Movie #190 2020: The King of Comedy (1982)

Before joining the Letterboxd community, I’d never heard of The King of Comedy, and I bet a lot of you haven’t either. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was a Martin Scorsese movie. Of all people!

The King of Comedy introduces us to aspiring stand-up comic, Rupert Pupkin, who is played by the forever talented Robert De Niro. (Please note for the record that I remembered that character name from memory, so they must have done something right). For one reason or another, Pupkin has not been given the opportunity to show his talent, despite having a lot of it. So what does he do? Well, he stalks his favourite talk show comedian and convinces him to give him a spot on his show, of course! I use the word ‘convinces’ loosely, as it’s not just a simple sit down and a chat method that he uses – it’s a lot more sinister.

I have to get the obvious out of the way first: this almost seems like a prequel to Joker (2019). De Niro, talk show hosts, stand-up comedy… Todd Phillips‘ divisive modern anti-hero movie clearly took a lot of inspiration from this, and rightly so. Overall, these themes (and actors) make a pretty solid movie.

Loved the hokey dual timeline at the start of this, which showed the difference between reality and Pupkin’s imagination. Not only is this a brilliant use of editing, but it screams out Scorsese. There are great choices all round in that department, and succeeds in preventing any boredom through a linear timeline.

As you’d expect, De Niro really shows off his ability here. There are sequences in which he is literally talking to himself, but the charisma he so effortlessly exudes shows that he has more of it than so many other actors combined. Although this is one of his earlier performances, hot off the back of Taxi Driver and The Godfather, it’s not difficult to see why so many great directors were rushing (and still are) to work with him.

Although not Scorsese’s best, the storytelling is excellent here. Personally, I’m glad I went in blind – it literally felt like someone was reading a novel to me but in a visual format. I could almost see the words written out in front of me, and boy were there some twists and turns?! There’s one particular sequence that I will always remember; a flash card/phone call scene which is black comedy at its utmost best.

I’m not exactly sure how people come up with these sorts of films, but it really makes you wish we had more original stuff like this today. The industry is so saturated with remakes and adaptations and superheroes and “based on a true story”s, and what’s needed are more Robert Pupkins! More original storytelling, based on nothing but a writer’s imagination, would keep the film world so much more compelling, and one can only hope that more movies like this start to come to the fore once cinemas reopen.

On the whole, this is a solid movie. It’s definitely not one I’d recommend for kids, but if you want to be transported into a never-before-seen setting and escape the world for a couple of hours, this is your perfect movie.

A King of Comedy is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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