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Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman Hardcover – December 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bill Zehme's biography of comic actor/performance artist Andy Kaufman (subject of the feature film Man in the Moon) is a meticulously researched, eminently readable, and very strange book--this last being perhaps no surprise given its subject. Written over a six-year period, Lost in the Funhouse is crammed with details gleaned from interviews with the actor's family, friends, teachers, coworkers, and unwitting participants in Kaufman's pranks. In particular, the book provides great insight into Kaufman's early life in Great Neck, NY, his relationship with transcendental meditation, and his first forays into nightclubs in the early '70s. Zehme, author of The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin', weaves together multiple narratives from varying perspectives, including passages in which the author appears to have entered his subject's brain. Zehme did have access to unpublished letters and manuscripts (which fans would certainly like to see published on their own one day), but the only person who could legitimately verify the accuracy of these passages is no longer with us.

At its best, the book approaches that apex of artful celebrity bi-fiction, Nick Tosches's Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams. The transitions from one perspective to the next are a bit jarring at first, but once the reader gives in to Zehmes's collage of multiple personalities, one is considerably closer to understanding the book's subject. Kaufman was nothing if not a collection of various intense personalities: the young boy continually mourning his grandfather's death; the likable and naive Foreign Man; the talentless and irascible lounge singer Tony Clifton; the bliss-seeking student of TM; the devoted and loving son who never had anything to do with his own child; and world champion of inter-gender wrestling. Lost in the Funhouse is the one Kaufman tome that will please neophytes as well as those with their own Andy Kaufman Web sites. --Mike McGonigal

From Publishers Weekly

Already the subject of Bob Zmuda's recent memoir, Andy Kaufman Revealed, the avant-garde comedian receives more straightforward treatment at the hands of journalist Zehme (The Way You Wear Your Hat). Yet while Kaufman's life may be open to scrutiny, cracking the weird intricacies of his personality and motives is another matter. Growing up in Great Neck, N.Y., the young Andy honed his performance skills by hosting children's birthday parties before striking gold on the New York comedy scene with his creation of Foreign Man, a sweet, bumbling immigrant who would bomb with a series of unfunny jokes ("Tenk you veddy much"), only to veer into an uncanny impersonation of Elvis Presley. The character landed Kaufman a recurring guest spot on Saturday Night Live and a benchmark role as Latka Gravas on the sitcom Taxi. Eventually, his obnoxious alter ego, lounge singer Tony Clifton, and Kaufman's obsession with taunting and wrestling women audience members spurred Saturday Night Live viewers to vote by a wide margin to kick Kaufman off the show in 1982. A year and a half later, he was dead at the age of 35, the victim of lung cancer. Through the entertaining recollections of numerous friends, colleagues and family members, Kaufman comes across as either a genius or a lunatic, most likely a bit of both. Unfortunately, Zehme's mannered writing style (on Kaufman's part-time busboy job: "Plus, he could do funny things in the course of a shift not to be funny no really") detracts considerably from what is otherwise a balanced portrayal of his tumultuous career. 36 b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Chris Calhoun, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (November 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385333714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385333719
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Lost in the Funhouse is one of the most interesting biographies that I have ever read. The subtitle could not be more correct. Sure, the writing style is unorthodox, but since when was anything related to Andy Kaufman orthodox? This book takes you into the workings of a mind that was both complex and bizarre and the stylistic freedoms that Bill Zehme takes only help the reader understand the schizophrenic extremes that Kaufman's mind would go to. Andy's life is one that has left people guessing about the details. Mr. Zehme's book begins to help the reader find some answers. Maybe. His extensive research shows throughout while not becoming too overbearing. Do I now know who Andy Kaufman was because of reading this book? No. Do I better understand why he did what he did and what drove him to do them? Yes. That's all that we can realistically ask from a book about one who played with reality as if it were silly putty.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By B. K. Momchilov on December 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I've read this book and it is a gem. Having kept the flame of Andy's legacy alive on the World Wide Web for the past four years, I must say that I read this book with a little more of a critical eye than your average Andy Kaufman fan. Bill Zehme did not let me down and I am happy to have a copy of this fine book in my possession. Bill's biography is fascinating and sheer poetry.
I know that Andy's family loves the book because I've spoken to them and they've told me so. I don't think a writer can receive higher praise than to receive it from the immediate family of the subject.
This biography will stand the test of time and years from now will surely serve as the only comprehensive biography of Andy Kaufman. Zehme is the guiding light, the North Star when it comes to the life and times of Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman.
Thanks Bill, I wish the movie "Man on the Moon" would have had half the content, spirit and meaning of your fine tome.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By franknemec@aol.com on December 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I heard Bill Zehme interviewed on public radio about Lost in the Funhouse. Zehme was thoughtful and articulate on the program, so I bought the book.
Zehme's writing style was not what I had expected. Characters shifting without warning, sentences lasting entire paragraphs, occasional lapses into stream of consciousness, and times when Zehme seemed to make no sense at all. There are passages in the book that that seemed to be written to be outright annoying. I could not believe that this was the same Zehme that I heard on public radio.
It was not until I was halfway though the book (duh) that I became convinced that Zehme was writing the autobiography of Kaufman that Andy will never be able to write. It's genius!
I recommend this book enthusiastically to anyone interested in learning more about this unique performance artist.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I never really cared much about Andy Kaufman until I read Lost in the Funhouse over the holiday weekend. Some friends of mine, diehard Andy mavens, recommended it, and I'm glad they did. In a nutshell, Wow! In fact, I'm about to embark on a second reading, and that doesn't happen often. But once was just not enough to fully absorb and appreciate all the fascinating detail and nuance author Bill Zehme has injected into this thoroughly entertaining, though very tragic, tale of the real-life Boy Who Cried Wolf.
The interplay of voices and brilliant, often dizzying prose carries shades of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, another inventive novel that intrigued and affected me deeply from the start--and even more so after a second perusal. That's not to say that Funhouse requires two readings, though, because it doesn't. But when a book is this good, you don't want it to end, and so I guess a second time around is one way of sustaining my enjoyment and delaying the inevitable postpartum funk.
The vast majority of readers, Kaufman fans or not, will love this book. But even if they don't, that's just as well. Andy would have wanted it that way. Now that I know more about him, I'm certain Andy would have hated to see his life story receive wimpy, lukewarm responses, because those kind aren't from the gut. And Andy's performance art was all about the gut, even if it meant rubbing people the wrong way and getting booed off the stage. Then again, he was equally thrilled by a standing ovation.
Except for his stint on Taxi, a job Andy apparently despised, his was a world devoid of "jokes" and self-affirming laughter, something most comics thrive on.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Bill Zehme's book somehow captures the uncapture-able, lending uncanny insight into a very strange, highly talented man who has not allowed death to stop him from continuing to play with our heads. I have rarely read a biography as beguiling and revealing as is "Lost in the Funhouse." You don't have to know Kaufman to appreciate Zehme's mesmerizing style in telling the tale of a performer who may have been crazier than we even thought. Compared to Bob Zmuda's self-serving and tabloidy "Andy Kaufman Revealed!", this book is masterfully crafted--as original as the subject it profiles. Kaufman fans and amateurs alike will be held spellbound, as was I. Bravo, Bill Zehme; you are a true craftsman.
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