You Stalkin' to Me
If you look at director Martin Scorsese's movies in the later half of the 70s they were all big movies which had a lot of depth and style, maybe too much depth for the general public who go to the cinema to be entertained rather than made to think. This continued with his first movie of the 80s "Raging Bull" but then came "The King of Comedy" which saw Scorsese once again join forces with Robert De Niro. Now I am not saying there is no depth to "The King of Comedy" because there certainly is with this double portrait of someone delusional in their search for fame whilst we also see the opposite end as we experience the loneliness of fame. But what we have in "The King of Comedy" is a movie which also works as simple entertainment and watching it now almost feels ahead of its time as we regularly see delusional, talent less wannabees thinking they have talent on one talent show or another incapable of seeing the truth that they lack the X factor.
Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis - The Nutty Professor) is the popular presenter of a TV chat show but with that popularity comes pressure, pressure to be seen as an upbeat guy when in truth fame has brought him loneliness. That loneliness comes from the hundreds of people who swarm around him one of which is Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro - Raging Bull) who believes that he has what it takes to be the next "King of Comedy". So delusional is Rupert that he not only goes to extraordinary lengths to meet Jerry but then fantasizes about being this big comedian with celebrity buddies including Jerry. Rupert is not the only one because there is Masha (Sandra Bernhard) as well who joins forces with Rupert to fulfil their dreams.
So first up let's just say that whilst "The King of Comedy" is not the deep, stylish movie which Martin Scorsese was making in the late 70s that depth and style is still very present. But because the subject matter of fame is one which is tangible to a bigger audience it is easy to appreciate and understand the subtle undertones of the story. We have represented through Jerry the fake life which being a celebrity is where if you are not your public persona for one moment people turn on you but we also get the loneliness as you have to shield yourself away from all those who idolize you because of their extreme fondness. And at the same time we watch the tale of Rupert who is so delusional over his own talent that he won't take no for an answer, hanging around the offices of the Jerry Langford Show and naively taking the slightest complement as praise rather than a brush off.
As I said there is a side to "The King of Comedy" which was ahead of its time as the popularity of talent shows where delusional wannabees embarrass themselves in front of millions echoes the depth of the story. In fact whilst I would never want anyone to remake "The King of Comedy" I would love to see someone use it as an influence in a similar storyline set in the modern world with a delusional singer believing they have that X factor to become a star.
But the thing about "The King of Comedy" is that for all this depth it also works as simple entertainment as we watch the delusional Rupert manufacture a way into the life of Jerry. It is amusing when he first comes to his rescue in a swarm of autograph hunting fans only to then act just like one of those crazies he has helped protect Jerry from. And watching Rupert being so delusional that he believes his fantasies about Jerry being a friend is amusing especially when it comes to turning up at his weekend home and acting like he was invited. Thrown in the equally delusional Masha and there is plenty of entertainment which culminates in a series of crazy but also clever scenes.
Now from reports Jerry Lewis found working with both Scorsese and De Niro hard going but it certainly brings out a wonderful performance from the showman because that bitterness he exhibits as Jerry Langford feels real. Real crazy is the best way to describe Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin because for all the amusement of watching this delusional wannabe he is also unsettling as is Sandra Bernhard as Masha.
What this all boils down to is that "The King of Comedy" is one of my favourite Scorsese movies because he manages to combine the depth and style he built in the 70s but also the entertainment so that it doesn't become heavy going. And whilst this is a movie which is over 25 years old the relevance of it seems all the more real now in a world of talent less wannabees humiliating themselves on talent shows.