Monday, September 10, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: The King of Comedy

The Story:  September, we're just marking time, really.  There are a few scenes that have been hanging around for years (no, I mean it...for years)---scenes that I love, but have no justification for, other than, when I first saw them, I knew they were special...for one reason or another, even if I couldn't put my finger on why.

So, for the next couple weeks, LNTAM's "Don't Make a Scene" feature is going to feel a bit like Hollywood's September "Dog Days"--the doldrums between Blockbuster Summer and Award-Baiting Winter, as I clean out the inventory before the "new" stuff comes in.

We start with one of Rupert Pupkin's fan-addled delusions from The King of Comedy, a Martin Scorsese film that looks better (and more prescient) every year.

For our younger readers* (the ones who are saying "Wow, De Niro looks so YOUNG!"), we should explain that Jerry Langford's character is based (a bit) on Johnny Carson, who hosted "The Tonight Show" before Jay Leno (with bits of Jack Paar thrown in).

In the film, Scorsese cuts directly between Pupkin's fantasies and reality, creating a disorientation in the early part of scenes—is this real or fake?  And one can't really be sure some times (in fact, the jury is still out for me on the ending—either way, real or imagined, it's delicious). what is truth or Rupert's distortion of it.  It's the difference between fame and the illusion of it for those that don't have it...or know it.  It's one of my favorite Scorsese movies.

The Set-Up: Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a New York delivery man, aspiring comedian, and demented fan of Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the king of late-night television.  In one of his many fantasies, Rupert imagines he's on equal footing with Langford, as the two meet together for lunch.


JERRY LANGFORD Hey, Rupe, before I forget...I really appreciate you meeting me for lunch. I know how busy you are and how tired you are.

RUPERT PUPKIN What are friends for, Jerry?

PUPKIN Talking about schedule, you're the one who looks tired.
LANGFORD Yeah, I know.

LANGFORD It's the show.

LANGFORD The pressure, the ratings.

LANGFORD The same guests, the same questions. I'm just not enjoying it anymore.

PUPKIN That's... the worst.

LANGFORD Listen, I... I really wish you would think about it again.

Eddie arrives. He is a small, slightly-bald man with greying hair and a goatee. He wears a foulard under an open-necked shirt. He carries a long sketch pad. He immediately sets up a small easel and starts sketching.

PUPKIN Wait a minute. You-you're starting again. You're starting up again.

LANGFORD It's not that big a deal to think. I'm asking you to think.

PUPKIN I'm thinking. All I do is think day and night.

PUPKIN How can I not think about it? We're here at lunch together...which I knew is why you invited me

PUPKIN ...and I'm here eating to get guilty with you, right?

LANGFORD I'm asking you to take over the show for six weeks. What's six weeks?

PUPKIN I'll give you anything, but don't ask me to do six weeks. I can't take over the show for six weeks. I can't even take over my own life for six weeks. You're asking for something that's impossible! It's impossible!

PUPKIN Don't you understand...

MRS. PUPKIN What are you doing down there so late?

PUPKIN It's impossible! I'm trying to tell you that.

LANGFORD What, you want me to cry? There must be a way to work it out. It's just six weeks.

A YOUNG GIRL stands before PUPKIN and LANGFORD. She hands PUPKIN her autograph book.

GIRL Excuse me. Um, Mr. Pupkin? You think you could...

PUPKIN Yeah, sure. What's your name, dear?

GIRL Dolores.
PUPKIN - Dolores? That was my father's name.

PUPKIN (writing) To Dolores, who sensed greatness. Rupert Pupkin.

PUPKIN There ya go, sweetheart.
GIRL (reading it) Thanks, Mr. Pupkin.
PUPKIN Don't mention it.

The GIRL leaves.

MRS. PUPKIN Rupert! Rupert, who you talking to?

MRS. PUPKIN What is it?
PUPKIN Please stop calling me!

PUPKIN It's terrific. It's great.

PUPKIN There's only one problem, though. He made-he made you bigger.

LANGFORD Would you answer me?

PUPKIN All right! You've got the six weeks! Don't bother me! I'll give you the six weeks! What can I say? You happy now?

LANGFORD You're a tough man, Rupe.

PUPKIN You got to be in this business. (laughs)

LANGFORD Ha ha ha ha ha!

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.

* Does that sound pretentious.  It sounds pretentious to even say that you DO have readers.  But, lest you think that I'm getting too swelled a head, I should mention that if I held a LNTAM reader's convention, we could hold it in a phone-booth....which (*sigh*) for our younger readers, was a public conveyance for making telephone calls in the days before cell-phones.  I believe there are several in The King of Comedy if you're doing any archaeological research.

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