When it was announced that we’d be getting a standalone Joker origin movie produced by Martin Scorsese, people were understandably shocked and confused. However, when that news was announced, I specifically referenced Scorsese’s 1983 film The King of Comedy as a likely inspiration for how the story might be adapted.
Well, TheWrap confirmed that this movie is going to be influential in how the story of the Joker will be told. The Clown Prince of Crime will be portrayed as a failing standup comedian in the 1980s.
So, it’s time to pick apart exactly why The King of Comedy is a fantastic springboard from which a Joker movie could be born.
Meet Rupert Pupkin
The King of Comedy centers around Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), a social outcast who dreams of being a famous comedian. But, Rupert isn’t some lovable oaf or a sad but good-hearted fella who is down on his luck. Rupert Pupkin is disturbed. He fantasizes about his stardom in ways that are unsettling. His apartment features a giant picture of an audience that he plays to, and he’s even got a mockup of a talk show and celebrities that he uses to act out his fantasy.
Rupert gets a chance to meet his idol, talk show host and comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). After a chance meeting with Jerry, Rupert begins to hound Jerry’s studio for a spot on his show. When he gets repeatedly shut down, Rupert goes to even more extreme lengths to get Jerry’s attention. Eventually, Rupert’s ambition causes him to take drastic measures that endanger Jerry’s life.
The King of Comedy is a deranged and sobering examination of our obsession with fame and notoriety, and a cautionary tale about the kinds of rewards and adulations we shower on celebrities. Don’t be fooled by the word “comedy” in the title. This flick isn’t there to make you laugh. It’s there to scare you.
So, what does this have to do with a Joker film?
‘The Killing Joke’
For starters, it’s definitely worth noting that one of the Joker’s many potential origins is that of a failing standup comedian. This idea was introduced in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. That book is often cited as one of the essential Joker stories. Granted, it is a disturbing, difficult, and purposefully unpleasant experience that sums up a lot of what makes the Joker such a lasting villain.
But, if you’re going to center a story around the Joker, you have to have at least a sliver of sympathy for the character without betraying the horrific being he becomes. And that’s Rupert Pupkin to a T. As terrifying and uncomfortable a character as Rupert is, there is still something unflinchingly human and understandable about his delusion. Don’t get me wrong: Rupert is a despicable person by the film’s end. And that’s certainly what the Joker will need to be as well.
A Different Kind of Comic Book Movie
The other reason that The King of Comedy is a perfect pick to inspire a Joker movie is because of the kind of film The King of Comedy is. It is a straightforward character piece that isn’t interested in a lot of high concept, flashy filmmaking. It’s grounded and laser-focused on developing its lead into a compelling (albeit unnerving) character.
We’ve seen that audiences are ready to start thinking outside the box with comic book adaptations thanks to the successes of Logan, Deadpool, and Legion. It would be great to see an origin film for the Joker that doesn’t hang on typical blockbuster tropes. Let us sit with the character and really dive deep into his psyche. Make us afraid of the Joker again but not because he’s going to poison Gotham City’s water supply. Make him scary because of the things he finds funny. And exactly how far he’ll go to get a laugh.
Great Cinema Inspires Greater Cinema
At the end of the day, this news should get you to seek out The King of Comedy. It’s an underappreciated slice of Scorsese’s filmography that rings true in today’s fame-obsessed world. And hopefully, this great movie will do what all great movies do and inspire another excellent film.
If this Joker film is anywhere near as unique as The King of Comedy, we’re in for a treat.