The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy

classified PG


Please note: This was screened in Dec 2019

Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott
109 mins, 1983, USA
Primary language:

The ghost of Rupert Pupkin hangs like a putrid spectre over Joker, from Arthur’s fantastical dreams of stardom to the narrative’s queasy themes of the media making heroes of villains in uncertain times.

– Critic Mark Kermode comparing Joker and Marin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.

As a companion piece to our screenings of Joker (Fri 20 - Mon 23 Dec) we thought it an apt moment to revisit one of that film’s key influences. Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis star in Martin Scorsese's breathtakingly brilliant and unforgettable dark satire about a desperate comedian who kidnaps his TV idol in an attempt to claim the spotlight for himself.

Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) is a failure in life but a celebrity in his own mind, hosting an imaginary talk show in his mother's basement. When he meets actual talk show host Jerry Langford (Lewis), he's convinced it will provide his big break, but Langford isn't interested in the would-be comedian. Undaunted, Pupkin stalks Langford, and when that doesn't work, he kidnaps him, offering his release in exchange for a guest spot on Langford's show.

If the above is a description of the plot, it doesn't even come close to articulating the waves of neediness, despair and paranoia coursing through this prickly black comedy. Perfectly pitched between satire and horror, this disturbing character study expertly explores the painfully high and often hilarious price of fame. Of all the wonderful collaborations between De Niro and Scorsese (The Irishman being the latest), this is their unsung masterpiece.

View the British Board of Film Certification’s Ratings info for this film.

Download Programme Notes (PDF)