Robert De Niro is ‘The Comedian’

Category: Movies

In his newest film, The Comedian, veteran actor Robert De Niro plays a stand-up comic who years ago had a hit sitcom and has been remembered for that role ever since. Now in his mid 70s, he is tired of being associated with that one character. He enjoys his newer routines, which, I must say, are entertaining but very raunchy.

Jackie Burke (De Niro) is floundering in his career. He really has issues with anger and with his past. His brother Jimmy Berkowitz (Danny DeVito) adores his act but his sister-in-law Florence (Patti LuPone) isn’t fond of her brother-in-law’s comedy. Jackie changed his name a long time ago but still holds onto the Jewish words and traditions with which he grew up.
Jackie is a natural when it comes to one-liners. But he has issues with anger so when a heckler got to him one night he punched him and they ultimately ended up in court, with Jackie getting 3 months in prison and community service. He takes this in stride and while serving his community service (literally – at the soup kitchen), he meets Harmony Schlltz (Leslie Mann). They have an instant rapport and soon they are accompanying each other to family events – her with him to his niece’s (Lucy DeVito) wedding and him with her to dinner with her father (Harvey Keitel).

The comedy in this film is very often laugh-our-loud however this is not a story about a comedian. It is more a look at the emotional journeys of some flawed characters and how they manage to make it through life as unscathed as possible.
The cast is amazing. Edie Falco plays Jackie’s manager and there are appearances by Cloris Leachman, Charles Grodin, Billy Crytal, Jimmy Walker, Brett Butler, Richard Belzer, Gilbert Gottfried, and plenty more real-life comedians. They combine to make interplay with Jackie even more entertaining than if there were no real-life celebs playing themselves or other comedians in the film.

A few insights I had while watching the movie is that this not-so-close-knit Jewish family is portrayed by a bunch of Italian actors. And they did it so wonderfully too. Another thought was that Jackie’s jokes were in the vane of Lenny Bruce. Both Jackie and Lenny’s humor were on the vulgar side.

A fun part of the movie is when Jackie leads a group of senior citizens in a raunchy parody of the song “Makin’ Whoopie” changing the words and the chorus to “Makin’ Poopie.”
Director Taylor Hackford said, “We’ve never seen Robert De Niro like this before. From the very first club scene, if the audience doesn’t believe that he’s a comedian, there’s no movie. We took Bob out to comedy clubs every night during rehearsal, and we settled on the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village which, in my opinion, is the best comedy club in the country.” Hackford is a comedy fan and once owned a comedy club in New Orleans himself.
Creator Art Linson explained, “We conceived of Jackie as a caustic, biting comic because he’s a discontented guy. He’s angry that he wasn’t bigger than he was, …”
In the beginning of the film the audiences are clamoring for “Eddie” the character he played decades ago in the sitcom, but by the end of the story and his journey through life, they are calling for “Jackie,” to his delight.
Leslie Mann’s character is just as flawed, having grown up without a mother and under the strict thumb of her hard-nosed father. But it’s Jackie who helps her find her own voice and identity.

De Niro talked about his character. “Aging changes the way you look at your life, whether you’re a comedian, an actor, a businessman, anything. There are a lot of us on this movie who understand that—Taylor Hackford, Lewis Friedman, Art Linson, Harvey Keitel… So that’s part of who Jackie is. The comedy world is part of who he is. But I still don’t know who Jackie is. I can’t sum him up. The audience will see the film, and they’ll take away what they see. All we can do is put it in front of them.”

Hackford wraps it all up this way: “Here’s Jackie in the latter part of life, refusing to give up and still fighting—tilting at windmills but still out there, still tenacious. He comes upon another person who’s also lost,” — Harmony, played by Leslie Mann —“and they somehow click and help each other move forward. The journey is what this film is about. I think of the film as a dark drama with comedy—somebody else may see a dark comedy with drama. There are jokes, but it’s really watching a man confront his reality at the latter part of his life, moving beyond being a failure in his own mind.”

The Comedian is rated R and opens in theaters February 3, 2017.

About the Author

Francine Brokaw has been covering all aspects of the entertainment industry for over 20 years. She also writes about products and travel. She has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines as well as Internet websites. She has written her own book, Beyond the Red Carpet The World of Entertainment Journalists, from Sourced Media Books.

Follow her on Twitter