film about (genuine estimate) 10 times before but last night I noticed something for the first time and found myself asking:

    "Is Rupert's mother dead?"

    I mean, she's a character in the film (although tellingly, she's never seen on screen) but in his monologue at the end he states: "If she were only here today... I'd say, "Hey, ma, what are you doing here? You've been dead for nine years!"". It could be argued that he's pretending she's dead just for the sake of a joke but I find that hard to believe, due to the uncomfortable honesty of the rest of his material. Perhaps like Norman Bates in Psycho, Pupkin's mother is just an element of his fractured psyche. Maybe her overbearing nature is what drives his desire for fame and recognition and his use of her death as the punchline to a joke is a long overdue act of defiance.

    As we witness him slipping between reality and fantasy, who's to know where the boundaries lie? It's clear that the restaurant scene with him and Langford is part of his vivid imagination but, as the action cuts back to Rupert acting out the conversation in his basement, we hear his mother yelling at him to keep the noise down. Are we to assume that, because the film is now back in 'reality', that everything we see on screen is actually happening?

    If this is taken on board, it certainly gives a new dimension to the character of Rupert Pupkin. Instead of being a strange man who still lives with his mother, he becomes a strange man who lives with his (dead) mother (inside his head).

    I agree that it's DeNiro's best performance. Whereas Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta wore their anger and darkness on their sleeves, Rupert Pupkin buries his under layers of uneasy charm and cheap polyester suits.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think you're crazy to think it's better than Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. I do agree though, that it is an unsung masterpiece and I have you to thank for bringing it to my attention. That opening scene is dazzling. It left me breathless.

  • Comment number 47.

    I always feel alittle uneasy watching this film.The desperate Pupkin reminds me of the David Brent character in The Office.I squirm in my seat and cant relax.De Niro is excellent in the 'Rat a tat tat' dialogue style.
    Muuummm Plleeeaaasssse

  • Comment number 48.

    You've missed one key point there Dr.K:

    The King of Comedy was made in the aftermath of the John Hinckley incident in which the implication of: "I did it for Jodie Foster" tarred Taxi Driver with a bloody brush, sparking off the age-old debate of whether art can inspire reality to encourage such terrible acts of violence.

    The King of Comedy was a clear example of Scorsese tackling head-on the arguments posed in this very debate surrounding his Taxi Driver. Like when Jonathan Demme made Philadelphia straight after the uproar at Buffalo Bill's anti-gay Hollywood debate - Scorsese and DeNiro used the real life to inspire their art without shying away from it.

    It's a masterclass in direction - Scorsese was able to go to as dark places as Taxi Driver and the only blood you see is the cheeky little stain on Pupkin's tissue at the start of the movie.

    I don't agree with comparing the Travis Bickle mirror scene with the Rupert Pupkin fake comedy show staging because one is about a deranged loner finding confidence (albeit for the wrong reasons) and the other scene is about a warped fantasy and carries less hope and would not be quoted by so many angry young men as a result.

    An interesting point is that both Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin have their own kind of 'happy-ending' and neither end up in John Hinckley's shoes...

  • Comment number 49.

    full metal jackson @45

    You make an excellent point, i'm going to re-watch King of Comedy with fresh eyes and see what else i discover.

  • Comment number 50.

    King of Comedy is brilliant. Of course it is also a mirror image of Taxi Driver. A deranged loner commits an act of madness and achieves his dream of public acceptance as a result. I personally believe Taxi Driver to be the greater work of the two, and DeNiro's Travis Bickle is the greater performance. Indeed I believe it to be the most truthful 'star' performance ever captured on film. there is not a frame of Taxi Driver where you can see DeNiro 'acting'. Rupert Pupkin is up there on the same level though. Genius. I want to know why DeNiro and Scorsese haven't worked together since Cape Fear. Scorsese's collaboration with Leonardo Di Caprio doesn't even come close to what he achieved with DeNiro

  • Comment number 51.

    Just finished watching the film and concur with the positive comments. Interestingly, I think a good companion piece to this is 'Network' by Sidney Lumet. King of Comedy investigates the lengths one man would go to in order to get his night of fame, and Network looks at the television suits who go to extreme lengths to hit massive TV ratings. Very interesting parallels between both these films.

  • Comment number 52.

    Sorry, don't think this is as good a film as is made out.

    De Niro plays Pupkin in a very one-dimensional way - there is no depth or shading to the character, whose personality and relentless optimism is as monotonous as his obsession with becoming famous. The real sinister - and the high point of the film - is in Jerry Lewis's performance. He makes you think that this character is a man who's lived this for real (duh) and had some pretty nasty experiences - and done some pretty nasty things - along the way.

    I'm sure you can make all kinds of cases for this all being the point of the some kind of deeply intelectual study of American celebrity fixation or some such, but I think you'd be overstating the case.

    And the closing sequence isn't strong enough either. The stretched laughter and the final lingering shot of Pupkin's smiling face suggest that the fame and adulation is all part of Pupkin's delusion....that he's finally flipped and now lives inside his own delusion in a cell-bound dream. The scene is not strongly enough directed to make it a gut-punching ending (like the ending of Once Upon A Time In America) and, combined with the lack of empathy for a flat lead character leaves me unenthused - and ruefully thinking that the King of Comedy is not the great film that it could have been.

  • Comment number 53.

    You didn't mention Casino at the end there, would you say that's the best deNiro-Scorsese pairing?

    And while I still think Goodfellas, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver are the better films, King of Comedy is still, in my opinion, at the bottom of Scorsese' best films -- it's a real treat.

  • Comment number 54.

    I agree with you Dr.K. It felt very uncomfortable watching King of Comedy until the final monologue by Rupert Pupkin. Unlike most of the other Hollywood movies, the end of this movie is what brought it all together and is a very happy ending. If I was alive in 1983 I would have voted for it as the Feel Good Movie of the year.

    I do agree with you that this movie is the best partnership between Scorsese and De Niro, simply because of the more relatable subject matter and its critique on ones pursuit of fame and success which is much more topical now than it was three decades ago.

    The movie shows that if one wants something badly enough, you can get it. Be it by hook or crook. I really found Rupert Pupkin's monologue funny and it is very much along the lines of what Louis CK does currently, just that Louis CK did not take a short cut but really worked for his success since he was a teenager.

  • Comment number 55.

    Firstly, both Dr. K. and Nick Shakabuku neglect "Casino" - THAT was the last (to date) collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro, released in 1995 after "Cape Fear" in 1991.

    Secondly, Mark, why not include introductions like this for TV Movie of the Week as part of the Film Club? Some of the films offered on the Film Club have been a little obscure and not available in my local library or film rental outlet, and I wouldn't (usually) want to buy a film without seeing it first. But with a TV Movie that problem is solved and it expands the Film Club selection and responses.

    Speaking of responses, here is mine:

    I have long heard about "The King of Comedy" and seen it on some "Greatest Ever" lists. I run hot and cold with Scorsese - I always love his cinematic brio but sometimes find his films lack plot and forward momentum. I think this is true of "Raging Bull", "Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas", which is not to say they are bad, I admire them all, but sometimes I like a bit more thrust. This is probably why my favourite Scorsese film (much to the fury of "Infernal Affairs" fans, doubtless) is "The Departed", although "Hugo" was my number one film of 2011.

    Nonetheless, my expectations for "The King of Comedy" were quite high, and I was not at all disappointed. The film is absorbing and engaging, creepy and disturbing. My wife and I watched it together and she described it as making her thoroughly uncomfortable throughout, and I felt the same way. It is strange that "painful" would normally be a criticism, but with "The King of Comedy" it is a compliment, as it is evident that the film is meant to make you squirm. The drawn-out scenes, the frequently distanced camera that captures events in all their awfulness within the alienating spaces, serve to express the scabrous and incisive dissection of celebrity culture.

    Rupert Pupkin is a grotesque creation, and what Nick Shakabuku (hello again!) says about "Taxi Driver" I would say about "The King of Comedy" - De Niro is utterly convincing without any tics or obvious indications that he is "acting". This is somewhat ironic, as he is playing a character who is entirely a performance. Is there any indication of the "real" Rupert Pupkin? I do not believe so. De Niro has built a career out of playing characters that exude silent, focused menace - from "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" to "Heat" and "Ronin", but Rupert stands out as a character who is loud and expansive, while also being pitiful and hopeless.

    @Palimun - I think the final shot is deliberately ambiguous and very effectively so. We may be seeing Rupert's triumphant arrival on his own TV show, his deranged scheme to become famous bearing fruit as audiences lap up crazy stunts proving successful (consider also "Chopper" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), or we may be seeing just another of Rupert's delusions. I like that ambiguity, maintained by the cut to credits before he speaks. We can make up our own minds, and that makes the final scene a wonderfully handled piece of cinema which presents ideas to the viewer, and leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

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  • Comment number 56.


    Got to agree with you on the ambivalence to Scorsese (I thought Taxi Driver was you say, lacking forward momentum) but it was still a comparatively early work, as was King of Comedy. Never the less it always seems that he doesn't quite hit the nail square on the head.

    Not sure that King of Comedy ending is as ambiguous as you suggest - the laughter track on repeat and Pupkin's failure to start interacting on the implied cue suggests it's delusional....he's had his shot at the big time, used all his material and has nothing else....and I think if you look at DeNiro's final close-up, it looks as though he is tearing up, Pupkin's final realisation that his dream has been and gone and that he's all washed up. (still could have had a bit more punch though)

  • Comment number 57.


    If the final scene is real, could Rupert be tearing up because he is so overwhelmed at being adored and desired (at least as he understands those concepts)? It may well be that he has used up all his material and now that he is finally appearing on TV he realises he has nothing more to say. I think the fact that we can debate it speaks to its ambiguity, which I applaud.

  • Comment number 58.

    What was so unsettling and effective about the film for me was that it's not until the conclusion that the rest of the narrative gains weight. The action is strangely screwball (gun isn't real, taped to the chair, the idea of nymphomanic stalker, uninvited guest) and then just plunges into darkness, taking the rest of the film with it. Pupkin's monologue is absolutely mediocre, but its content is utterly devastating -- it is his life and he longs to hold it up to open ridicule. And when he gives that all away, together with his sanity, the grotesque idea that with it comes true acceptance in the form of celebrity is genuinely sickening. So thanks for encouraging what is a re-watch... you're right: genuinely ahead of its time, startlingly bold and crushingly well executed.

  • Comment number 59.

    A truly great movie.


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