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The King of Comedy, Directed by Martin Scorsese

20th Century Fox, February 18, 1983 (US)

Screenplay: Paul D. Zimmerman

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, and Sandra Bernhard

Applause. Thunderous, enthusiastic applause. The show is going through the roof.

MEG: Thank you! Thank you. Please … save some of that energy for our next guest. He’s a raging bull who’s walked the mean streets after hours with the gangs of New York, New York. . . . His career soars higher than an aviator … has clocked more mileage than a taxi driver. And his body of work is anything but lifeless like one of the departed. No, Ladies and Gentleman, we’re not bringing out the dead in an age of innocence—this ain’t Kimmel or Conan, after all. . . .

Pause for audience reaction. Hooting and robust laughter erupt.

MEG: Let me introduce my dear, dear friend … one of the rare goodfellas in the business. . . .The one, the only … Martin Scorsese.

Cheers. Scorsese emerges from behind red curtain awash in spotlight and walks to central set. Host and guest shake hands followed by hug, before Scorsese takes seat stage right—directly next to desk behind which host holds court.

MEG: Welcome! Wonderful to have you here, Marty.

MS: It’s a pleasure. You look great.

MEG: Ah! Get outta here … “You talking to me? You talkin’ … to me?”

Host mugs to camera, adjusting knot in his tie and arching brow. Whistles blow from crowd.

MEG: Let’s talk about your new movie, Shutter Island. It’s your fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo’s your go-to leading man, so when’s a guy like me gonna get a shot?

MS (snickering): Success in motion pictures takes an unstoppable … almost psychopathic … determination, and everyone’ll probably agree I know a thing or two about sociopaths. Don’t get me wrong. Leo’s not psychotic. He’s an actor extremely dedicated to his craft. My advice … don’t quit your day job.


MS: Besides, given the choice, who’d you cast? The king of the world or a guy skilled at putting the nation to bed five days a week?

MEG: Wait a minute. Let me make something absolutely clear. Five days? I keep right on tuckin’ through the weekend. Last Saturday and Sunday alone, I gave good-nights to Cindy, Carole, an Elissa, a Robin. . . .

Audience goes wild over the innuendo.

MS: Whew! I never knew you were such a cad.

MEG: Oh, yea … and until now, neither did my wife!

“Ba-dum ching” from band for effect.

MEG: But enough about bedroom antics. Let’s get back to acting. I think I’ve got the drive to explore new areas of creativity, if even for a short while.

One of the previous guests, who sits on set’s sofa off to side of the hot seat, interjects.

Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro): Better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.

Audience claps in agreement.

MEG: Simmer down over there, Plimkin!

Rupert: Pupkin.

MEG: That’s what I said. Anyway, your time’s up.

MS: Fans can be a fickle lot. One day you’re hot, the next you’re not. Am I right?

Someone shouts from audience.

Fan: We love you, Marty!

Scorsese submits wave and polite, seated bow.

MS: Without you, I’m nothing.

MEG: You're stealing my show. What am I? Yesterday’s meal? Keeping it fresh up here year-round, five times a week’s not easy.

Jerry Langford, a second guest sitting on sofa aside Rupert, comments.

Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis): The show, the pressure … the groupies, the autograph hounds … the crew, the incompetence … those behind-the-scenes you think are your friends and you're not sure if you'll be there tomorrow … because of their incompetence.

MEG: Always so dark and negative, Jerry. We’re a comedy hour, remember? There’ll be no talk of incompetence on this stage, unless we’re discussing my singing talents.

Host screeches few bars of “Is That All There Is?”

Audience (in unison): Booo!

MEG: I'm not going away, even if I cannot carry a tune. That’s entertainment, folks!

MS: You’re right. No need to be unnecessarily serious. We’re here to have a good time.

Kooky, rather hysterical third and final guest chimes in from sofa.

Masha (Sandra Bernhard): Let’s do something crazy tonight. Just get insane. I want to be crazy. I want to be nuts. I want some fun. Goddamnit!

MEG: Masha’s got the spirit! Woo hoo!

MS: Hold on a minute. Insane … dark … crazy. . . . Sounds like one of my movies.

MEG: Sounds a whole lot more like my mother-in-law. . . . And we’ll be right back, after a word from our sponsors.

Cut to commercial break.

Somewhere dangerously close to studio, a lone comic, dressed in jacket, vest and tie, backs away from broadcast, airing on snowy TV with poor reception. He adjusts rabbit ear antennas topped with makeshift balls of aluminum wrap, while the television picture ghosts and jumps about from signal interference. An ad for bath tissue rolls vertically up screen, halts brief second and then rises again. Halts. And scrolls. Comedian quits fiddling and steps behind microphone on stand conspicuously placed in corner of his grungy bedroom. He practices improvisational stand-up routine, in relative silence—except for distorted clapping echo bouncing off the needy chambers of his imagination. Rope, duct tape and plastic Magnum .44 pistol lies tossed on unmade bed. Television is switched off. The joker gathers his belongings, and America’s newest headliner seeks a last laugh.