De Niro Attempts The Funny in “The Comedian”
By Skip Sheffield
Robert De Niro can do just about anything. He is the main attraction and the main character of “The Comedian.”
De Niro plays Jackie Burke, an over-the-hill insult comic along the lines of Don Rickles. Jackie is trying to get his mojo back, but he is reduced to playing retirement homes, whose clients only want him to play his character of Eddie, which gained him fame on television. Jackie Burke is sick of playing Eddie. He is so sick he attacks an audience member who heckles him. Jackie is rewarded with 30 days in the Nassau County, NY jail.
When he is released Jackie has to do community service at a soup kitchen. There he meets a fellow ex-con Harmony (Leslie Mann), who is young enough to be his daughter, if not granddaughter. To the credit of Mann and De Niro, they make this unlikely relationship somehow feasible. Call it an old man’s dream.
The biggest problem with “The Comedian” is it is not very funny. Danny DeVito does yeoman service as Jackie’s younger brother, and Pattie Lupone as his nagging wife. Another thing that does not ring true is that neither De Niro, DeVito nor Lupone are Jewish as per their characters. If I were Jewish I might take offense. Harvey Keitel as Harmony’s sleazy Florida real estate dad I believe.
There are some fun cameos from Cloris Leachman as a terminally elderly performer and Billy Crystal, Charles Grodin, Gilbert Gottfried and Brett Mann playing themselves.
Robert De Niro put heart and soul into this project, misdirected by Taylor Hackford (“A Officer and a Gentleman”). De Niro gets points for trying, but t’ain’t funny McGee. De Niro was much better as the pathetic comic Rupert Pupkin back in 1982 in "The King Of Comedy."