Cover image for Was this man a genius? : talks with Andy Kaufman
Was this man a genius? : talks with Andy Kaufman
Hecht, Julie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 169 pages : portraits ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2287.K28 H43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PN2287.K28 H43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Just as Andy Kaufman subverted traditional forms of comedy, so Julie Hecht, with her distinctive brand of wry humor, successfully subverts the traditional form of wry humor, successfully subverts the traditional form of the interview. During 1978 and 1979, Hecht negotiated and met with Kaufman, following him from an appearance at his old high school to his now-legendary Carnegie Hall performance. The author stood her ground in all kinds of ludicrous situations, waiting for the appearance of Kaufman's real self, as it that self were some kind of Godot. Her determination and writing talent enabled her to uncover the truth behind many of the stories Kaufman made up for the press, and behind his sometimes poignant artistic aspirations. This is a book of bizarre meetings and often hilarious conversations between a great comedian (who hated to be called that) and his perfect foil -- a writer of short stories who found the story of Andy Kaufman's life to be stranger than fiction. It will entertain and enlighten the many fans of both the performer and the author, and through its surprising dialogue and surreal encounters it will shed light on the evolution of postmodern culture.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Genius--a word that probably nettles George Will because its meaning has been devalued through overuse--is bandied about pretty egregiously in entertainment journalism. So was Andy Kaufman one? The answer doesn't leap conclusively from Hecht's dreamy pages, which present conversations she had with Kaufman in the late '70s. The chats took place in a diner, a hotel room, and "In the Jaguar with Andy's Mom," as the chapter titles tell us, and they afford glimpses of Kaufman's zany humor but mostly reveal his thoughtful, caring side. Dead Andy books are starting to rival dead Jerry (Garcia) books as a minigenre, though neither rivals dead Elvis books in profusion. For those who haven't had enough of them yet, this warm reminiscence of a comedian whose idiosyncratic wit affected many fans deeply and, they thought, personally will only bolster their conviction that, yes, he was a genius. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1978 and 1979, short story writer Hecht (Do the Windows Open?) conducted sporadic, often frustrating interviews with the comedian Andy Kaufman for an intended Harper's magazine profile. Harper's deemed the piece "too strange" to publish; 20 years later, those interviews now appear in this odd volume. In 1978, Kaufman was a regular performer on Saturday Night Live; in the next year, he would originate the role of Latka on the sitcom Taxi. Hecht's first encounter with Kaufman was not auspicious: driving Hecht and collaborator Bob Zmuda to Manhattan from his hometown of Great Neck, N.Y., Kaufman took his hands off the wheel and began clapping along to the music on the radio. After he refused to attend to the wheel, Hecht demanded that he stop the car and let her call a cab. Later exchanges were similar, with Kaufman unwilling to play anything straight. Most of Was This Man a Genius? consists of transcripts of Hecht and Kaufman's conversations, where Kaufman comes off by turns petulant and na‹ve, obsessed with meditating and taking vitamins and perpetually making passes at the married Hecht. Though this approach vividly renders Kaufman's personal strangeness, the bickering grows tedious, and Hecht's general lack of explication doesn't help she doesn't even attempt to answer the question posed in the book's title. (Apr.) Forecast: Advertising in the New Yorker, which has published many of Hecht's short stories, may yield a few sales. Still, coming so far behind Zmuda's Andy Kaufman Revealed and Bill Zehme's Lost in the Funhouse, and containing little new information, the publication of this tedious biography seems almost as puzzling as the performer himself. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Between 1978 and 1979, short story writer Hecht (Do the Windows Open?) conducted informal and often exasperating interviews with Andy Kaufman, the "comedian" he hated the term, much preferring "song-and-dance man" who was then next to unknown. The resulting150-page manuscript lay unpublished until Kaufman's posthumous reputation prompted Hecht to brush it off, polish it up, and submit it to Random House. Initially caught off guard by Kaufman's zaniness, Hecht becomes, in the course of the intermittent, year-long conversations, an increasingly wary interviewer who lets readers draw their own conclusions. From a performance at New York City's Town Hall to an appearance on Saturday Night Live to a performance at his high school in Great Neck, Long Island, to his famous show at Carnegie Hall, Hecht traces Kaufman's early progress. To some observers and fans, Kaufman may well be a comic innovator. To many who read this book, he may appear as he did in the recent movie Man on the Moon: a pathological liar with a cruel streak. Recommended only for libraries with large entertainment holdings. Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Not Funny "I just want the audience to have a wonderful, happy feeling inside them and leave with big smiles on their faces," Andy told me with a blank stare the first time I met him. "I can't help it if people laugh, I'm not trying to be funny," he explained. He said that he felt insulted when he saw reviews calling him a comedian. "I wouldn't mind being compared to Charlie Chaplin or W. C. Fields," he said sadly. "But I don't find most comedy funny." People were surprised when they heard Andy speak on TV for the first time. He spoke with a foreign accent, but it was impossible to be sure what kind of accent it was, because it sounded in between Pakistani and Jamaican. Someone with the name "Andy Kaufman" was probably from New York, not Pakistan, and this made the accent even more mysterious. "No one else would have me when I got put on Saturday Night Live in 1975," Andy told me when I met him. After the first show, when the cast appeared to wave good-bye, Andy wasn't there. The time he did come out, at the end of one of the later shows, he stood by himself and stared into the camera. He wore a gray hooded sweatshirt with the hood on his head. "I wasn't trying to be funny," he said when I asked about the the sweatshirt. "I was dressed to leave and they said to come out onstage for the good-byes, so I did. This is what I really wear outside. I can't help it if people think it's funny." It hadn't been easy to get to talk to Andy for the first time. "What's it for, some kinda movie magazine or what?" Andy's manager, George Shapiro, asked me over the phone from Beverly Hills. I explained what, but George wasn't impressed. "Yeah, well, Andy doesn't like to do these things, and he's gonna be very busy when he's in New York for Town Hall. But, listen, he's also gonna perform the same week at his high school, in Great Neck, and this is a great triumph for him, because he was so shy in high school. You can go out there and talk to him for a few minutes after the concert." I realized that a number of people in Beverly Hills spoke with New York accents. Excerpted from Was This Man a Genius?: Talks with Andy Kaufman by Julie Hecht All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.