Smartmouth Stanley Siegel interviews pornographer Al Goldstein and comedian Jerry Lewis in 1976. When not busy composing the world’s finest beaver shots, Goldstein apparently had a newsletter about tech tools. He shows off a $3900 calculator watch and a $2200 portable phone. Lewis, easily the biggest tool on the stage, flaunts his wealth the way only a truly insecure man can.
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“The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor,” groaned Leonard Cohen not so long ago, decrying the way the powerful could cajole and pacify the masses when communications was in the hands of the few. But that was before the democratization of the media, before everyone had a channel or two hundred, before Survivors, Idols and Bachelors. Back when the playing field was still uneven and a lack of discernible talent was considered a detriment, there was a simple man named Rupert Pupkin who dreamed of storming the gates.
Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an obsessed, delusional fan of New York talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), lives in his mother’s basement and ekes out a tiny existence while thinking big. He’s a peasant who sees himself as a king—the king of comedy, to be precise. Rupert hones his stand-up material in his dank apartment during the night, chatting with cardboard cut-outs of Liza and the like and working on his one-liners. He spends the rest of the time with the stalkerish autograph hound, Marcia (Sandra Bernhard), who makes him seem relatively balanced by comparison.
An awkward meeting with Jerry leads Rupert to believe that he will soon be sharing couch space with the legendary host. But it only brings the aspiring comic rejection and humiliation. Desperate, Rupert schemes with Marcia to kidnap Jerry and keep him until he gets his ransom–the chance to do the monologue on Langford’s show. But will his moment in the spotlight transform Rupert’s life or only confirm his failure? After all, democracy guarantees neither greatness nor meritocracy, only opportunity.•