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U.S., 1982
Directed by Martin Scorsese
With Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Sandra Bernhard
Music by Robbie Robertson
Approx. 109 mins. DCP.

Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime. Robert De Niro’s terminally unfunny Rupert Pupkin, consumed by his dream of TV stardom, rehearses nightly in his basement studio, flanked by life-sized cut-outs of guest super-stars. But then there’s the nuclear option: Rupert, aided by henchgirl Sandra Bernhard (the standup comic in a memorably abrasive tour de force), kidnaps his idol, TV icon Jerry Lewis’ Jerry Langford. The ransom? A ten-minute guest spot on Jerry’s late-night talk show.


“CRUELLY LUCID, AGONIZINGLY SYMPATHETIC. Scorsese infuses this tale with the passionate energy of New York street life and an outsider’s wonder at the powerful workings of show business and studio craft.”
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“AHEAD OF ITS TIME. Robert De Niro gives a fearless performance.”
– Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

Time Out (New York)

“[Scorsese’s] greatest film is still one of his least applauded… THE KING OF COMEDY has more to say about the parlous state of modern celebrity culture than any other movie I can call to mind. As the borderline psychopath Rupert Pupkin, De Niro channels the most terrifying elements of TAXI DRIVER’s Travis Bickle, his delusional (and supposedly humorous) ‘at home’ monologues every bit as alarming as Bickle’s oft-quoted ‘You talkin' to me?’ tirade. Perfectly pitched between satire and horror, THE KING OF COMEDY finds both its director and star working at the peak of their powers – the dramatic punch of the piece being strengthened by understatement, by the fact that neither director nor star are grandstanding.”
– Mark Kermode, The Guardian

“De Niro’s Pupkin isn’t merely socially inadequate; he’s a whole dimension short — happily rehearsing with cardboard cut-outs, choosing the flatness of videoscreen space for his schmucky jester’s tilt at being ‘king for a night’. Whereas the film itself is all unexpected dimensions and unsettling excesses, with the ambiguous fulfillment of Pupkin’s dream frighteningly echoing the news-headline coda of TAXI DRIVER.”
Time Out (London)

Film Forum