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Andy Kaufman Revealed!: Best Friend Tells All Paperback – April 1, 2001
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American comedian Andy Kaufman (1949-1984) was a performer like no other--a rule-breaking iconoclast who blurred the line between performance art and comedy, at times between life and art itself. Misunderstood by the public at large during his lifetime, and embraced by a cult of fans that has consistently grown since his premature death from cancer, Kaufman is the perfect counter-cultural martyr, ripe for a Gap khakis ad. Like Lenny Bruce before him, Kaufman chafed at the reigns of comedy; he didn't always want to make people laugh, in fact he wished to make them uncomfortable. One might consider those notorious French bad-boy playwrights Alfred Jarry and Antonin Artaud (who pushed the envelope of good taste and thoroughly enjoyed confusing their audiences) to be Kaufman's spiritual predecessors, though this might be taking things too seriously. His most well-known routines--the inept stand-up comedian "foreign man," the basis for the character Latka Gravas on the hit sitcom "Taxi"; the grizzled, professional lounge lizard Tony Clifton; and the reigning world champion of inter-gender wrestling--all hinged on making the crowd squirm. Life was a show for Kaufman, who began staging elaborate shows for friends and family at the age of 7; everything was a put-on and yet totally, dead-on serious.
Judging by Bob Zmuda's book (released in anticipation of a biographical movie starring Jim Carrey), Kaufman wasn't the easiest guy to be a best friend to. But, as Zmuda tells things, he rose to the challenge--letting Kaufman confide that he had a daughter he'd never seen, keeping his mouth shut at the appropriate times, and otherwise fulfilling best-friend duties with aplomb. Andy Kaufman got the friend he deserved in his lifetime, but this is not the biography he deserves; it is written in a well-meaning though hackneyed and hard-to-digest style. Simple points are made again and again, as if the two(!) authors were attempting to fuse a poorly-written college essay with a USA Today article. And Mr. Zmuda makes the mistake of assuming that his own history will be of much interest to the reader, who is ostensibly reading a tell-all about Kaufman, not his best friend. There are tremendous anecdotes here; about half the book is filled with glorious tales of artful mischief, hijinks, pranks, and funny stuff that Zmuda and Kaufman pulled on friends, crowds, and strangers. Fans will undoubtedly want to pick this one up, while those with a more casual interest are cautioned to perhaps look elsewhere for a less clumsily written tome. --Mike McGonigal --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
The brilliantly subversive comedian Andy Kaufman is remembered today not only for his ability to make people laugh but also for his unnerving blend of shock humor and high-concept performance art. Fifteen years after Kaufman's death from lung cancer at the age of 35, his close friend and collaborator Zmuda unveils an intimate portrait of the enigmatic performer. In 1972, Zmuda, then a struggling writer/comedian, first saw Kaufman perform at New York's Improv as Foreign Man, a lovable dork, who, after bombing miserably on stage, would burst into a dead-on impersonation of Elvis Presley. Foreign Man would become Kaufman's signature act, leading to regular appearances on Saturday Night Live and a role as Latka on the TV sitcom Taxi. Yet Kaufman, according to Zmuda, often grew bored with celebrity and constantly pushed the comic envelope: inventing an alter ego, the swaggering, foul-mouthed lounge singer Tony Clifton; taking a Hollywood audience out for milk and cookies (a concept for which Zmuda claims credit); going on tour to wrestle college-age women, an idea apparently dreamed up by Kaufman in order to get women to sleep with him. Kaufman's unpredictability was such that audiences never knew whether or not they were in on the joke; when the comedian succumbed to cancer, many wondered whether he was faking it. Zmuda reveals some long-kept secretsAincluding the truth about the infamous feud with wrestler Jerry Lawler, which landed Kaufman in the hospital. Although Zmuda touches upon Kaufman's obsessive-compulsive behavior and the possibility that he might have exhibited a form of multiple personality disorder, this highly absorbing memoir will be read less for its insights into Kaufman's psyche than for the immediacy with which it recounts his brief but blazing career. (Sept.) FYI: The Andy Kaufman craze continues this fall as Universal Pictures releases the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon, directed by Milos Forman and starring Jim Carrey. In November, Delacorte will publish Lost in the Fun House: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman by Bill Zehme.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
But it's not, and I find myself more scanning the book for Andy parts than actually reading it. Zmuda is, dare I say, just feeding off his best friend's success, trying to make us feel that he was truly an integral part of Andy's genius. I woulda believed that before reading the book...but now, well, now I'm completely indifferent. Zmuda's writing is like listening to a long-winded bore at some party you don't really want to be at.
In true Kaufman fashion, however, Zmuda has the last laugh. For, no matter how good or bad this book might be, regardless, Bob's got my money.
Andy would be proud.
I also liked Zmuda's chapter on his adventures with Mr. X (btw, Mr. X is allegedly Norman Wexler, who wrote "Serpico" and "Saturday Night Fever," according to Roger Ebert); if it doesn't obviously show the inspiration for Tony Clifton, it's still a great story. But I also agree with many other readers that Zmuda intrudes a bit too much of his own biography upon the story of Kaufman's, and succumbs to cliches, and sometimes embarassing details, about his own sex/love lives too much for my taste.
I haven't read the other bio on Kaufman yet, but I suspect that seeing "Man on the Moon" and reading this book might provide you with a good summary of Kaufman's life and importance. Of course, what's really needed is a comprehensive video release of his television history -- a great idea would be a compilation of his appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and "Fridays" if such a deal could be worked out. Not a bad reference, and definitely an entertaining and quick, if flawed, read.
I appreciate that Mr. Zmuda was Kaufman's best friend and participated in many of Andy's wildest escapades, but the intent behind this book seems more to be to take credit for much of Kaufman's greatest bits, rather than a tribute to him.
The chapter titles should read like this:
Chapter One: Me
Chapter Two: Andy, Me, and Me
Chapter Three: Me, Me, Me and Kaufman
Chapter Four: Forget Kaufman, I'm the Genius Behind Him!
It was a little offputting, to say the least. Although some of the anecdotes were entertaining, they all centered around only two themes:
1) Kaufman like to trick people 2) Kaufman liked to make people uncomfortable
Well, 15 years after his death he's still managing to do both, by having Zmuda write this tell all. I was tricked into thinking it would be all about Andy, and I am annoyed that it is not.
The fact that it Zmuda had help writing this is incredible (Matthew Scott Hansen). I'm sure Zmuda loved Andy and would never intentionally disrespect him, but 90% of this book sounds like coattail-riding to me.
The "here's what happened - now here's what REALLY happened" style of storytelling is irritating and unimaginative.
When's the real Kaufman biography due?