After yesterday’s big unveiling of the trailer for Todd Phillips’ Joker, there were many connections and references that sprang to mind as fans dissected every inch of the footage. As expected, one of the big ticket references baked in was our first look at Robert DeNiro’s talk show host, Murray Franklin; a character that has been pegged as a huge connective tissue between this DC experiment and Martin Scorsese’s dark comedy gem The King of Comedy. And in a recent discussion, DeNiro called it like he saw it, stating the following:
There’s a connection, obviously, with the whole thing. But it’s not as a direct connection as the character I’m playing being Rupert many years later as a host.
So Murray Franklin is, indeed, a character set to invoke the spirit of Robert DeNiro’s Rupert Pupkin-- if he was to have gotten that fame he’d always wanted by taking over Jerry Langford’s show. That’s one hell of a deep cut for film fans to cheer for, as well as something for newcomers to latch onto, in hopes that Joker could turn the younger comic film audience onto the works of its executive producer, Martin Scorsese.
The connection only seems to make The King of Comedy required viewing for Joker, as Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck seems very much like a Pupkin-esque figure, waiting for one bad day to set him off on his path to become the clown prince of crime. He’s beat up and ridiculed by random folks in the neighborhood, leads a life of semi-quiet desperation, and ultimately want to become a standup comedian that’ll be featured on a late night TV show. So casting DeNiro as that late night host that Arthur is fixated on is definitely a connection, and bordering on turning Joker into an official sequel.
Though, as Robert DeNiro has pointed out in his interview with IndieWire, the idea of Joker officially continuing where The King of Comedy left off didn’t escape him. In that very same chat, DeNiro provided the following thoughts:
If they would’ve proposed that to me, I would’ve said, ‘That’s interesting, maybe we’ll try to do that.’ But by making this type of film, it is connected in a way, as you’ll see.
Deciding to pay homage to the 1983 film, rather than continuing its story in a direct capacity, was probably a better card for Joker to play out of its deck of winners. But thinking about how Rupert Pupkin could have not only returned, but also become the very thing he railed against, is something so subversive we would have totally been down to see it. But an homage can be just as effective as a direct lift. If it worked for Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as he sent up various anti-authority characters he once played in the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. power player/traitor Alexander Pierce, then surely Robert DeNiro and Joker can pull it off as well.
Joker puts a smile on the face of the world on October 4th, though if you’re looking for a chuckle way before then, take a look at the 2019 release schedule and find some laughs.