Scorsese, De Niro, Lewis Give ‘The King of Comedy’ Royal Treatment at Tribeca

Kara Warner
Senior Reporter
Movie Talk
'The King of Comedy' team at Tribeca on Saturday
'The King of Comedy' team at Tribeca on Saturday

If you’re a fan of Robert De Niro, this year's Tribeca Film Festival (which he co-founded) provided for several unexpectedly excellent De Niro moments -- like this photo of the Oscar-winner holding Internet sensation sensation Lil Bub.

But if you're a fan of 87-year-old king of comedy Jerry Lewis -- who rarely makes public appearances these days -- you're in for an even bigger treat. The festival's closing night screening celebrated the 30th anniversary of "The King of Comedy," which was restored for the occasion by Martin Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Shoonmaker. The Saturday night screening was followed by a discussion about the film with De Niro, his co-star, legendary comedian Lewis, as well as director Scorsese.

Lewis had the room rolling with laughter.

After Lewis arrived on stage and hugged De Niro and Scorsese, he launched straight into a dirty joke about someone he had just met on the New York Subway. At one point Lewis, who appeared as quick witted as ever, wore a clown's nose that had Scorsese in stitches. "No, you called me up," he said, correcting Scorsese and De Niro over how he got involved with the film.

"I haven't seen 'The King of Comedy,' I don't think, for at least 25 years," De Niro told the audience. "I'm very curious to see it," he said, adding that if he wasn’t too embarrassed he would stick around for the discussion.

The 1983 film tells the story of wannabe comic Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) and his obsession with fame and making an appearance on comedian Jerry Langford’s (Lewis) late night talk show. Things take a turn when Putkin kidnaps Langford in a misguided attempt to win his favor. Although the film's initial reception was mixed, it is considered to be ahead of its time for its honest portrayal of the real grit and toughness involved in show business and fame.

"I can't drink wine anymore without being tied up," Lewis joked on Saturday, referencing a scene in the film with Sandra Bernhard. And no, Lewis confirmed, he no longer has any stalkers.

Scorsese admitted that despite the film’s title the "King of Comedy" was not meant to be a laugh riot or a foreshadowy commentary on celebrity-obsessed culture.

"[People say,] 'Were you aware that you were commenting on the culture?' No," Scorsese said. "I mean, we knew we were commenting on the culture of that time, but not thinking that it would blow up into what it is now."

Not to say that the trio didn’t have fun during filming of course, thanks in large part to Lewis’ hysteria-inducing antics on set.

“I had so many asthma attacks on the picture from laughing,” Scorsese admitted as documented by Moviefone, along with Lewis’ penchant for randomly tossing rubber chickens into scenes. “In one scene…[Jerry] goes around the corner and I am holding the camera, and all of a sudden a rubber chicken hits the camera. The timing was perfect.”

"It brings back so many memories of that time," De Niro said. "I think Jerry was terrific. That was reinforced with me watching it tonight. Finally, I can watch a movie twenty-five, thirty years after I do it; I can get a little objectivity.”