Rupert Pupkin woos Rita in The King of Comedy with as much stiff-limbed passion as he brings to his stand-up routine--calculated, yes, but none of the figures come out right. They're in the bar, and he's barreling along, his chin down, his eyes up, that little mustache--a funny little thing, so why does it make me uneasy?--jutting just enough to drive home one scripted point after another, moving with the words that keep coming, all of it unbearably embarrassing.
--And at his back a guy mimics his gestures, amused by the flashy little jerk, not sitting close, but close enough to mock an idiot. But I'm not sure if Rita sees him--and I barely noticed the man--but when I did I thought he was looking at me: he'd seen the camera and was mugging it up just to ruin the shot, an actual customer in a not-actual bar, like those kids in the background as news reporters drone on--except why doesn't Scorsese yell Cut! and have the guy tossed out? How is it that this is even happening, the fake movie with real discomfort all-but-interrupted by a real heckler listening to a scripted performance by a character whose whole life is a script, a set filled with laughter and success?
Do I need the rest of the movie, as appallingly perfect as it is? Isn't this one scene enough to hammer a nail into the forehead of a man whose life, not just name, is often misspelled and mispronounced? Do I need Jerry Lewis, reminding me more of Karloff than Carson? Or Sandra Bernhardt's carnivorous mouth opening to swallow Jerry's head like the last trick of a real trooper lion tamer? Or Liza Minnelli in cardboard--or the Moment itself at the end, Rupert's fifteen minutes of fame as real as anything that ever settled for good in his head, plodding along through one self-loathing observation after another? Isn't he, at the moment in the bar when he tries to correct his life, already deciding to be both king for a night AND schmuck for a lifetime? Yes, and the movie could've been only five excruciating minutes long, and I could've left the thing behind and tried my best to forget my lines and miss my mark and get off the damned stage.