Director Martin Scorsese admits that Goodfellas‘ most iconic scene was not originally scripted. Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, Goodfellas is the story of Henry Hill’s life with the mafia. The 1990 gangster movie is considered one of Scorsese’s best films, which was nominated for six Academy Awards. The film has stood the test of time to be considered a classic, outshining Scorsese’s other gangster-centric films, like Casino and The Irishman.
While speaking with Deadline, Scorsese admitted that one of Goodfellas’ most iconic moments was not originally scripted. According to the director, Pesci’s “How am I funny?” scene was crafted by the actor. He says that much of Goodfellas was an open and collaborative process, with the production game for most spontaneous ideas, which allowed Pesci to develop the scene with Scorsese before it was shot. Check out Scorsese’s comments on the Goodfellas scene below:
“Yeah. In terms of Goodfellas, it was visceral but it was there on the page, with Nick Pileggi and I, and then it was a matter of pushing, pushing, pushing. It was also designed on the page. Some things were spontaneous. Like, Joe Pesci would come in and say, “I wanna do this scene…” With that whole movie, we were like, “Just do it.” We did it in rehearsal, rewrote it from rehearsal.”
“He said, ‘something happened to me.’ We were in a restaurant. I said, ‘tell me.’ He goes, ‘I can’t tell you here.’ I said, well, let’s go to my place. So we did. He says, ‘I’m gonna act it out.’ And he did it. I said, ‘I know just where to put it.’ It’s not even in the script. I didn’t write it in. Said, we’re gonna squeeze it in on one day shooting. And Mark Canton had a couple of the other guys from Warner Brothers with him that day, and we hear laughter off camera. It was them.”
“How Am I Funny?” Improvisation Scene Explained
Pesci’s performance as Tommy DeVito is a standout in Goodfellas. Despite being nominated for six Academy Awards, it only won one category, with Pesci taking home Best Supporting Actor. Tommy is a character that stood out alongside Liotta and De Niro, and even Lorraine Bracco’s performance as Karen Hill, who lost out on Best Supporting Actress.
While Pesci has several impactful moments in Goodfellas, such as when Tommy gets whacked, the scene that sticks out the most is when he says, “How am I funny?” The scene sees Tommy telling a story that gets everyone at the table laughing, which prompts Liotta’s Hill to compliment him as a funny guy. However, Tommy takes it as a jab rather than a compliment, turning a humorous moment into a taut, possibly dangerous scene, given Tommy’s demeanor. It’s an instantly recognizable scene, making its improvised nature all more impressive.
Liotta previously commented on Pesci bringing the scene to life, revealing the improvised nature and that the idea was inspired by Pesci’s personal experience. When the actor was much younger and worked at a restaurant, he told a “connected guy” that he was funny, which was met with a similar reaction to Tommy’s. Now, over 30 years later, the scene lives on, helping Goodfellas persist in the cultural zeitgeist via quotes and memes from the scene. So while Goodfellas lives on as a classic film, some moments have become even more significant, with Pesci’s addition to the film having a vast impact.