Even with the character of aspiring and demented standup comic Rupert Pupkin on his resume (see “The King of Comedy”), Robert De Niro was not the first person that came to mind when I was told this was a movie about an insult comic who’s trying to keep his career alive.

His character here, Jackie Burke, was once famous — not for his standup work, but for a long-ago TV sitcom called “Eddie’s Home.” The comedy stuff followed later. These days, his loyal manager Miller (Edie Falco) keeps struggling to find him gigs, where he plays to very young audiences and insists on working blue. But he’s continually dogged by older fans who remember that TV show. They stop him on the street, they ask, “Don’t I know you?” and some of them address him as Eddie (the character) rather Jackie (his real name).

But he knows that kind of stuff goes with the territory, just as he knows that a paying gig is a paying gig. So, although he’s not thrilled about appearing at a small club in Hicksville for a “TV sitcom nostalgia night,” he does it ... with conviction. He’s really good and he’s very blue, letting rip with the foul-mouthed stuff. Unfortunately, among the appreciative crowd is a heckler, who turns out to be a guy with a cable TV show and is trying to get a rise out of Jackie. But the rise he gets results in Jackie doing 30 days of jail time for assault and battery, with a follow-up of community service at a homeless shelter.

That’s the bad news; the good news is that a video of the altercation goes viral and just might result in some future spots on comedy stages. But first, a couple of introductions are in order. There’s Harmony (Leslie Mann), who’s also doing community service at the same New York shelter, also for assault and battery (on an unfaithful boyfriend), and there’s Jackie’s brother and sister-in-law, Jimmy and Flo (Danny DeVito and Patty Lupone). Harmony, despite being much younger than Jackie, could turn out to be a love interest. Jimmy is the guy to whom Jackie turns whenever he needs a loan, and Flo is the angry force who wants nothing to do with Jackie. Too bad that there’s also Harmony’s pushy, controlling father Mac (Harvey Keitel, overdoing it), who comes closest to being a threat to Jackie.

It’s a story about ups and downs in a number of lives, where things go well for people, then they go badly. Then they pick up again, then they slip. That part becomes repetitive, and the unnecessary length of 2 hours makes some of this drag. But the idea of casting De Niro and Mann as an unlikely couple was a good one. They work well together. And the fact that De Niro has been given a meaty role and reciprocates with a strong performance should be a cause for celebration. He was indeed the right person for the part.

Sure, the script could have used some more heft and deeper character development, but cameo fans will have a field day watching this, as folks showing up for brief appearances, some of them playing themselves, include Billy Crystal, Jimmie Walker, Gilbert Gottfried, Richard Belzer, Cloris Leachman, and quite a few more.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.

“The Comedian”
Written by Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman
Directed by Taylor Hackford
With Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Patty Lupone, Harvey Keitel
Rated R