When it comes to Martin Scorsese, not only is he one of the most notable names in filmmaking but he hires only the best of the best for his features. Over the years, the director has worked with a slew of bigwigs including Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, but it was a memory of Joe Pesci that had him laughing and reminiscing with Deadline, while talking about his latest feature, Killers of the Flower Moon. According to the Shutter Island director, Pesci’s “How am I funny?” scene was entirely improvised. You can watch the scene below.
The moment in question sees Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito (a role that earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) hamming it up with other members of the tight-knit mafia family. During his bit, he gets the guys rolling with laughter, which is when Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill compliments him by calling him a funny guy. Apparently, that is a phrase that’s never been directed his way before, Tommy takes issue with his pal’s compliment which led to Pesci launching into an impromptu rage.
“I didn’t write it in,” Martin Scorsese remembers of the laugh-out-loud and over-the-top scene that had Warner Bros. producers in stitches during filming. Perhaps the best part of it all is that Joe Pesci drew inspiration from a real-life incident, something that Scorsese also reflected on.
Apparently, in the days before he made it in Hollywood, Joe Pesci worked as a waiter where he crossed paths with a “connected guy.” While serving him, the man must have made a joke that gave the young Pesci a laugh as he told him that he was funny. The man’s reaction was allegedly close to how the star would later play it out in the Goodfellas scene.
A piece of theatrical history, Goodfellas landed in theaters back in 1990 and immediately found itself alongside some of the best pieces of crime-based cinema. Adapted from the book Wiseguy, which was penned by Nicholas Pileggi who also wrote the film’s script, the feature follows the upbringing, career, and downfall of mob associate Henry Hill and his peers and family members from 1955 to 1980. A star-studded feature, along with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, the film also starred Robert De Niro, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Frank Vincent, Vincent Pastore, and Samuel L. Jackson.
A hit among critics and audiences alike, Goodfellas would nab six Academy Award nominations with Joe Pesci being the only winner from the project with his award for Best Supporting Actor. Of course, this wouldn’t be the only mob-centric movie of Pesci’s career as the movie star has long been typecast in similar features including My Cousin Vinny, Casino, The Irishman, and A Bronx Tale.
Known beyond his dramatic roles, Joe Pesci has also made a name for himself in comedies including the aforementioned My Cousin Vinny as well as Gone Fishin’, Home Alone, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. With this in mind, it comes as a surprise to no one that Pesci was able to improvise one of the most iconic moments in history through his role in Scorsese’s Goodfellas.