Cover image for Andy Kaufman revealed! : best friend tells all
Andy Kaufman revealed! : best friend tells all
Zmuda, Bob, 1949-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, 1999.
Physical Description:
306 pages : photographs ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


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PN2287.K28 Z68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PN2287.K28 Z68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Best known for his sweet-natured character Latka on Taxi, Andy Kaufman was the most influential comic of the generation that produced David Letterman, John Belushi, and Robin Williams. A regular on the early days of Saturday Night Live (where he regularly disrupted planned skits), Kaufman quickly became known for his idiosyncratic roles and for performances that crossed the boundaries of comedy, challenging expectations and shocking audiences. Kaufmans death from lung cancer at age 35 (hed never smoked) stunned his fans and the comic community that had come to look to him as its lightning rod and standard bearer. Bob Zmuda, Kaufmans closest friend, producer, writer, and straight man, breaks his twenty-year silence about Kaufman and unmasks the man he knew better than anyone. He chronicles Kaufmans meteoric rise, the development of his extraordinary personas, the private man behind the driven actor and comedian, and answers the question most often asked: Did Andy Kaufman fake his own death? A movie about Kaufman starring Jim Carrey, directed by Milos Forman, and co-executive produced by author Bob Zmuda and Danny DeVitos Jersey Films, is scheduled for national release in fall 1999.

Author Notes

Bob Zmuda was Andy Kaufman's creative producer, writer, straight man, & closest friend. He is the Emmy & ACE Award-winning creator & Executive Producer of HBO's "Comic Relief" telecasts, hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, & Robin Williams. He was coexecutive producer of the Andy Kaufman biopic, "Man on the Moon", directed by Milos Forman & starring Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Paul Giamatti, & Courtney Love.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

With a movie about Kaufman forthcoming, his manager and friend Zmuda's recollection of the late comedian is timely. Best remembered as English-challenged immigrant Latka Gravas on the '70s sitcom Taxi, Kaufman also appeared regularly on Saturday Night Live, did stand-up, and wrestled women. He baited pro wrestling in general and Jerry Lawler in particular, a gambit that, it seemed, eventuated in his own grievous physical harm. His comedy involved a high degree of audience manipulation, never better displayed than in his wrestling-related endeavors. Whether his injury at Lawler's hands was real or a hoax has long been debated. The movie spills the beans, and the book does, too. So Lawler's apparently brutal "pile driver," Kaufman's subsequent neck brace, and the final, violent confrontation on David Letterman's Late Night set--were they just hype? Finding out is just one reason to read this thoroughly entertaining, illuminating showbiz bio. Oh--Jim Carrey contributes a cutely cryptic secret message about understanding Kaufman's humor, but the book is still worthwhile. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 secretsÄincluding 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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter Two "It wasn't an act it was a happening." --Carl Reiner That night as I cozied up to my vodka I watched an array of young, talented unknowns named Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Elayne Boosler, Joe Piscopo, Richard Belzer and Larry David take the Improv's stage. (Larry would later co-create, write and produce a little show called "Seinfeld.") During breaks between acts, a shaggy-haired young foreigner could be heard from the back of the room begging, then demanding Budd Friedman to let him on the stage. The strange young man with the odd accent soon got the attention of everyone in the packed house as he and Friedman went back and forth about letting him onstage. I didn't know Budd Friedman but I thought he was being overly patient with this sad loser. Finally, near the end of the evening, after numerous noisy discussions between Friedman and the weirdo, the club owner threw up his hands and relented. Taking the microphone, he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome a visitor from afar, Mr. Andy Kaufman." I didn't know much about comedy clubs but I did know that going last was an honor and yet this kook with the thick, unplaced accent had begged his way on as the closing act. I figured it was better than a real act because the volleys between Budd Friedman and this guy alone were worth the price of admission. I was also reminded of the law of the street for both a comedian or an aspiring actor: pushiness works. I, along with the rest of the audience sat back and waited for the schnook to bomb. It didn't take long for him to do just that. Walking out into the spotlight, this goofy guy with eyes wider than the Hudson began a few extremely lame impressions, or "emetations" as he called them. He started with Archie Bunker, slid into Ed Sullivan, and finished with our president, Tricky Dick Nixon. Even though each "emetation" was worse than the one it followed, I had to admit he emanated a rough charisma that began to grow on me. But despite that, the sorry impressions, exacerbated by this guy's indefinable accent, made me figure Friedman would be reaching for the hook in about two seconds. To my surprise he didn't and this man continued with his hopelessly amateurish act, a routine I was beginning to think he'd only slightly polished in the cabarets of Budapest or Prague. As his "act" painfully continued, some of the audience could not contain themselves and began snorting. But they were not laughing with him, they were laughing at him. Some of the more sensitive present shot the laughers disapproving glances, embarrassed by the discomfort this poor yutz had visited on himself and now the congregation. When he announced he was now going to do "De Elbis Presley" there was a collective groan from the house. Given this was 1973, years before Elvis impersonations would be in vogue, nobody gave a rat's ass about Elvis. I looked to Budd Friedman in the back, expecting him to rush forward to put this bonehead out our misery, but he just stood there, arms crossed, calmly awaiting the train wreck. This poor iron curtain comedian then fumbled around in a tired little valise, found a comb and began raking his hair into an Elvis coif. Then he reached back in and pulled out some props. He combed his hair again. I had been trying to suppress a laugh, for fear of hurting his feelings, but now I couldn't help it: amazingly, this guy was making the act of combing his hair funny. I started to pull for him at this point, excited that he'd managed to get the audience laughing with him. Suddenly the house lights went down and a single follow-spot illuminated the man on stage. The organized theatrics of that one light instantly indicated that perhaps all was not what it appeared to be. After a few more hair combs--just enough to whip the crowd into a laughing frenzy--this weird young foreigner began an amazing transformation. Accompanied by the strains of Strauss' famous opening from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," he donned a spangled jacket, popped up the generous collar, hefted an acoustic guitar and I was damned if he wasn't starting to really look like Elvis. Then he curled his lip in that perfect Elvisian arc, and the crowd screamed. As I was asking myself Who the fuck is this guy? I first sensed we all may have been had as the classical music segued into a rock 'n roll riff and he launched into a stage strut in that patented Elvis prowl. After a couple of passes it seemed as if the very act of stalking back and forth and bowing repeatedly in such brilliant mimicry was actually manifesting some sort of "Elvis life-force" out of the ether. After a few circuits across the stage, arms flourishing in some air karate and those commanding eyes leveled on us, he grabbed the microphone and spoke, only this time, the poor foreign soul, the cringing little man we had admired and mocked for having the guts to stand before us, was gone. This voice was now rich, sultry... and deep south, as in America. "Thank yeh verra much... you can just stare at me while ah catch mah breath." My jaw dropped. This was no impression, this was Elvis. Then as the trademark lip twitch went out of control he deadpanned, "There's somethin' wrong with mah lip." That brought a big laugh, partly because it was very funny, but probably more so because we were all still in shock. Satisfied that this was pretty impressive--that his tribute to Elvis was so good even if he wasn't really going to sing--what happened next blew my mind. Suddenly lights began to flash and he launched into "Treat Me Like a Fool." Actually singing instead of lip-synching, he wasn't good, he was great. Following that first number with a killer rendition of "Jail House Rock" that brought the house down, at the end of the act, this person, who or whatever he was--I still wasn't sure--nodded politely, eyes agog, and said, "Dank you veddy much." Copyright © 1999 Bob Zmuda. All rights reserved.