The King of Comedy is a feature film made in 1981 starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis. It was released in Iceland on December 19, 1982 and subsequently, on February 18, 1983 in the United States by 20th Century Fox.
When the straight approach does not work, Rupert hatches a kidnapping plot with the help of Masha (Sandra Bernhard), a stalker familiar with Langford's movements. As ransom, Rupert demands that the kidnapping be kept secret, that he be given the opening spot on that evening's Jerry Langford Show (guest hosted by Tony Randall), and that the show be broadcast in normal fashion. The network brass, lawyers, and the FBI agree, with the understanding that Langford will be released once the show airs nationally. Between the taping of the show and the national broadcast, Masha has her "dream date" with Langford, who is duct-taped to a chair in her parents' Manhattan townhouse.
Rupert's stand-up routine is well received. He closes by confessing to the audience that he kidnapped Jerry Langford in order to break into show business. The studio audience laughs, thinking that it's a part of his act. Rupert responds by saying, "Tomorrow you'll know I wasn't kidding and you'll all think I'm crazy. But I figure it this way: better to be king for a night, than schmuck for a lifetime."
The movie closes with a news report of Rupert's release from prison, set to a montage of storefronts stocking his "long awaited" autobiography, King For A Night. The report informs that Rupert still considers Jerry Langford his mentor and friend, and that he and his agent are currently weighing several "attractive offers."
The final scene shows Rupert taking the stage for an apparent TV special with a live audience an announcer enthusiastically introducing and praising him.
In his commentary on the Criterion DVD of Black Narcissus, Scorsese stated that Michael Powell's films influenced The King of Comedy in its conception of fantasy. Scorsese said that Powell always treated the fantasy as no different than reality, made the fantasy as realistic as possible. In the same commentary, Scorsese stated that Rupert Pupkin's character was one who was never able to differentiate between his fantasies and his reality, being incapable to separate either. Scorsese sought to achieve the same with this film to the point that, in his words, the "fantasy is more real than reality".
Pauline Kael of New York Times was one of the few that really understood the meaning of the film calling the character of Rupert Pupkin as "Jake LaMotta without fists". She also goes on to say that "DeNiro in disguise denies his characters a soul. DeNiro's "bravura" acting in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and New York, New York collapsed into "anti-acting" after he started turning himself into repugnant flesh eggies of soulless characters.....Pupkin is a nothing". Scorsese says that "people were confused with the King of Comedy and saw Bob as some sort of manniquan". Although they both worked so hard close to the "edge" that there would be a break until Goodfellas in 1990. Scorsese himself believes that Robert DeNiro's role as Rupert Pupkin is his favourite of all their collaborations.
In the biography/overview of his work, Scorsese on Scorsese, Scorsese had high praise for Jerry Lewis, stating that during their first conversation before shooting, Lewis was extremely professional and had assured him prior to shooting that there would be no ego clashes or difficulties on Lewis' end. Scorsese also stated that he felt Lewis' performance in the film was vastly underrated and deserved more acclaim.
According to an interview with Lewis in the February 7, 1983 edition of People Magazine, he claimed that Scorsese and DeNiro employed method acting tricks, including making a slew of anti-Semitic epithets against Lewis, during the filming in order to "pump up Lewis' anger
However in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich (available in Who The Hell's In It), Lewis described making the film as a pleasurable experience and noted that he got along well with both Scorsese and DeNiro. Lewis said that before the making of the film he was invited to collaborate on certain aspects of the script dealing with celebrity life. His suggested ending of Rupert Pupkin killing Jerry, however, was turned down by them. As a result, Lewis felt that the film, while good, did not have a "finish". Martin Scorsese stated in the interview filmed for the DVD release of the film that Lewis suggested the brief scene of the film where Jerry Langford is accosted by an old lady for autographs and she, upon Langford's polite stiffle, suddenly screams out "You should get cancer!" This was based on a real-life incident that had happened to Lewis. Scorsese also stated that Lewis directed the actress playing the old lady in order to get the timing right.