Friday, October 6, 2017


I have a confession to make. I do not like Jerry Lewis. When he was teamed with Dean Martin, I always thought that Dean was the talented one, and his character in all of Jerry's movies were the same. Personally, Jerry Lewis always seemed like a bitter and angry man. However, one of my favorite movies of all-time was The King Of Comedy. Since Lewis died a couple months ago, I got the opportunity to watch the underrated 1982 film, and surprisingly Jerry was the best part of the film. The King of Comedy is an American satirical black comedy film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard. Written by Paul D. Zimmerman, the film focuses on themes including celebrity worship and American media culture. 20th Century Fox released the film on February 18, 1983, in the United States, though the film was released two months earlier in Iceland. The film began shooting in New York on June 1, 1981, to avoid clashing with a forthcoming writers' strike, and opened the Cannes Film Festival in 1983.

After Raging Bull was completed, Scorsese thought about retiring from feature films to make documentaries instead because he felt "unsatisfied" and hadn't found his "inner peace" yet. He had purchased the rights of a script by film critic Paul D. Zimmerman. Michael Cimino was first proposed as director but eventually withdrew from the project because of the extended production of Heaven's Gate. Scorsese pondered whether he could face shooting another film, particularly with a looming strike by the Writers Guild of America. Producer Arnon Milchan knew he could do the project away from Hollywood interference by filming entirely on location in New York and deliver it on time with the involvement of a smaller film company.

In the biography/overview of his work, Scorsese on Scorsese, the director had high praise for Jerry Lewis, stating that during their first conversation before shooting, Lewis was extremely professional and assured him before shooting that there would be no ego clashes or difficulties. Scorsese said he felt Lewis' performance in the film was vastly underrated and deserved more acclaim.

Robert DeNiro prepared for Rupert Pupkin's role by developing a "role reversal" technique, consisting in chasing down his own autograph-hunters, stalking them and asking them lots of questions. As Scorsese remembered, he even agreed to meet and talk with one of his longtime stalkers. DeNiro also spent months watching stand-up comedians at work to get the rhythm and timing of their performances right. Fully in phase with his character, he went as far as declining an invitation to dinner from Lewis because "he was supposed to be at his throat and ready to kill him for [his] chance."

According to an interview with Lewis in the February 7, 1983, edition of People magazine, he claimed that Scorsese and De Niro employed method acting tricks, including making a slew of anti-Semitic epithets during the filming in order to "pump up Lewis's anger." Lewis described making the film as a pleasurable experience and noted that he got along well with both Scorsese and De Niro. Lewis said he was invited to collaborate on certain aspects of the script dealing with celebrity life. He suggested an ending in which Rupert Pupkin kills Jerry, but was turned down. As a result, Lewis thought that the film, while good, did not have a "finish." In an interview for the DVD, Scorsese stated that Jerry Lewis suggested that the brief scene where Jerry Langford is accosted by an old lady for autographs, who screams, "You should only get cancer," when Lewis politely rebuffs her, was based on a real-life incident that happened to Lewis. Scorsese said Lewis directed the actress playing the old lady to get the timing right.

Even though Jerry Lewis was basically playing himself in the film, he definitely had a good range. Surprisingly DeNiro took a back seat to Lewis in the film. My favorite scene in the film is near the end when a crazed Sandra Bernhard is trying to seduce Jerry. It was pure film gold. The film originally did not make a lot of money, but in recent years it has developed a big following. The movie also showed that Jerry Lewis was a lot more than the slow man-child that he portrayed in most of his films...

MY RATING: 9 out of 10


  1. Well I guess I may cave and finally watch this thing. I too cannot stand Jerry Lewis, for the most part, but your review has me intrigued. Thanks!

  2. Paul, I am not a Lewis fan either. However, this movie is pretty good. I'd give it a gander. Deniro is great in it.

  3. This has always been one of my favorite underrated movies and--I've heard--that it was Scorsese's favorite DeNiro performance. The first choice for the talk show host was Johnny Carson but Carson didn't want to give anyone any ideas, so the part was offered to Jerry Lewis--who did a brilliant job. Sandra Bernhard was also terrific, along with Fred deCordova, Carson's producer, who played Jerry's producer in the movie.