Have you ever wanted to be famous? Do you believe you have the ability to achieve fame? This week, I decided to watch The King of Comedy. Robert De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, an attempted comedian who wants more than anything the fame and glamour of show business. Opposite him is Jerry Lewis, who plays Jerry Langford, a man at the height of his comedic career, idolized and adored by many.
This is not a story about comedy, but more so a descent into the madness of fame. Through Pupkin’s (De Niro’s) eyes, fame is the ultimate good. He sees it as an end goal that will bring him nothing but virtue and even the retribution he desires. While through Langford (Lewis), fame is seen as an inhibition to his peace and it has taken away the simplicities of everyday life.
Pupkin isn’t ultimately a sympathetic character, rather he’s relatable. In other words, you can identify with his motivations but eventually understand that those are his faults. This only makes his character arc scarier for the viewer. “Arc” probably isn’t the best term for him, seeing that it’s more of a character ‘unraveling.’ His superficial persona starts the movie, but as the story progresses, a less sane side of him is revealed. This clever technique gains the audience’s initial sympathy, but is later turned on its head, which begs to ask how you even sympathized with him to begin with.
Langford isn’t a relatable character, unless you happen to be famous and idolized by the country, but he is who the audience eventually sympathizes for. Everyone wants to use Langford for his fame and he grows increasingly more sick of their entitlement. It is through Langford’s and Pupkin’s descent to madness that our pity shifts, moving from Pupkin to Langford.
What to take away
The essential question that the movie poses is, “How far would you go to achieve fame?” Rupert Pupkin is everybody. No matter how crazy his tactics or schemes become, it’s in our condition to believe that we are meant for greatness, whether it’s a main motivation for our every pursuit, or a little voice in the back of our minds. I’m not going to include how it ends. I only mean to let you know that its clever plot and complex characters are worth your 2 hours (but the ending is really phenomenal).
Why is this relevant (besides it being an amazing and relatable work of art)?
Depending on your knowledge of upcoming movies, comic book movies in particular, DC’s Joker is coming to the big screen this October. It has taken great inspiration from The King of Comedy, so watching it beforehand might be a good way to warm yourself up before taking a trip to the theater. The movie is available on Prime Video, free for Amazon Prime members.