Sunday, August 15, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: The King of Comedy

The Story: I can't tell you how many demo tapes I've listened to.  Hundreds.  Thousands might be pushing it.  But I've heard tons...and that would be literal.  I've listened to them, I've made them for other people and myself.  They are exercises in ego.  But if you're a "talent," they are absolutely essential tools for showing somebody you've got some.

A resume can give you facts and figures and dates.  But a demo tape is you, hopefully at your best...or what you think is your best.  That's where the ego comes in.

At this point in "The King of Comedy"—critic/screenwriter Paul Zimmerman and director Martin Scorsese's scathing black comedy of fame and fortuitousness (with more than a touch of facetiousness), Robert De Niro's Rupert Pupkin actually gets the chance to make a "demo" for his idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Technically astute, it still is an exercise in pure ego as Pupkin pontificates on his philosophy and wheedles compliments to his target audience.  The thing of it is, casting people don't want to hear that stuff; they want to see "the goods," hopefully ASAP.  Even just saying your name first thing may be a waste of 5 seconds of their precious time...

Start with your best stuff first, then show your range. And if you want to give a lecture, become a professor.

Where would a casting person stop the tape on this one and toss it in the circular file?

About the "First, Miss Long, tha..."

The Set-Up: Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro), messenger/wannabe-comedian has actually met and talked to his idol, talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). After a couple visits to the production offices of "The Jerry Langford Show," he has been asked to send a demonstration reel of his material for review by Miss Long (Shelley Hack).


PUPKIN sitting before the tape recorder lost in thought.
Finally, he starts the larger recorder and lifts the mike.

PUPKIN First, Miss Long. Thanks very much for your help at the office and for passing this along to Jerry. I appreciate it more than you know.

PUPKIN stops the tape recorder and thinks again for a few
beats. He then starts the large recorder.

PUPKIN Now, Jerry. Before I begin, I just want to thank you for listening to this material and for the opportunity that you've given me. PUPKIN You know, lots of people think that guys like you, you know, people who have made it, lose their feeling for struggling young talent such as myself. But now I know from experience that those people are just cynics, embittered by their own failure.

PUPKIN I know, Jerry, that you're as human as the rest of us, if not more so. (pause) Oh well, I guess there's no point going on about it. You know how I feel.

PUPKIN So let's get on with the show. The best of Rupert Pupkin!

PUPKIN I've sketched out this little introduction in order to save you a little time.

PUPKIN So close your eyes and imagine it's exactly six o'clock. You're standing in the wings and we hear Lou Brown and the Orchestra strike up your theme song.

PUPKIN pushes a button on the cassette and we hear the theme song of the Jerry Langford Show, followed by the voice of BERT CANTER, the announcer.

BERT CANTER'S VOICE And now, direct from New York, it's the Jerry Langford Show! Tonight, with Jerry's guests Richard Pryor, Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Ashley, Carol Burnett...

PUPKIN deftly shuts off the cassette and substitutes his own voice for that of CANTER's. The large tape recorder keeps rolling.

PUPKIN ... and the comedy find of the year making his television debut, Rupert Pupkin, the King of Comedy!

MRS. PUPKIN Rupert! Rupert! Are you crazy?
PUPKIN Say hello to..
MRS. PUPKIN What's wrong with you?

MRS. PUPKIN People are sleeping!
PUPKIN Aw, mom!

MRS. PUPKIN Lower it! What's the matter with you?

PUPKIN Mom! Take it easy!

MRS. PUPKIN Lower it!

PUPKIN I'm not going to lower it. I have to do this now!

MRS. PUPKIN I don't mind you playing it, but lower it!

PUPKIN rapidly races the cassette tape forward, then pushes down the "play" button. We hear a burst of thundering applause. PUPKIN lets the applause run for a while and then shuts it off. The large recorder keeps rolling.

PUPKIN Now you come on, Jerry, and do your monologue. Then, when the time comes, this is how I see you introducing me. You could say something like this. "Will you please give your warmest welcome to the newest King of Comedy, Rupert Pupkin!!!"

PUPKIN pushes the cassette and we hear another enormous burst of applause. PUPKIN lets it run, listening intently. He stands up and faces a wall of his room, still holding the microphone.
 WE SEE that the wall is covered by a huge blow-up of an audience laughing and applauding.

PUPKIN Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Rupert Pupkin.

PUPKIN I was born in Clifton, New Jersey...which is north of...

PUPKIN Is there anyone here from...

PUPKIN But the fact is...

"The King of Comedy"

Words by Paul Zimmerman

Pictures by Fred Schuler and Martin Scorsese

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

1 comment:

The Mad Hatter said...

Sometimes I think this movie has become wickedly underrated, and that not nearly enough people have seen it. I especially think this when I reflect back on this awesome scene.

Great call on a great moment in a great film!