King of Comedy: There are also some very obvious and intentional parallels here. Before the release of Joker, many speculated that De Niro’s character would be an homage to his King of Comedy character: Desperate loner Rupert Pupkin is obsessed with getting to do standup on the late-night show hosted by Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis).
Now that we’ve seen Joker, it’s clear that De Niro’s character has more in common with Jerry than with Pupkin.
Murray Franklin, like Jerry Langford, is a good-natured, straight-shooting host from the peak-roast era, whose chummy onstage persona belies a mean streak. Arthur Fleck, meanwhile, is clearly inspired by Pupkin, down to the fantasies of appearing on Franklin’s show that closely parallel Pupkin’s fantasies of appearing on Langford’s. Joker has drawn a lot of comparisons to Taxi Driver, because everyone has seen Taxi Driver. But it more closely imitates, or attempts to imitate, the much less-seen The King of Comedy.
Dr. Sally Friedman: The King of Comedy needed a realistic presence to represent a typical Jerry guest. So Scorsese turned to Dr. Joyce Brothers, a psychologist who was a near-ubiquitous TV guest in the 1980s and ‘90s. Joker pays homage to ‘80s therapists with Dr. Sally Friedman, a Brothers-like guest perfectly played by Sondra James. The Associated Press said in Dr. Joyce Brothers’ obituary that she appeared on Carson’s “Tonight Show” more than 100 times.
Friedman is also a little bit Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist who was extremely in-demand for ‘80s talk shows. The Joker script makes it clear that Friedman is a sex therapist. In Frank Miller’s iconic Batman reimagining, 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker goes on a late-night talk show (hosted by a David Letterman lookalike) where one guest is clearly intended to look like Dr. Ruth.