Remembering Rupert Pupkin
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because, like you, Rupert Pupkin ages well. The King of Comedy’s 30th Anniversary Edition is now out on Blu-ray.
By Jonathan Kiefer
History has remembered the name Rupert Pupkin. It seemed unlikely, as the name was subject to all manner of mispronunciation for a while—or at least for the duration of The King of Comedy , in which it became a running joke, sort of like the man himself. Until he had the last laugh. Let’s say this for the aspiring, disturbingly persistent stand-up comic played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s dark little celebrity-infatuation satire: He got what he deserved, and so did we.
In 1983, when contemplating the Scorsese-De Niro combo, we didn’t tend to think “Big Laffs!” But The King of Comedy has many, even if they often assume tragic proportions. It’s a milder but also more innately pity-inducing variation on the theme of obsessive nutjobbery that the director and star had so sharply described in Taxi Driver . And it’s a benchmark in its own right: Long before the phoned-in spoofery of De Niro’s silver years, not to mention the oblivious-hedonism hilarity of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street , there was this. The King of Comedy celebrated its 30th anniversary by closing out the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, and now an anniversary edition has just been released on Blu-ray. It has aged very well.
Rupert Pupkin was, of course, a hack. His most famous routine—not at all qualitatively worse than stuff we heard from Leno for years thereafter—was corny and dated even in 1983. But it culminated advantageously in a joke, true to Rupert’s experience, about how the only way he could break into show business was by kidnapping the host (Jerry Lewis) whose show he was on. In this scheme he had essential help from a fellow superfan (Sandra Bernhard), but ultimately the glory was Rupert’s alone. As the man himself said, “Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”