Turns out Robert De Niro was just warming up when he threatened to punch Donald Trump just before the election.
After playing it relatively safe recently, the Oscar-winning actor’s new film The Comedian sees him courting controversy by playing an old school insult comedian trying to move on from his TV sitcom past and remain relevant to a younger generation of performers who aim to get on reality television.
De Niro stars as misanthropic comedian Jackie Burke alongside Danny De Vito, Leslie Mann, and The Sopranos actress Edie Falco in the comedy-drama which is out in wide release next month.
Director Taylor Hackford told Heat Street at an event for the film at the Plaza Athenee hosted by the Peggy Siegal Company,” I fully expect a reaction to this movie. A younger group of people aren’t going to find this politically correct because Jackie Burke isn’t [PC]. But the idea of this character is interesting to me. You may not like him but I’m hoping you would respect him because he is driven and still believes he has something to say.”
Burke makes a series of outrageous jokes in the film such as, “I’d rather have Stevie Wonder shave my testicles with a butcher knife than be part of this reality sh**”, “I had a tragic childhood-my father molested my little brother and the bastard never touched me” and telling a Haitian bartender, “F**k off and die in whatever country you swam here.”
De Niro’s character also makes jokes about gay marriage, Donald Trump, and Thanksgiving.
Hackford said De Niro “submerged” himself in the role by getting to know stand-up comedians including Jeffrey Ross and Lewis Friedman.”Jackie Burke is tortured as all comedians are tortured,” Hackford said. “Bob knows a lot of stand-up comics, he happens to love comedy and he loves comedians.”
De Niro, who previously played a stand-up comic in Martin Scorsese’s 1983 movie The King of Comedy, said The Comedian was his passion project. “I could even do this role ten years from now. It worked out the way it should,” a reference to the fact that Sean Penn and Mike Newell were attached to direct the film prior to Hackford.
De Niro has recently specialized in comedies, ranging from the Meet the Parents franchise to flop Dirty Grandpa with Zac Efron earlier this year.”I can’t do certain types of comedies but the ones that I hope I do pretty well are the ones that I do.” he said. “What I like is something that is real but has funny situations and moments and character moments and irony because that’s really what life is.”
When Burke meets his love interest Harmony Schutz (played by Leslie Mann) in the film, he asks her, “Were your parents in a Nazi Barbershop Quartet?” Mann, who replaced Jennifer Aniston just before shooting, said,”I flew to New York and met with Bob. He forced me to use his bathroom that had a very thin door and a big space underneath the door. I was like, ‘Can I use the bathroom down the hall?’
“That sounds creepy but it wasn’t creepy at all. It was really uncomfortable at first but he’s such a nice man and he put me at ease.”
In The Comedian, De Niro does what he previously threatened to do to Donald Trump and punches a heckler for ruining his act. “That’s a real final resort for comics,” he said. You really get to that point when you get put down.”
Danny De Vito, who plays De Niro’s brother in the movie, told Heat Street comedy should not be afraid of causing offense. He said: “If you’re sensitive, you’re sensitive. It’s a personal thing but comedy has always been irreverent and edgy and about taking the inside curve.
“It’s about trying something new because the whole idea of it is the surprise of it and maybe that one motion that’s inside you that takes you aback a little bit that makes funny.”
Asked how playing De Niro’s brother compared with playing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brother in Twins, De Vito said: “They’re similar in size! Bob and I have been friends for a very long time and it’s cool to do this with him. “