Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy easily stands as one of the more unusual of the director’s films, but at the same time it’s comprised of the same amount of brilliance and talent that Scorsese wove into his other, more celebrated movies. We’re talking about a black comedy that hardly delivers any laughs. A comedy that isn’t funny because it portrays the hilarious albeit sad constituent of our everyday lives, something we don’t find funny because we’re a part of it, because we give our best to help the carousel continue spinning. That’s why The King of Comedy hit a little too close to home to be universally admired at the time of its release. In its portrayal of celebrity worship and the American media culture, it’s honest, sharp and cuts deep, hurting the viewer, forcing him to think, offering the truth about society and the media bluntly, directly, without any euphemism or regard. This was hardly an easy film to make: thanks to a looming strike of the Writers Guild of America, the crew was under a lot of pressure to wrap the project up with the assistance of a smaller film company. They also had to shoot entirely on location in New York. Scorsese was allegedly hesitant to go on with the project at a critical time like this, but De Niro was keen on shooting a comedy, film critic turned screenwriter Paul D. Zimmerman’s text was promising, and in the end the risky move paid off. With the help of sparkling performances from De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard and Diahnne Abbott, Scorsese made a distressing film full of angry, bitter people with agonizing aspirations, a developed critique and a statement that is just as precise and contemporary as it was back in ’82, when the audiences weren’t all that enthusiastic because they couldn’t deal with the film’s implications.
By the time I’d made Taxi Driver, New York, New York, The Last Waltz—success, failure, all kinds of things happened. And then I kind of began my career again on Raging Bull. After making Raging Bull, I was at a different point in my life, and was able to absorb The King of Comedy better. To a point. In 1981, when I was shooting [King of Comedy], I realized that I had to wipe the slate clean as a filmmaker and start all over again. I literally started relearning how to make movies. That’s what King of Comedy really helped me to do. —Martin Scorsese on The King of Comedy’s Modern Relevance: “There Are So Many Ruperts Around Us”
A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Paul D. Zimmerman’s screenplay for The King of Comedy [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
According to De Niro, The King of Comedy, written by Newsweek scribe Paul Zimmerman, was a project he’d been wanting to do since the days of Travis Bickle. “Marty and I were in Cannes with Taxi Driver, and I was shooting 1900,” he said. “I was trying to convince Marty to do it, and he finally did.” It took “from 1975 or so to 1980,” admitted Scorsese. “I read it, but I didn’t quite get it. As we got further into the work, I understood it. I discovered it as we went along.” “It was coming at the end of period of filmmaking in L.A. that sort of ended,” the director continued. “Raging Bull [was released] ten days before Heavens Gate, the studio went down, and that kind of filmmaking went out. This film was one of the last vestiges of that type of picture. It just snuck in under the radar. The whole world had changed.” Asked the moderator, “What was it like doing a comedy?” “I don’t know whether it’s a comedy or what,” said De Niro. Said Scorsese, “It wasn’t a comedy, was it?” —Scorsese, De Niro, Lewis and Bernhard Recall The King of Comedy
Martin Scorsese discusses his life growing up in Manhattan and his filmmaking career.
Jerry Lewis discusses The King of Comedy.
French-German TV channel, ARTE, shows part of an interview for Cinéma cinémas in 1983 with Martin Scorsese being driven from his place to the airport. Marty’s on his way to the airport to go present his film, The King of Comedy, at the Cannes International Film Festival. This is what Marty looked like when Thelma first introduced me to him while we were working on After Hours. —Hector Cordero
An excellent documentary made in 1981 by Gavin Millar for the long running BBC documentary series Arena. Detailed interview with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger looking back at their long career as influential British filmmakers and their unusual partnership. The documentary includes clips from many of their major films and interviews with both Powell and Pressburger, separately and together, as well as rare clips with Michael Powell and director Francis Ford Coppola at Zoetrope Studios while he was making One From the Heart and Martin Scorsese, Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro on the set of King of Comedy.
Martin Scorsese, Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro on the set of The King of Comedy. Still photographer: Lorey Sebastian © Embassy International Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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