The King of Comedy is easily one of Martin Scorsese‘s most difficult films. A pitch-black satire of obsessions and celebrity, the film was decades ahead of its time in observing just what lengths people will go to in order to achieve stardom and fame. Featuring Robert De Niro in one of his most unsettling performances, even ranking up with Travis Bickle and Jimmy Conway in terms of our unnerving demeanour, The King of Comedy delights in the discomfort and mental decay that it presents to the audience in a strangely goofy package.
Just like a number of Scorsese’s films, The King of Comedy presents New York as its own character. In stark contrast to the dreamlike surrealism of After Hours or the romanticised jazz-centred world of New York, New York, the NYC of The King of Comedy is filled with rubberneckers, wannabes, and gawkers who can’t help but laugh at other people’s pain and suffering. In a strange bit of serendipity, some of those spectators happen to be in one of the world’s biggest bands.
During a scene where various street onlookers were required, Scorsese sent out an extra request to The Clash, who were in New York recording their Combat Rock LP. The band were also performing a three-week residency at the Bonds International Casino that summer, during which they met a number of famous fans. Two of those fans were Scorsese and De Niro, who mentioned that they were shooting just outside the casino in the upcoming days.
All The Clash needed to do was step outside during the time that they would normally just hang out and do nothing, and that’s exactly what they did. If you’re quick with the pause button, you can spot band members Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon, plus some of the band’s associates. Those include manager Kosmo Vinyl, filmmaker Don Letts (who would later join Jones’ next band, Big Audio Dynamite), and singer Ellen Foley, who was dating Jones at the time and is perhaps best known for contributing vocals to Meat Loaf’s ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’.
Collectively, the group are credited as ‘Street Scum’, which feels appropriate for a punk band swigging beer midday on the streets of New York. Despite their relative anonymity in the film, The Clash were actually as big as they had ever been at the time. With the release of Combat Rock, they would have viable radio singles and would embark on a stadium tour as opening acts for The Who. All of this notoriety wound up breaking the band, and by the time The King of Comedy ended its brief box office run, Jones was on his way out of the band.
Check out The Clash’s cameo down below.