The King of Comedy/Broadcast News

by akordasmcm120


Personally I found both The King of Comedy and Broadcast News incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking as vintage snapshots of the obsessive nature of the American media culture. Off-hand these films are presented to their respective audiences as black comedies, yet, when by altering the viewing perspective of the genre lens, one alter’s entirely the psychological understanding of the films and the social context of the characters portrayed.

In Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy our protagonist Rupert Pupkin is stereotypically presented as the out-of-touch-with-reality fan of a comedy legend, who desperately wants to be a comedian himself, living in his mother’s basement as he searches for his big ‘break.’ Although sightly neurotic and somewhat deranged of his own comedic talent, the audience is moved to feel a sad sympathy for this character. A poignant example of this for example is when we see him patiently waiting by a public telephone booth desperate for a call back from Jerry because he cannot even afford his own phone. This out-of-luck individual trying to make it in ‘showbiz’ is an archetypal figure of the American media culture, something that Jerry himself comments in the films very opening with ‘we all got to start at the bottom and work our way up.’ The obsessive desire for fame, fortune and notoriety surpasses the reality of the situation, glorified in this filmic setting as Pumpkin is completely self-assured he is simply an undiscovered comedy genius. As the film develops, we see De Niro’s character’s hapless neurosis (which at first seemed endearing) descend into a deeper and more profound loss of reality. If we analyze this film under the sub-text of mental delusion and fantasy, Pumpkin becomes more and more self-deluded rather than bumbling and endearing.  Citing Langford’s text ‘Post-Classical Hollywood’ one can see this effect take place where, “one might suggest that these journeys into a fantasy elsewhere were impelled by a desire for other-worldy redemption for the disenchanted present, or even a retreat from the concerns of adult social life altogether”p219. As a result of this, we discussed in class, one is forced to pose the question is The King of Comedy even a comedy? Or rather an ironic and disturbed anti-comedy? This split-genre is somewhat difficult to come to terms with; on one hand the film is so full of hyperbole that it cannot not be hysterical in the comedic sense, yet on the other it is precisely Pumpkin’s hysteria and delusions (like when he fantasises conversations and scenarios in his mind) that shift towards a deeper and darker psychological context.


In a similar fashion, Broadcast News is not able to fully fulfil the genre it encompasses. As a romantic-comedy, one automatically expects and assumes to finish watching with a feeling of satisfaction and euphoria, as typically everything ‘works out in the end’ with lovers coming together and big smiles. Yet paradoxically in this film, no-one really ends up with each other. I believe the ending is appropriate, yet in mainstream marketing, it is unable to satisfy the romantic comedy genre that it portrays. In this way, both Broadcast News and The King of Comedy are paradoxes of their own genres; they are unclassifiable enigmas of the sterotype genre code that dictates film and cinema.