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On the closing night of the Tribeca film festival, Jerry Lewis earned a standing ovation at a screening of King of Comedy, taking the stage with co-star Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese.
De Niro introduced the 1983 film where he plays aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin whose goal of breaking into show business leads him to kidnap late night host Jerry Langford, played by Lewis. De Niro admitted that he hadn’t seen the movie in 25 years and hoped it wouldn’t leave him “too embarrassed.”
The dark film earned mixed reviews when it first came out in theaters and wasn’t an immediate success. Roger Ebert said it was “one of the most arid, painful, wounded movies I’ve ever seen” and The New Yorker‘s Pauline Kael said that Pupkin was “Jake LaMotta without fists.”
Today, the film is almost universally praised and understood to be ahead of its time, a commentary on the sometimes negative influence of celebrity and media.
“We knew we were commenting on the culture of that time, but not thinking that it would blow up into what it is now,” Scorsese told the audience.
Asked whether it was tough to do comedy, the director responded, “It wasn’t a comedy, was it?”
The highlight of the night was the appearance of Lewis, the 87-year-old comedian who has made much fewer public appearances in recent years thanks to advanced age and health issues.
Lewis came onto the stage, did a group hug with De Niro and Scorsese, and then immediately launched into a dirty joke about an individual he had just met in a New York subway. During the event, Lewis played some sight gags including wearing a clown’s nose that had Scorsese almost falling off his chair in laughter. He appeared mentally alert, correcting Scorsese and De Niro about how he got involved in the project. “No, you called me up,” he said.
As for whether he gets stalkers, Lewis admitted that he has had a few over the years but not anymore. Still, Lewis cracked, “I can’t drink wine anymore without being tied up,” a reference to a scene with Sandra Bernhard.
After watching the restored print of King of Comedy, De Niro said he was most impressed by the performance of others. “I do look at it in a different way. I think Jerry was terrific,” he said. “The stuff that Marty did as well. It was great to watch. When I watch a movie 25 or 30 years after I do it, I can get a little objectivity.”
Lewis quickly interjected, “Tonight, he’s going to see The Deer Hunter.”
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