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Tribeca: Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese & Jerry Lewis Reflect On 'The King Of Comedy,' Improv, Deleted Scenes & More

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 29, 2013 at 2:57PM

The Tribeca Film Festival closed last night with a digitally-restored screening of “The King Of Comedy.” Thirty years later, the film still reverberates as an acidic take on celebrity worship that has, oddly enough, become timeless, and the re-master is gorgeous. The film was greeted with rapturous applause, but the real fireworks started after a raucous Q+A featuring a chatty Martin Scorsese, a shy Robert De Niro, and a more-than-eager Jerry Lewis.

The King OF Comedy Martin Scorsese Jerry Lewis

At the mid-point of the Q+A, Lewis joined the duo, sprightly and eager to be there. After beginning with an off-color routine about bestiality and the subway system, Lewis discussed how he got involved with the production. Speaking to Scorsese, he said, “You called me, you said, you and Bobby were talking last night, and we thought it would be great if you did ‘The King Of Comedy.’ I was playing Lake Tahoe, and you called me, and I said, I’d go anywhere the world for you Marty. Send me the script, but I don’t need it because I’d love to work with Marty and you. That’s how I met Marty.” He added drolly, “And he was thrilled.”

Scorsese, who says he still screens Lewis’ films, mentioning “The Ladies’ Man” as the last one he’s re-watched, was in awe of Lewis’ skill, remarking about how perfect he was to play talk show host Jerry Langford. Regarding casting, Scorsese said, “If you go to the talk show hosts, then you go to the actors, a list of actors, then you go to directors… Jerry’s been all of them. Performer, director, actor, host. Inventor. What we use now, a lot of people don’t know this, but the video assist was started by Jerry. Prior to that, we didn’t know what we were getting, he did the video assist first.”

The King Of Comedy Robert De Niro

Lewis started off his comments by establishing, “When the comedy comes, if the comedy is real, it’s always gonna score better.” Later, he emphasized this by revealing that a tense scene at Langford’s summer home when Pupkin rudely intrudes, revealing that was a product of improv. “The entire scene in my home when he comes in, and I come back to my home with the golf club, all of that was ad-libbed, the whole seven-to-nine minute scene,” Lewis said. “The line with Bobby, I said something about Hitler, he said, That’s not fair! The man made a mistake!”

Scorsese added, “Everything was so uncomfortable to make that scene.”

To which Lewis interjected, “We heard you sitting behind the camera, hysterical. I said, are you gonna continue laughing, or are you gonna cut this goddamn scene?”

Though she couldn’t be there for the screening, Sandra Bernhard recorded a message to play to the audience. Edited quickly, the minute-long message featured jokes mixed with rapid-fire remembrances that the audience laughed over, though she did get to ask Lewis, “Hey, remember when you called me Fish Lips?” Bernhard was famously discovered for “The King Of Comedy” during a routine with fellow stand-up Beltzer, material that Scorsese says was slightly repurposed for the scene where she has Langford taped down at gunpoint.

The King Of Comedy

Lewis, responding to Bernhard’s story about stealing back his own apology letter to the comedienne, talked a bit about working with her in a way that suggested grudges had not been forgiving. “I remember the day we were doing the tape scene,” he recalled. “I went to Marty and said, 'Marty, there’s so much angst going on. Jerry Langford has so much angst and anger at this injustice that’s been perpetrated on him, and I think when he gets out of the tape, he should punch her in the mouth.' He said, 'You wanna do that?' I said, 'More than anything in the world.' I gave her a shot. Thank god I missed, because she’d have been dead.” He added, charitably, “But she’s the reason for birth control.”

Fortunately for Lewis, it was one of the few bits of reality that intruded upon the picture. When asked if he’s ever experienced an encounter with a Pupkin-type, he casually mentions, “I’ve had three or four stalkers in the last forty years. They’re all gone. The sons of Al Capone have been hanging out for me. I gave ‘em a call, told them, you should visit this schmuck.” He shrugged, “You get out of it pretty easy.”

This article is related to: Tribeca Film Festival, Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Martin Scorsese, The King of Comedy

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