The last Tribeca Film Festival finished on a high note as Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese screened “King of Comedy” marking the thirtieth anniversary of the film’s release. With its knife-sharp commentary on celebrity and the vagaries of fandom “King of Comedy” not only still holds up thirty years later but is just as relevant today as it was then.
In “King” stage-door autograph hound and aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) becomes obsessed with popular talk show host Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) in the hope that a forced friendship will lead to his break in show-business. Pupkin lives with his mother (played by the voice of Scorsese’s own mother Catherine), lusts after a local bartender (played by Diahnne Abbott) and daydreams about being “The King of Comedy.” When his dream clashes with reality he is insulted, scorned and takes Jerry hostage in order to appear on his talk show.
When this newly-restored version was shown, little nuances of the performances and directing style were made more prominent and I felt like I was watching the film for the first time. Judging from the large turnout and raucous applause at the end, I wasn’t alone. During a Q&A afterward Lewis, in full form, told a hilarious joke and mentioned that a key scene in the film (when an uninvited De Niro crashes Jerry’s house) was all ad-libbed. Of course while talking about the film Lewis was still Lewis and did his signature “glass in mouth” bit. A pre-taped greeting by Sandra Bernhardt also added to the fun.