The King of Comedy

Comedy | In English | 109 minutes | 1982


The most unusual film Martin Scorsese has ever directed. Rupert Pupkin is a mentally deranged wannabe comic trying to launch his career by appearing as a guest on the “Jerry Langford Show.” He practices his stand-up shtick in his mother’s basement. Feeling confident, he is now ready to contact Jerry Langford and his bookers and set a time to be on the show. He’s totally rebuffed. But Rupert is not finished. He appears uninvited with his girlfriend Rita at Langford’s country house. Langford laces into Rupert, calling him a lunatic and a mediocre comic. Rupert has one last ace in his hand. He and the equally unbalanced Masha decide to kidnap Langford, hold him hostage, and negotiate his release in exchange for a spot on the show. Network brass and the FBI agree. Rupert has his moment of glory before he’s whisked out of the studio by the FBI. Rupert responds with a mixture of bravado and sorrow: “Tomorrow you’ll know I wasn’t kidding and you’ll all think I’m crazy. But I figure it this way: better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.” The film concludes with Rupert’s release from prison and the publication of his autobiography, King for a Night. He announces that he and his agent are negotiating several attractive offers for comedy tours and for a film adaptation of his book. Is this fantasy or reality? 

Rober De Niro (Rupert Pupkin) / Jerry Lewis (Jerry Langford) / Sandra Bernhard (Masha) / Diahnne Abbott (Rita Keene)
Why Stream This Film?
Fans of Jerry Lewis may be surprised to see him in this kind of role. But he’s not only good, he holds his own with the great Robert De Niro.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus) 91% 91%
  • Metacritic Score 83% 83%
  • Best Film: #10, Best Film of the 1980s.
  • The New York Times Guide: Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made

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This film, about the cult of celebrity in America, strikes me as a uniquely intelligent, ironic masterpiece. It’s a disturbing picture of a world in which television is taken for a reality higher than everyday life. It’s also darkly funny. Through the magnificent performances of Bernhard, De Niro,  and, most startlingly, the intimate, underplayed conviction of Jerry Lewis, the film displays the disastrous cost of celebrity in America both for those who covet it and for those who live it.
Philip Horne

The Telegraph

As played by Robert De Niro, in one of the best, most complex and most flamboyant performances of his career, Rupert Pupkin represents the apotheosis of all that is most commonplace in America’s increasingly homogenized society. For Rupert, immortality is a series of boffo one-liners. Though there is a little bit of almost every film Mr. Scorsese has ever made, this new work is an original. Its excellent screenplay by Paul Zimmerman is witty and, even in Rupert’s hilarious fantasy sequences, tough. Like all good movies, the film has a measure of the times that produced it.
Vincent Canby

The New York Times


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