…than a schmuck for a lifetime.”

As it turns out, Rupert Pupkin‘s standup is moderately amusing. It certainly isn’t awful. As Pupkin explains to Jerry Langford in a fantasy sequence, his comedy is drawn from childhood currents of rage and low-self-esteem, largely due to his parents’ alcoholism and being seriously bullied at school. Pupkin’s standup, in short, has an undercurrent of reality as well as a theme. Which is surprising because everything in The King of Comedy tells you that Pupkin is a hugely irritating asshole and therefore incapable of possessing the talent, smarts and finesse necessary to be a moderately effective comedian. And at the end, that assumption is incorrect.

Hats off to director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul D. Zimmerman — they had the odd kind of balls to make a strange, fairly unlikable film that I’ve seen a good give or six times. Robert De Niro‘s performance is chalk on the blackboard — that’s the point and the pain of this film. But I truly love Jerry Lewis‘ performances as the sullen, dark-hearted talk show king.