INTERVIEW: Sandra Bernhard Says 'It's Too Late' To Remake 'The King of Comedy'
A longstanding gig will keep Sandra Bernhard from attending the Tribeca Film Festival's closing-night screening of The King of Comedy on April 27, but it's not like she needs her memory jogged. The comedienne recalls that making Martin Scorsese's prescient and oh-so-dark 1982 comedy about a deluded stand-up comic (Robert De Niro) who kidnaps his favorite talk-show host (Jerry Lewis), was a "coming-of-age experience that left me a changed person."
Talk about a breakthrough. Bernhard played Masha, an obsessed and similarly deluded fan of Lewis' Jerry Langford character, who after helping to carry out the the kidnapping, entertained the duct-taped Langford in her bra and panties. Great comedy is often deeply unsettling, and Bernhard's portrayal of Masha is so unabashedly off the wall that she left movie audiences squirming and Jerry Lewis genuinely aghast. It's one of the purest comic performances captured on film.
Here's a little taste:
The Monster Masha
I talked with Bernhard about her experience making the movie, her scene with three-fourths of the British punk band the Clash, and her thoughts on whether a movie as prescient as The King of Comedy could be re-made at a time when the world is full of Rupert Pupkins and Mashas.
Movieline: Let's start with all the talent you beat out for the role of Masha. You've talked about how Debra Winger and Ellen Barkin were in the running, but Meryl Streep wanted that part as well. Any others that come to mind?
Sandra Bernhard: I had heard that as well. So many people were up for that role, but I don't know who exactly because they obviously didn't tell me. I only knew about Ellen because I heard from her directly. I know that the part kind of came down to me and another actress, but I don't remember who it was. Somebody did tell me at one point but it wasn’t anybody really compelling.
How has the movie's meaning for you changed over the years?
I haven't seen the movie in a long time. How many times can you watch yourself, you know? It's uncomfortable. I am curious to see it again all cleaned up and restored. The film was so representative of an era in filmmaking when people would take their time in a scene. It wasn’t a case of rush, rush, rush onto the next moment. You had room to breathe, and I think that in itself made people uncomfortable because the topic was so weird and out of left field at the time. Now, expectations of fame and desire run so extreme that the film almost seems tame in comparison, but there's still something about The King of Comedy that’s very disarming and offbeat and something you’ll never see again. And so those are the emotions I feel. It was very evocative.