Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: The King of Comedy

The Story: The screenplay of "The King of Comedy" does not contain this scene. Paul D. Zimmerman, the film critic for Newsweek at the time, didn't write it, but he suggests it in other scenes. Director Martin Scorsese imagined Rupert Pupkin, the wanna-be "new King of Comedy," living in his mother's basement, surrounded by his obsessions with fame, talk-shows and talk-host Jerry Langford, not unlike the spartan apartment of Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver."

And, like the "you talkin' to me" scene from "Taxi Driver," this one is similarly ad-libbed by DeNiro with just a suggestion of what to do. But instead of performing for himself in a self-reflexive mirror, Pupkin throws it out there to an imagined audience—his audience—usurped from Jerry Langford, replacing Langford in their affections, the idol felled by the fan in his own mania.

And what's interesting is it's the same pattern as the "Taxi Driver" scene (but interrupted by real life—Pupkin's Mom, voiced by Scorsese's mother, yells to him to get to work), sentence fragments of conversation that build to an explosion of laughter. Pupkin is center-of-attention, master of ceremonies, and his own applause sign as every good, manipulative talk-show host is, solicitous and attentive until "we'll be right back..." The art of artifice, artificially duplicated and filmed.

Forget what I said about it not being self-reflexive.

The Set-Up: Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), stand-up sensation—but temporarily, a delivery boy for now until "the Big Break" comes—is having difficulty re-acquiring the ear of talk-host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), encountering at every turn a phalanx of short-sighted go-between's. After another frustrating day in the waiting area, Rupert returns home to the people he loves (and who love him).

Hey! Good seeing ya! Action!

Rupert Pupkin: I'll tell you, boy.

Rupert: Hiya, Liza. Good seeing you.

Rupert: Jerrold. Good seeing you. Jerry.

Rupert: Don't get up.

Rupert: Ahh, boy, I'll tell ya...

Rupert: ...every time you come back from a tour...I don't know what it is—but, there must be something in the air, or...

Rupert: The tour, it really becomes you.

Rupert: It's like you become rejuvenated. I don't know what it is.

Rupert: Isn't that so, everybody?

Rupert: Isn't that so? Hey, hey, there. I tell ya...

Rupert: It's amazing. It's amazing. You look wonderful.

Rupert: And...Yeah, I know. You look wonderful, too, Jerry.

Rupert: I wasn't leaving you out.

Rupert: Ri..? Yeah!

Rupert: Ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: Ah-ha ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: Ha ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: ha ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: ha ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: ha ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Rupert: Oh, Jerry! I love this guy!

Rupert: Always coming up with these great lines. I love'm. I love'm.

Rupert: You're wonderful. Yer wonderful.

Rupert: I tell ya, I don't know what I'd do without you. Anyway...

Rupert's Mom: Rupert! The bus is here! It's early! Try to be on time for once!

Rupert: I can't believe this.(laughs)

Rupert: I got to go. (heh) I got to catch a bus.

Rupert: Jerry. Take care of yourself.

Rupert: Baby, be good.

Rupert: Good luck in Rio.

"The King of Comedy"

Words by Paul D. Zimmerman and Robert De Niro

Pictures by Fred Schuler and Martin Scorsese

"The King of Comedy" is available on DVD from Fox Home Video.

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