Humor in Hindsight: 1983’s The King of Comedy

Here’s the lede from my latest Humor In Hindsight column for, reflecting on Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, and Sandra Bernhard, fast-forwarding the context from 1983 to 2017.

Who among us hasn’t suffered from delusions of grandeur from time to time, indulging in fantasies or daydreaming of our untapped potential?

You may even think life itself is a con game.

Have enough self-confidence and who knows what you may achieve! That was part of “The Secret,” after all, the best-seller that encouraged us to use our own powers of positive thinking to will our best futures into reality. Of course, televised competitions such as American Idol and Last Comic Standing also proved time and again how futile and ripe for mockery that self-confidence becomes when unmatched by talent. Even now, fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette watch as much to laugh at delusional romantics as they do to indulge in the fantasies themselves.

In his new movie, The Comedian, Robert De Niro plays an old comic who once was the proverbial king of comedy as a sitcom star decades ago.

It’s a far cry from 34 years ago, when De Niro played Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring stand-up comedian in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. At the time of the film’s release, De Niro and Scorsese already had combined to make the classic films Mean StreetsTaxi Driver and Raging Bull, plus the musical New York, New York. For their fifth collaboration, they made this dark satire that holds up much better today than it did when it premiered to mixed reviews in Cannes in 1983.

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Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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