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By Ron Wells | December 20, 1999

If you were legendary comic Andy Kaufman, you would basically divide your audience into two factions: those that got the joke and IDIOTS. Unfortunately, at times, the only people who could actually get the joke added up to two: Andy and his writer, Bob Zmuda.
Director Milos Forman (“Ragtime”, “Amadeus”) re-teams with writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“The People vs. Larry Flint”, “Ed Wood”) to add Kaufman (Jim Carrey) to their respective rogue’s galleries of outcasts. As a “real” Kaufman did not materialize in the research, the filmmakers largely rely on reenactments of all of his performed personas as the true expression of the man himself. Carrey is more than up to the task. The movie also displays how Kaufman nearly killed his own career before an aggressive form of cancer finished the job.
Whether you like the film will probably depend on whether you thought Kaufman was funny the first time. I’m sure Andy would have liked the film because it fucks with you as much as he did. The difference is that in always trying to entertain himself, Kaufman forgot about entertaining anyone else. While the wrestling stuff has a certain charm (a lot of intelligent people seemed to forget that WRESTLING IS FAKE); when Andy disrupts the set of the TV show “Taxi” with his obnoxious Tony Clifton routine, who is supposed to laugh?
I used to have this roommate, in San Francisco. A colossal ex-punk, he found himself working within the fratboy-ish world of stock and options traders. We’d go to parties and I’d watch the guy pick arguments to entertain himself. He was loud and would always find the right buttons to push. Maybe 10-20% of the people thought he was funny while the rest thought he was just an a*****e. If he cleared the room, he’d just move to another room and start over. I lived with him for eight years and I love the guy (and I’m not just saying that, Evan, because I owe you money). Very difficult to know, however, and he didn’t always know how to act outside of what nearly became a “persona”. It was never fair, nor accurate to take him at face value by this behavior. The best way to really understand him is by examining the reflections he left upon his family and friends, me included.
While “Man on the Moon” is mostly brilliant, I’m left feeling that the screenwriters took the easy way out. The most important character left unexamined is Bob Zmuda (played by the brilliant Paul Giamatti). We’re told that he wrote or co-wrote most of Andy’s material, and half the time he was actually Tony Clifton. We never really find out who he is or the real dynamic of his relation to Andy. I’m left wondering if a better movie would have Zmuda as the narrator, a la, “Fight Club”. Andy could have been his Tyler Durden; his reflection run amok. The movie could have ended with Zmuda actually killing Andy in a desperate bid to regain control of his life and his sanity, only to realize he couldn’t really be killed. With the brief, flashy career and early death Kaufman earned his immortality. Besides, if Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. can keep putting out albums, who says we haven’t heard the last from Andy?

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