Last night, I listened to Marc Maron’s interview with Andy Kaufman’s old writing partner, Bob Zmuda. My sense is that Maron… who has a brilliant podcast, by the way… found the experience somewhat frustrating, as Zmuda insisted on being evasive about a few things, like the circumstances surrounding Andy’s death, and the question as to whether or not Andy really did lose touch with reality on those occasions when he transitioned to Tony Clifton, the hard-drinking, whore-loving, lounge-singing, painfully-crude comedic personality that he’d invented to articulate his deep dislike of the Hollywood system and contempt for the fans of Taxi. (Zmuda suggests that it’s possible that Kaufman suffered from a multiple personality disorder.) While I share Maron’s frustration, I find it’s hard to fault Zmuda, who, it seems to me, is just doing his best to keep his friend’s memory alive, by continuing to bolster the legend, and feed the absurd notion that Andy could still be out there somewhere, having faked his death, and successfully pulled off the greatest prank of his incredible career. I can see how some would interpret this as self-serving on Zmuda’s part – as keeps him in the spotlight, as the self-appointed conservator of the Kaufman legend – but I suspect he’s doing exactly what Kaufman would have wanted.
As for the stories that he shares here, I don’t think that much is new. It’s all stuff, for the most part, that you can read in that interview that I did with Zmuda about a dozen years ago, when I was living in LA (If you can find that back issue of Crimewave), or in his book, Andy Kaufman Revealed. Still, though, it’s fun as hell, and it’s great to be reminded of Kaufman’s undeniable genius.
I could go on and on about my love for Kaufman, who I believe was the most brilliant entertainer of my generation, but, as I think that most of you are probably already fans, I’ll just encourage you to follow the link above, and listen to the interview.
Speaking of Kaufman, I don’t know that I’ve ever shared this, but you know how people will ask you on occasion, “If you could have a dinner party with any four people, living or dead, who would you choose?” Well, Andy Kaufman has always been at the top of my list. The other three slots change, depending on how I’m feeling at any given time, but Kaufman is always a constant…. Some of the others that I’d consider extending an invitation to, in case you’re interested… Kurt Vonnegut, Buckminster Fuller, Patrick McGoohan, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, Peter Falk, Bessie Smith, Jack Benny, Iggy Pop, Groucho Marx, Abraham Lincoln, Lucile Ball, FDR, Ben Franklin, Charlie Chaplin, John Barrymore, Marlene Dietrich, Winsor McCay, Charles Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, George Harrison, Grace Kelly, Don Knots, Chris Elliot, Robert Kennedy, Stanley Kubrick, Malcolm X, Myrna Loy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Paine, William Powell, Orson Welles, Carl Sagan, Harriet Tubman, Woody Guthrie, Katherine Hepburn, Joey Ramone, Frederick Douglas, Klaus Kinski, P.T.Barnum, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Andy Warhol, Harry Houdini, Nicola Tesla, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Gregory Peck, Tim Carey, Thomas Edison, Thomas Pynchon, and, because of the stories that Bob Zmuda tells about having worked for him, Norman Wexler. (You have to at least listen to the Wexler portion of Maron’s interview with Zmuda, if nothing else.)
Sorry for the tangent, but it was fun just sitting here, letting my mind wonder for a few minutes, thinking about the people that I’d most like to have a beer with… knowing full well, of course, that none them, except for maybe Joey Ramone, would take any interest in talking with me whatsoever. Maybe they’d ask me where the bathroom was, or ask me to fetch them a drink, but that’s probably about it. Still, though, I think it would be great to have Ben Franklin pat me on the butt, and send me into the kitchen for a flaming rum punch.
For those of you in the audience who have yet to experience the brilliance of Andy Kaufman, I’d suggest starting with his historic Carnegie Hall show, which is discussed at length in the interview with Maron. Here’s the first act. (The subsequent segments can be found on YouTube.)