What if success was not measured in quality but in popularity? Where achievement resided not within the honing of one’s craft but within fame itself? Where spending years in obscurity gets tossed aside in favor of shallow recognition and immediacy? Oh wait, if this isn’t the culture we live in, then what is it? Perhaps it is also the mindset of wannabe standup comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Granted, Rupert really does believe he is great and ready for the big stage (we witness this via his many fantasies) but fame seems to be the thing he longs for more than anything else. He wants to be known and to ultimately prove his worth to those who believe he’d not amount to anything more than a ‘hill of beans.’ Add to this his brazen, belligerent manner and it’s no wonder he ultimately gets what he gets—and no, I don’t mean jail.
The King of Comedy has remained an overlooked work despite its 40-year run, yet this is not only one of his best films but one that has proved to be prophetic in terms of how this business we call show business operates. Fame, ratings, who you know—this is what matters, and Rupert realizes this. The film opens with late-night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) escaping into a limo from a crowd of aggressive fans. Thinking he has privacy at last, Rupert pushes his way in. Already, they are on a forced first-name basis, as Rupert speaks to Jerry as though he’s always known him. ‘What is your name again?’ Jerry asks. […]