Sunday, May 18, 2014

The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982)

As stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin began to do his much ballyhooed act in front of a live audience for the very first time, I started to experience a whirlwind of emotions. First of all, I was constantly praising the movie–which is directed, of course, by Martin Scorsese–in my head for not letting us hear Rupert Pupkin's act up until the end. Oh, sure, there are plenty of allusions made to said act over the course of the film, but we don't get a real sense of what it actually entails. It's true, Shelley Hack thought it could use some work after hearing a tape Rupert Pupkin made for her to listen to. But then again, what does Shelley Hack know about comedy. I mean, her name is "Hack" for cryin' out loud. (Um, I think you're mistaken. Shelley Hack is the name of the actress, her character's name is Cathy Long, and she's a big shot television producer.) Don't bore me with facts, I'm on a role. When I realized that we were going to see Rupert Pupkin's act in its entirety, I began to get anxious. I'm not only deathly afraid of public speaking, I get physically ill whenever I watch others do it; mind you, I don't puke my guts outs out or anything like that, I just feel sick. I'll make exceptions for people like, say, George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor. But only because they're seasoned professionals who are no longer with us. No, for the most part, I tend to avoid situations where people speak on stage.

The other reason I felt uneasy when the untested Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) hit the stage of The Jerry Langford Show was because Sandra Bernhard, who plays Masha, the biggest Jerry Langford fan on the planet, was chasing Jerry Lewis (who plays Jerry Langford) down the street in nothing but her bra and panties. (Hold on, say that again.) Bra and panties. (Now say it in conjunction with Sandra Bernhard's name.) Huh? (In conjunction! Say them in conjunction!) Get out of my head, I'm trying to make a point here. God, this a Martin Scorsese film I'm writing about. In other words, try to behave with a modicum of dignity.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, you try to concentrate on Rupert Pupkin's stand-up debut when the thought of a deranged Sandra Bernhard running down the street late at night in nothing but her bra and panties is bouncing around inside your head. (What colour were her bra and panties?) I'll get to that in a minute. (Why do I have to wait a minute?) Could you just be patient, I said I'll get to that. (Why can't you just tell me?) Because I'm trying to give the fine folks out there an idea of where my head was at as I watched this darkly humourous satire about celebrity and fame. (How's about giving us a hint? Forget that, let me guess, were her bra and panties black? And were her panties pressing tightly against her pussy? I bet they were.)

Oh. My. God. Sandra Bernhard's bra and panties were white. Are you happy now? (You didn't say if her panties were tight or not.) Can you believe this guy? Yes, they were tight. In fact, her panties were so tight, they caused her pussy to pulsate at an alarming rate. (Pulsate sounds so antiseptic, could you use a different word to describe Sandra's pussy as it pressed tightly against her white panties?) How 'bout "throb"? (Yeah, throb. I like that. I can just picture her juicy maw throbbing in and out like a pink wad of glistening chewing gum.)

What's Martin Scorsese going to think when he reads this? (You think Martin Scorsese is going to read this? Ha! Ha! Ha!) He might. (Are you high? He's got better things to do than read about some perverts obsession with Sandra Bernhard's panties.) Oh, really? If that's the case, then I don't want him to read it. Those who can't appreciate a good-natured back and forth of a schizophrenic nature regarding Sandra Bernhard's panties in The King of Comedy are the kind of people I try to avoid in my every day life.

Which reminds me, what kind of jackass runs away from a scantily clad Sandra Bernhard? Maybe I ain't hooked up right, but shouldn't you running towards her, not away from her? (What are you babbling about?) At one point in the movie, Jerry Lewis can clearly be seen running in the opposite direction of a half-naked Sandra Bernhard. This baffled me beyond belief. Though, if you take in account what occurred during the previous scene, it might make sense. But you know what? It actually doesn't. As Sandra Bernhard wears a slinky black dress with a massive slit in the so-called "previous scene." (Massive slit, eh?) Massive!

In fact, you could see the entire length of one of her legs in that slinky black dress. (You sound like a bit of an expert when it comes to Sandra Bernhard's legs.) It's funny you should mention that, as back in the 1980s I used to consider myself the world's preeminent Sandra Bernhard leg aficionado. (Watching her many leggy appearances on Late Night with David Letterman doesn't make you an aficionado.) Doesn't it? Oh, wait, you're right, it doesn't. Either way, watching Sandra on Letterman is what I did during the 1980s. Yep, while most people were doing cocaine and not finding a cure for AIDS, I watched Sandra Bernhard not take any of David Letterman's shit.

If that sounds sad and pathetic, it's nothing compared to Robert De Niro's Rupert Pupkin. (Hey, man, that was like a professional segue.) Thanks. While walking down Bloor St. a couple of years ago, I recall passing Janeane Garofalo near Spadina. I didn't realize it was her until the last minute, so nothing really happened. And I remember thinking to myself: If only I had noticed her sooner. Now, most people in my situation would be thinking about what they're going to say to her. I, on the other hand, wished I had noticed her sooner in order that I could cross to the other side of street. (Huh?) I don't want to meet celebrities, they make me uncomfortable. This also applies to the people who want to meet celebrities. And when we meet Rupert Pupkin, he's engaging in the kind of behaviour that makes me cringe.

Hounding talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), along with countless others outside the studio where they tape his show, Rupert Pupkin manages to get inside his limo. Showing him the cut he received on his hand keeping the [other] crazies at bay, Rupert convinces Jerry to not throw him out and goes into a sales pitch that promotes, who else, Rupert Pupkin. Listening to his spiel, Jerry tells Rupert, an aspiring stand-up comic, that he needs to start at the bottom.

While most of us can clearly see that Jerry is trying to get rid of him, Rupert seems blind to all of this. Telling him, as he enters his building, to "call his office," Jerry doesn't realize it yet, but by saying that, he just gave hope to a delusional man who will stop at nothing to become famous.

Nowadays, you upload a video, and, boom, six days later, you're famous. But back in the old days, you had to get past a complicated maze of gatekeepers if you wanted to attain fame and fortune. And one of these gatekeepers is played by Shelley Hack. Oh, sure, these people still exist, but their power isn't as great as it once was. Anyway, she might not look it, but Shelley Hack is not an easy gatekeeper to bypass.

(I don't know, Rupert Pupkin seems to doing all right. I mean, look, he's having lunch with Jerry Langford at a fancy eatery in the very next scene.) Ah, it looks like you just discovered this film's clever habit of melding reality with fantasy. Sprinkled liberally throughout the movie are these fantasy sequences that show what's going on inside Rupert's head. Now, when you think, "fantasy sequence," an off-kilter universe that seems to exist on a different plane all-together is the first thing that usually comes to mind. However, the great thing about the fantasy sequences in The King of Comedy is that you're never quite sure if they're really happening or a product of Rupert Pupkin's imagination.

Take, for example, the scene Rupert Pupkin and Rita (Diahnne Abbott), the attractive bartender who Rupert is infatuated with (the feeling isn't mutual), show up uninvited at Jerry's home in The Hamptons. I thought for sure this was yet another fantasy sequence. But as the scene got gradually more awkward (all you have to do is look at Jerry's body language to come to the conclusion that he does not want them there), I started to realize that this is really happening.

If showing up at Jerry's house was an act desperation (all his many attempts to meet with Jerry at his office ended in failure - thanks to Shelley Hack), Rupert's plan to kidnap him, with the help of the deranged Masha (Sandra Bernhard), a fellow Jerry Langford devotee, is the act of someone who has gone completely over the edge. Though, calling Rupert Pupkin a "devotee" of Jerry Langford's is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, he admires him, but he really wants to destroy him. Or, in less harsh terms, he wants to be him. Leaving Jerry in the care of Masha, Rupert sets in motion a series of events that will hopefully lead to him becoming the next... king of comedy. Damn, now that was a good movie.

(What about Sandra Bernhard?) I'm sorry, I got a little carried away there, didn't I? Yes, Sandra Bernhard. Where to begin? Well, the scene where her character's alone with Jerry Langford in her townhouse was definitely sexy (like I said earlier, she appears in a slinky black dress with a massive slit in the front).  However, the part where Masha confronts Rupert on the street (near or in Times Square) is actually my favourite. The way Sandra and Robert De Niro played off each other was exhilarating (the topic of their argument being, of course, Jerry Langford). It also helped that the scene was shot on the street with authentic-looking New Yorkers (the manner in which they gawked at the two bickering nut-jobs added so much to the scene) and for some strange reason, The Clash.

The other stand out scene is the one where Sandra's Masha gets in a heated debate with Rupert over who's been talking too much during their kidnapping of Jerry Langford. The forceful way in which Sandra Bernhard expresses herself might intimidate most people, but I've always found it to be quite alluring. And she's never been more alluring than she is here.


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    1. Urban dictionary defines "Snurgle" as: "A creature of great size, great hunger and with gratingly bad breath. It dreams of one day becoming human, but until then eats them to save its forest." :D