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Thursday April 17th 2014

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Ears & Fingers: Andy Kaufman – ‘Andy and His Grandmother’


By Jason Leger

“Why is it that nobody understands that the kind of conversations that nobody wants me to tape are the kind of conversations that should be taped?” Andy Kaufman was undoubtedly one of the greatest comic minds who ever lived. I first learned of him by spending the majority of my childhood watching TV shows from the past on Nick at Nite, and falling in love with “Taxi.” On “Taxi,” Kaufman played a lovable foreigner named Latka, which gave me a skewed perspective of the person Kaufman actually was.

I remember watching the movie “Man on the Moon,” where Jim Carrey portrayed Kaufman, and having my mind blown. Andy was crass, opportunistic, blunt, crude, and overtly honest. In his early years of performing, Kaufman exuded a childlike innocence, which helped him create the character of Latka, but at a certain point his meekness vanished, and he began wrestling women on stage and, luckily for us, recording interactions despite protest from friends and family.

It’s unquestionable that some of the audience who listen to “Andy and His Grandmother,” Kaufman’s first posthumous release and portions of 82 hours of interactions which Andy recorded from his everyday life, will be uncomfortable. There were sections of it which made me cringe. This is exactly what Andy wanted. He called himself a “song and dance man” rather than a comedian, but in reality, he was a form of illusionist. It was impossible to know what was actually real when it came to Andy. Everything he did was done with such a tongue-in-cheek attitude with nothing ever off limits to him.

Even while listening to the album, which is supposedly all—with the exception of obvious tracks—actual interactions with girlfriends, his grandmother, the police, and longtime friend Bob Zmuda, it’s difficult to tell if these people are playing along or if they are actually being honest in their anger or fear. Kaufman wanted his audience to feel something. This is why he portrayed innocence early in his career, as he wanted his listeners to connect with a childhood gone by. As his act changed, the emotions and senses he pushed onto his audience evolved as well, and people began to feel uncomfortable and confused at his illusory comedy.

A good portion of the album revolves around a love triangle which Andy captured on tape. He turned one girl against the other, capturing their lividity, but all the while each still retained an attraction to Kaufman, who had become their puppet master. The really funny part is, neither seems to realize that they are both pawns in his magic act. He consistently seemed to have full control over situations, even when he was “pretending” to lose his cool or get emotional. Kaufman was a twisted conductor, and anyone who he came in contact with or happened to be related to were fair game for his devil-may-care antics.

The last track contains the real eye opener, involving a conversation between Andy and Bob Zmuda. The two begin joking about Andy faking his own death several times, and then in a great act, faking his death again, but disappearing for a year. I’m certain this track was placed at the end to make us all think and wonder, “What if?”

What if Andy could pull off the greatest feat of comedy illusion ever dreamed up? What if the man could fake his own death and then disappear for over thirty years? What if he just pops back up one day as Tony Clifton—another one of Kaufman’s characters, only to rip the mask off and reveal his face to the world? If anyone could pull it off without a hitch, Mr. Andrew Kaufman could. “Andy and His Grandmother” is out now via Drag City Records.