Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ Is Much Funnier Than You’d Expect

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Irishman on Netflix.

The Irishman is a very funny movie. Maybe this won’t come as a surprise to fans of director Martin Scorsese, because so was Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and many other Scorsese films. But The Irishman is a really funny movie, to the point where I would categorize the first hour and a half of the film as a straight-up comedy. And because The Irishman is also a Netflix movie, that makes it all the more easy for fans to go back and rewatch the best jokes over and over again (and GIF them, of course).

The first half of The Irishman introduces us to Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a name that most people didn’t know until Sheeran published a book with author Charles Brandt, I Heard You Paint Houses, in 2003. In that book, Sheeran claimed to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his friend, union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who famously vanished without a trace in 1975. Those claims have been contested, but nonetheless, that book is the basis of The Irishman, which tells Sheeran’s life story.

The first time The Irishman surprised a laugh out of me was about 15 minutes into the film. Sheeran, then a truck driver, is on trial for a truckload of steaks that goes missing on his watch. His lawyer, Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), is a member of the mafia and manages to get the case dismissed. The judge tells Sheeran that he’s dismissing the case with a warning. “Yes, your honor,” says Sheeran, looking shamed.

“No, not you, Mr. Sheeran,” says the judge, played by Richard V. Licata. Then he immediately turns to wag his finger at the prosecution. “You bring another working man before this court with threats instead of evidence, believe me, you’ll be sorry.”

The Irishman judge
Photo: Netflix

It’s a perfectly-timed joke, right down the to the camera movement and editing from Scorsese and his longtime collaborators, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

That joke kicks off the tone of the first act of The Irishman, which is fast-paced, fun, and funny. Similar to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, De Niro provides a running narration, and Scorsese and De Niro make full use of the humor opportunities that provides. That includes my personal favorite joke of the film, in which De Niro describes the best way to get rid of your weapon after whacking someone:

“There’s a spot in the Schuylkill River everybody uses. If they ever send divers down there, they’d be able to arm a small country.”

The Irishman gun gif
Photo: Netflix

Side characters get moments to shine, too. Former NYPD detective Bo Dietl as the irritating Joseph Glimco is a standout, particularly when he teaches Sheeran his trick for drinking around union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who doesn’t like to drink: sticking a bottle of liquor into a watermelon, a move which I’m sure will be all the rage at frat parties for the next decade or so.

The Irishman watermelon gif
Photo: Netflix

Then there’s the comedy Al Pacino brings to the film as the charismatic Hoffa himself. There are too many great moments to list out—you can also read my ode to his love of ice cream, for more—but for me, the best was when, Hoffa, immediately after being attacked by a gunman in court, gives a press conference on the spot to the journalists present.

“You charge a guy with a gun, always charge a guy with a gun,” he says to the room, praising his “son” Chuckie O’Brien (Jesse Plemons) for doing the right thing. The journalists immediately start scribbling. “With a knife, you run away. Always charge a gun, with a knife, you run. Hey, I rhymed!” Everyone applauds, and suddenly an assassination attempt becomes great press.

Al Pacino you charge a guy with a gun The Irishman
Photo: Netflix

And of course, I can’t neglect to mention Scorsese’s running gag of freeze-framing each new wise guy we meet and including a caption with their full name and how they died, which culminates in the most patient punchline of the film. After many captions telling us that Frank Sindone was shot three times in an alley or that Philip Testa died via a nail bomb, we meet Tony Jack (actor Patrick Gallo). His freeze-frame caption reads: “Well-liked by all, died of natural causes.”

The Irishman Tony Jack died of natural causes
Photo: Netflix

It’s a joke that takes over an hour to pay off, but pay off it sure as hell does.

As you enter the second half of the film, The Irishman slowly transitions from fast-paced gangster fun to a slow-moving reflection on the passage of time. With that transition, some of the humor slips away. (Though not completely. De Niro as an old man in a wheelchair haggling for the price of his own coffin is classic.) I’ll be honest: Three-and-a-half hours is a long time to sit still. But the laughs along the way certainly help.

Watch The Irishman on Netflix

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