The King of Comedy (1983)

PG | 109 mins | Comedy, Drama | 18 February 1983

Director:

Martin Scorsese

Producer:

Arnon Milchan

Cinematographer:

Fred Schuler

Production Designer:

Boris Leven

Production Company:

Embassy International Pictures
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HISTORY

End credits include the dedication: “For Dan Johnson.” Other acknowledgments include: “Incidental music published by Thomas J. Valentino, Inc.,” and, “Special thanks to: Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting, Nancy Littlefield, Director; New York State Division of Communication Industries Development, Elizabeth Forsling Harris, Deputy Commissioner; New York City Police Department, Special Unit of Motion Picture and Television, Lt. Jesse Peterman; Emmy Award courtesy of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.” End credits continue with “Special thanks to”: “The Three Stooges poster ©1981 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; Stills from the motion pictures Duck Soup, Coconuts, Mississippi and Ride ‘Em Cowboy (Universal, 1941), Courtesy of Universal Pictures; Stills of Charles Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and Marilyn Monroe ©1982 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, All Rights Reserved, Courtesy of Twentieth Century-Fox; Copyrighted photographs by Phillipe [sic] Halsman; Land courtesy of Rick Greewald, Permanent Vacation courtesy of Jim Jarmusch, Flying Saucer and Hideous Sun Demon courtesy of Wade Williams; The Tonight Show, for help in researching the ambiance of our film; The Merv Griffin Show, for help in researching the ambiance of our film; LIFE title and format used with permission of Time Incorporated; TIME title and format used with permission of Time Incorporated; Mondo Rubber; Knoll International; Thanks to Odell Manufacturing for fishtanks & stands; Sony Corporation of America.”
       On 9 Jul 1980, DV announced that principal photography for the $14 million picture was scheduled to begin May 1981, and a 14 Aug 1980 DV news item added that the ... More Less

End credits include the dedication: “For Dan Johnson.” Other acknowledgments include: “Incidental music published by Thomas J. Valentino, Inc.,” and, “Special thanks to: Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting, Nancy Littlefield, Director; New York State Division of Communication Industries Development, Elizabeth Forsling Harris, Deputy Commissioner; New York City Police Department, Special Unit of Motion Picture and Television, Lt. Jesse Peterman; Emmy Award courtesy of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.” End credits continue with “Special thanks to”: “The Three Stooges poster ©1981 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; Stills from the motion pictures Duck Soup, Coconuts, Mississippi and Ride ‘Em Cowboy (Universal, 1941), Courtesy of Universal Pictures; Stills of Charles Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and Marilyn Monroe ©1982 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, All Rights Reserved, Courtesy of Twentieth Century-Fox; Copyrighted photographs by Phillipe [sic] Halsman; Land courtesy of Rick Greewald, Permanent Vacation courtesy of Jim Jarmusch, Flying Saucer and Hideous Sun Demon courtesy of Wade Williams; The Tonight Show, for help in researching the ambiance of our film; The Merv Griffin Show, for help in researching the ambiance of our film; LIFE title and format used with permission of Time Incorporated; TIME title and format used with permission of Time Incorporated; Mondo Rubber; Knoll International; Thanks to Odell Manufacturing for fishtanks & stands; Sony Corporation of America.”
       On 9 Jul 1980, DV announced that principal photography for the $14 million picture was scheduled to begin May 1981, and a 14 Aug 1980 DV news item added that the film was initially announced in 1979 as a Joann Carelli production. At the time, Carelli had recently been credited as associate producer on the Academy Award winning Michael Cimino film, The Deer Hunter (1978, see entry). According to DV, The King of Comedy had already been “quietly licensed” to nearly a third of international territories by Producers Sales Organization (PSO) at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. However, the project was taken over by Israeli producer and financier Arnon Milchan in Aug 1980, and two months later, the 15 Oct 1980 DV reported that the film was in preproduction. A 23 Aug 1981 NYT article explained that Milchan met Robert De Niro in Israel three years previously, where they discussed making a film about the former Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan. Although the picture was not produced, the men became friends, and De Niro brought Milchan the script for The King of Comedy. NYT also noted that director Martin Scorsese initially rejected the script in 1976 for being “too simple, too superficial.” At that time, writer Paul D. Zimmerman was best known for his work as a film critic at Newsweek magazine. According to his 8 Mar 1993 Independent obituary, Zimmerman completed The King of Comedy ten years before it was produced.
       Despite a looming Directors Guild of America (DGA) strike one month away, director Martin Scorsese began principal photography 1 Jun 1981 in New York City, as stated in the 3 Jun 1981 Var. On 9 Jun 1981 DV reported that De Niro had studied for his role by watching fifteen hours of The Tonight Show footage provided by comedian host Steve Allen. DV also noted that Jerry Lewis requested that his suits be tailored by his regular clothiers, Sy Devore and Leon Decker, but neither tailor is credited onscreen. The 23 Aug 1981 NYT stated that production had been underway two months at New York City locations including Reeves Sound Studio on 81st Street and Broadway, and in Sands Point, Long Island.
       On 15 Sep 1982, DV announced that the film’s release date had been pushed back to “an unspecified date” in 1983 for reshoots. Twentieth Century-Fox representatives stated that the picture was not yet ready, and that the delayed opening would allow the studio to better market its soundtrack.
       The King of Comedy was eventually released 18 Feb 1983 to mixed reviews. While the 9 Feb 1983 Var review complained the picture was “too shallow for a drama, too somber for comedy,” the 18 Feb 1983 NYT review stated that the film’s absence of “absolute joy” was successfully countered by the “exhilarating” use of talent, and the “terrifying” exploration of the threshold between reason and lunacy.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Apr 1983
p. 51.
Daily Variety
9 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
14 Aug 1980.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1980.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jun 1981.
---
Daily Variety
15 Sep 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 1983
p. 4.
Independent
8 Mar 1993.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Feb 1983
p. 1.
New York Times
23 Aug 1981
p. 1, 15.
New York Times
18 Feb 1983
p. 10.
Variety
3 Jun 1981.
---
Variety
9 Feb 1983
p. 19.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Special appearance by
Supporting cast
Guest appearances by
Men at telephone:
[and]
Street scum:
[and]
Plainclothesmen:
[and]
Voices of newsmen:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Arnon Michan presents
a Martin Scorsese picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Steadicam
Steadicam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Best boy
Gaffer
Video consultant
Cam equip by
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Scenic artist
Prop master
2d props
Set dresser
Carpenter
Const grip
COSTUMES
Asst cost des
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus prod by
Mus consultant
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd ed staff
Sd ed staff
Sd ed staff
Sd ed staff
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Hair des
Make-up artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod supv
Extras casting
Principals casting asst
Scr supv
2d scr supv
Consultant scr supv
Transportation capt
Loc coord
Prod office coord
Asst prod office coord
Post-prod supv
Post-prod coord
Asst to Mr. Scorsese
Asst to Mr. De Niro
Asst to Mr. De Niro
Asst to Mr. Greenhut
D.G.A. trainee
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod auditor
Prod auditor
With Production Services, Prod auditor
With Production Services, Prod auditor
Comptroller
Pub coord
Loc equip
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Jerry Langford Theme," written, arranged and performed by Bob James, ©1983 Bob James and De Shufflin Inc., worldwide rights controlled by Wayward Music, Inc.
"Rupert's Theme," written, arranged and performed by Bob James, ©1983 Bob James and De Shufflin Inc., worldwide rights controlled by Wayward Music, Inc.
SONGS
"Come Rain Or Come Shine," written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, performed by Ray Charles, courtesy of Atlantic Records
"Sweet Sixteen Bars," written and performed by Ray Charles, courtesy of Atlantic Records
"The Finer Things," written by Donald Fagen, performed by David Sanborn, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
+
SONGS
"Come Rain Or Come Shine," written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, performed by Ray Charles, courtesy of Atlantic Records
"Sweet Sixteen Bars," written and performed by Ray Charles, courtesy of Atlantic Records
"The Finer Things," written by Donald Fagen, performed by David Sanborn, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
"Back On The Chain Gang," written by Chrissie Hynde, performed by The Pretenders, courtesy of Sire Records
"Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)," written by Bart Howard, performed by Frank Sinatra, courtesy of Reprise Records
"Swamp," lyrics written by David Byrne, music written by Talking Heads, performed by Talking Heads, courtesy of Sire Records
"Rainbow Sleeves," written by Tom Waits, performed by Rickie Lee Jones, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
"Between Trains," written and performed by Robbie Robertson, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
"T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do," written by Porter Grainger & Everett Robbins, performed by B.B. King, courtesy of MCA Records
"Steal The Night," written and performed by Ric Ocasek, courtesy of Geffen Records
"Best Of Everything," written and performed by Tom Petty, courtesy of Back Street Records
"Wonderful Remark," written and performed by Van Morrison, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 February 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 18 February 1983
Production Date:
began 1 June 1981 in New York City
Copyright Claimant:
Embassy International Pictures, N. V.
Copyright Date:
9 May 1983
Copyright Number:
PA180792
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Prints by Deluxe
Duration(in mins):
109
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26882
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin waits outside the stage door to The Jerry Langford Show after its nightly television broadcast. Weaving through a crowd of fans, Jerry is attacked in his limousine by a frenzied girl named Masha, but Rupert comes to his rescue. When Masha is removed from the vehicle, Rupert follows Jerry into the limousine, introduces himself as an up-and-coming talent, and begs Jerry to feature his routine on the show. In an effort to rid himself of Rupert, Jerry consents to a meeting and advises Rupert to telephone his secretary, Cathy Long. Sometime later, Rupert returns to his bedroom in his parents’ home, which is furnished as a replica of The Jerry Langford Show set, and fantasizes about dining with an adoring Jerry. Meanwhile, Jerry unwinds alone in his townhouse and receives a frantic telephone call from Masha, who asks if he received her letter. Later that evening, Rupert courts a bartender he hasn’t seen in fifteen years named Rita, and she agrees to a dinner date. When Rita identifies Marilyn Monroe as her favorite actress, Rupert shows her Monroe’s signature in his book of autographs. He then gives Rita his own autograph and reveals that he is the new “King of Comedy” because he met Jerry Langford. However, Rita is unimpressed and returns home. The following morning, Rupert entertains his life-size, cut out figures of Jerry and Liza Minnelli, but his mother pesters him to go to work. As Rupert delivers ... +


In New York City, aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin waits outside the stage door to The Jerry Langford Show after its nightly television broadcast. Weaving through a crowd of fans, Jerry is attacked in his limousine by a frenzied girl named Masha, but Rupert comes to his rescue. When Masha is removed from the vehicle, Rupert follows Jerry into the limousine, introduces himself as an up-and-coming talent, and begs Jerry to feature his routine on the show. In an effort to rid himself of Rupert, Jerry consents to a meeting and advises Rupert to telephone his secretary, Cathy Long. Sometime later, Rupert returns to his bedroom in his parents’ home, which is furnished as a replica of The Jerry Langford Show set, and fantasizes about dining with an adoring Jerry. Meanwhile, Jerry unwinds alone in his townhouse and receives a frantic telephone call from Masha, who asks if he received her letter. Later that evening, Rupert courts a bartender he hasn’t seen in fifteen years named Rita, and she agrees to a dinner date. When Rita identifies Marilyn Monroe as her favorite actress, Rupert shows her Monroe’s signature in his book of autographs. He then gives Rita his own autograph and reveals that he is the new “King of Comedy” because he met Jerry Langford. However, Rita is unimpressed and returns home. The following morning, Rupert entertains his life-size, cut out figures of Jerry and Liza Minnelli, but his mother pesters him to go to work. As Rupert delivers packages around town, he repeatedly telephones Jerry to no avail. He later shows up at Jerry’s office to learn he does not have an appointment, after all. When secretary Cathy Long tells Rupert to come back with an audiotape of his act, he leaves, only to be accosted by his erratic friend Masha. The girl demands to know what happened between Rupert and Jerry the previous evening and pays him cash to deliver her letter. Back at home, Rupert tape-records his routine as requested, but is again interrupted by his mother. Sometime later, Rupert gives Cathy Long the tape and imagines a favorable reaction from Jerry, then returns the following day for a response. As he waits, he fantasizes about a segment in The Jerry Langford Show that features a surprise wedding between himself and Rita. Back in reality, Cathy returns Jerry’s tape. She insists Jerry is out of the office and advises him to develop his jokes at clubs before submitting them for consideration. However, Rupert refuses to leave until he has an audience with Jerry. When a security guard escorts him outside, Masha reports seeing Jerry enter the office, and Rupert storms back inside. As he is dragged away yet again, Masha scolds him for failing to deliver the letter. Rupert remains unable to distinguish fantasy from reality and takes Rita to Jerry’s weekend home for a holiday. Jerry’s butler allows them inside, but telephones Jerry to report the intrusion. When Jerry returns and orders the couple to leave, Rupert vows to become more famous than his idol. Sometime later, Rupert and Masha kidnap Jerry with the threat of an authentic-looking toy gun. They force him to telephone his producer and recite lines from cue cards, but Jerry’s producer assumes the caller is a demented fan and refuses to take him seriously. Eventually, Jerry convinces his producer of the call’s legitimacy by answering several coded questions. He reads Rupert’s awkwardly phrased cue cards to demand a slot for Rupert, “The King,” on that night’s show. In an effort to allay his captors, Jerry apologizes for previously ignoring Rupert’s tape and admits he is a fallible human being. He promises to refrain from pressing charges if they release him right away, but Rupert and Masha refuse. Back at Jerry’s office, the producers plan to include Rupert’s routine during the early evening taping, at 7:00 p.m., and then decide if they will broadcast the act during the 11:30 airing. However, Jerry’s lawyer threatens to sue the network unless they protect his client’s safety and air Rupert’s ten minutes of fame. As Rupert heads to the television studio, Masha prepares a romantic, candle-lit dinner for Jerry, who is restrained in his chair with masking tape. Admitting that she never felt love from her parents, Masha declares her adoration for Jerry, propositions him, and takes off her clothes. At the studio, Rupert sneaks inside while another interloper is detained at the door. After revealing himself to Cathy as the kidnapper, Rupert is presented to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, who demand to know Jerry’s whereabouts. Rupert is informed of his right to remain silent and refuses to comply with the FBI until he performs his routine. The 7:00 pre-show is taped with Tony Randall as a guest host and Rupert is introduced as “the newest King of Comedy.” With the taping of his monologue complete, Rupert leads the FBI agents to Rita’s bar. At 11:30 p.m., he sets the television to The Jerry Langford Show as Rita, her intoxicated patrons, and the plainclothes FBI agents watch his routine. After Rupert’s jokes about his alcoholic and neglectful parents are embellished with a laugh track, he ends the act with a confession, admitting he had to “hijack” Jerry to get on the show. However, Rupert claims it is “better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.” Back at Masha’s apartment, Jerry convinces the libidinous girl to remove the masking tape and breaks free of his restraints. When he tries to shoot his captor with the gun, he realizes it is a toy. Jerry knocks Masha down and escapes, but she gives chase though the city streets in her underwear. Outwitting Masha, Jerry passes a television store window and sees Rupert performing on his show. Meanwhile, back at the bar, Rupert’s televised routine ends. He leaves cash for Rita and the star-struck patrons as FBI agents drag him outside. In the coming days, Rupert becomes famous and is featured on television news shows and magazine covers. Although he is sentenced to six years in prison, Rupert is discharged after two years and is rewarded a $1 million-plus publishing deal for his memoir, King for a Night. Upon his release from jail, Rupert is greeted by a crowd of fans and announces that he improved his material while behind bars. Sometime later, Rupert takes the stage on his own television show, but remains silent in the spotlight. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.