Bob Zmuda on securing Andy Kaufman’s penis with gaffer’s tape prior to his wrestling matches, the origins of Tony Clifton, Andy’s plans to fake his death, and a million other things

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.)

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  1. Knox
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    It would be an intimate dinner with William F. Buckley and G.G. Allin for me.

  2. Edward
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    My deification of Kaufman ended the day I discovered that he dated Elaine Boozler.

  3. Eel
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    It’s “Elayne Boosler”, and, in Andy’s defense, he dated her very early in his career. You’re right, though, she’s not funny.

  4. Eel
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    As for the ideal dinner party, I’d invite Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, Dick Cheney, Glenn Beck and Grover Norquist. I’d lock them in the kitchen together, with lots of wine and spices, and then go out for the evening, secure in the knowledge that they’d be able to entertain themselves.

  5. Art Mun
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I’m not suggesting that Kaufman did fake his death, but, if he did, he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it. I think he knew that he’d done his best work. It is interesting to think about what he’d be doing now, though, if he were still alive?

  6. Acme Dong
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Reena Spaulings and Ernesto Guevara.

  7. John Galt
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    My ideal guest list would include the following two couples. Ayn Rand and William Edward Hickman, and Ann Coulter and Joseph McCarthy. It would be a wild make-out party, with each of the couples going off to different bedrooms in my parents’ house. My dinner date would be Roy Cohn. I imagine that we’d have great conversations while everyone else made out.

    And I’m not at all surprised to see that Jesus didn’t make your list.

  8. Posted April 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Jesus was known as a glutton and a drunk (Matthew 11:19); he might not be the ideal dinner guest.

  9. anonymous
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t think any of my friends would tape down my penis for me, and that makes me sad.

  10. Bob
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Great interview. As sort of insufferable as Zmuda is, I could listen to him talk about Andy all day. The Tony Clifton like on Facebook is worth subscribing to. I assume it’s Zmuda running it. He posts a completely inappropriate joke every day that usually makes me laugh out loud.

  11. ahhhh
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, Seymour Hersh, Bill Moyers, John Steinbeck and Glenn Beck.

  12. Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    I finally watched Wexler’s film Joe, and now I’m trying to figure out what in the hell I just saw. I don’t generally like films of that era, that sought to capture the counter-culture drug scene of 1970, but I found this fascinating, knowing, through Zmuda, how Wexler captured his dialogue. Watching it through that filter made it incredibly interesting, even if the film itself teetered on the edge of being an after school special.

  13. hammer fal
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Thank you internet. When I Googled “securing my penis with gaffers tape” I didn’t know that I’d find anything. I shouldn’t have doubted.

  14. Tim
    Posted March 23, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Well Mark my three dinner guests would be very close to yours in the case that I too would want Andy at my table for a night of continual praise on my part to his true genius. He is and will forever be the best performance artist ever to grace our eyes in my opinion.

    My other two would be these guys for these reasons.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt- as I’d like to ask him if he knew the assassin (or better yet whe sent him) who blew his face off of his head with a shotgun down in Warm Springs Georgia as a result from taking on the Bankers who funded Hitler with the Trading with the Enemy Act. And what he thought of Project Paperclip along with the deal he made that secured Hitler a long and comfortable life down in Argentina after 1945 along with the bulk of his entourage.

    Dwight Eisenhower- Because I’d like to ask him what it was like to live with himself after he saw to it that over a million German soldiers died of starvation and dehydration in our POW camps shortly after WW2… Then after many soothing drinks payed for by myself until he had adequately calmed down, I’d ask him about that meeting/s he had with the extraterrestrials and ask him in detail what treaties were signed and with which race. I’d alos ask him about Admiral Byrd’s Operation Highjump trip down to Antartica to root out the remaining Nazis and who he thought it was that destroyed a healthy chunck of Byrd’s fleet therebye forcing his hasty return.

    Thanks for reading.

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