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Bob Zmuda on Andy Kaufman.

Bob Zmuda ("ZMOO-da")is the co-executive producer of the new film "Man on the Moon" about the late comic Andy Kaufman. Zmuda was also Kaufman's writer, co-conspirator, and close friend. In the 1970s Kaufman was best known for his portrayal of the sweet-natured foreign-born Latka on the TV sitcom "Taxi." On stage he took on mind-bending personas like an obnoxious master of ceremonies, or a wrestler who fought women and challenged them on stage, or an Elvis impersonator. Often he left his audience perplexed as to whether or not he was for real. Kaufman died in 1984 from lung cancer. Zmuda is also the author of "Andy Kaufman Revealed!" (Little, Brown & Co.) (THIS INTERVIEW CONTINUES INTO THE SECOND HALF OF THE SHOW).

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Other segments from the episode on September 8, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 8, 1999: Interview with Bob Zmuda; Commentary on the Emmy Awards; Review of Jim Lauderdale's and Julie Miller's albums "Onward Thru it All" and "Broken Things."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 08, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090801np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Interview with Producer Bob Zmuda
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

On today's FRESH AIR: the life of the eccentric comic, who seemed to walk the line between genius and madness; we talk with Bob Zmuda, who wrote for Kaufman and was his close friend. Zmuda has written a new memoir about Kaufman and is the executive producer of the forthcoming movie about him starring Jim Carrey.

Kaufman was best known for his role as Latka Gravas on "Taxi," his appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and his wrestling match with Jerry Lawlor (ph), which ended with Kaufman in the hospital.

Also TV critic David Bianculli looks ahead to this Sunday's 51st annual Emmy Awards, and pop critic Ken Tucker reviews new CDs by two performers who he thinks should be better known.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When Andy Kaufman performed at comedy clubs, audiences were as likely to be angry, bored or mystified as they were to laugh, and that was fine with Kaufman. He was one of the most enigmatic performers to emerge during the comedy boom of the '70s. He was best known for his appearances on "Saturday Night Live," his role as Latka Gravas on "Taxi" and for his obsession with wrestling, which culminated in a match with Jerry Lawlor that ended with Kaufman getting rushed to the hospital.

Kaufman is the subject of a new movie starring Jim Carrey that's scheduled to open around Christmas. My guest, Bob Zmuda, is co-executive producer of the film and author of a new memoir about Kaufman. Zmuda worked as a writer for Kaufman and was his good friend.

Zmuda says Kaufman didn't like to be called a comedian. So what did he want to be called?

BOB ZMUDA, ANDY KAUFMAN BIOGRAPHER: Well, he always said he was a song and dance man, when always asked that question. And I think that he was kind of skirting around the issue. No, he definitely didn't feel that he was a comedian. He happened just to walk into the first club to do his thing, whatever that thing was -- was -- would become, and the club he walked into was New York City's Improvisation, which was a comedy club. So he -- very early on in his career, he just happened to get this label "comedian" because he walked into that comedy club.

If there was a performance space -- and the term "performance artist" really did not become -- come into place until after Andy Kaufman appeared. So early on in New York, there was no term "performance artist," but probably back then people would have considered him a performance artist, certainly not a comedian, though he is extremely influential in American comedy to this day.

GROSS: I'm going to ask you to describe some of his early routines. Start with maybe "Mighty Mouse," which a lot of people have seen on "Saturday Night Live."

ZMUDA: Well, "Mighty Mouse" -- and that's a great one that you picked because "Mighty" -- this is probably what made Andy Andy was the early -- his early routines, his "Mighty Mouse," "The Cow Goes Moo." And for those who don't know, "Mighty Mouse" was just Andy -- it was his first appearance on "Saturday Night Live." He stood next to a little child-like record player. He put the needle down and then it was the "Mighty Mouse" theme. (sings) "Here I come to save the day"...

Now, he wouldn't open his -- he wouldn't sing. He was lip-synching to just certain sections of the song. And this is something that his parents say when he was still in the crib, actually in the playpen, they put a child's record player next to the playpen, one of those plastic ones. And he would reach out -- like, about a year and a half, 2 years old, 3 years. And he'd reach out and pull that little -- and just put that record on and...

GROSS: So with "Mighty Mouse"...

ZMUDA: Yes.

GROSS: ... on "Saturday Night Live," what he would -- you know, the record would be playing, and he was just, like, standing there like a nudnik, with this kind of blank, goofy look on his face. And then when the chorus came on, the "Here I come to save the day" part, it's like he was totally transformed, and suddenly he became this charismatic guy, and he'd put up one finger in the air and lip-synch to "Here I come to save the day."

ZMUDA: Yes, it's like what Lorne Michaels said, who's the producer of "Saturday Night Live." He said it's not that Any was lip-synching, it's that he was waiting to lip-synch. So that whole routine is really about waiting. At certain times when you see -- and it's a classic Kaufman routine. When it's played out, he think it's time to sing, but -- oh, he's wrong! And he waits there patiently, and then -- "Oh, here it comes!" and then he does it. And that's the fun of it.

GROSS: Can you describe his eating a bowl of potatoes?

ZMUDA: Oh, my God~! This is one of the first times I saw him when I wandered into the Improvisation. And the act consisted of nothing more than him on stage. They said, "Ladies and gentlemen, here's Andy Kaufman." He came out on stage. He ate a bowl of potatoes, and then he went to sleep for 20 minutes in a sleeping bag. And that was it. That was the act.

And trust me, people were hysterical. They were falling over themselves. I mean, you thought, "OK," when he goes to sleep in the sleeping bag, he's going to sleep maybe a minute, two minutes, five, 10, 15, 20 minutes. And then he got up and took a bow. Amazing. Amazing stuff.

And I found out later that, in fact, he wasn't sleeping, but he was meditating because, you know, Andy Kaufman was a member of Transcendental Meditation, and he meditated twice a day, and that was one of -- so he figured it was a way to kill two birds with one stone. You know, do it, get his meditation out of the way at the same time, entertain the audience, which he did.

GROSS: One more thing I'm going to ask you to describe, and that's his "Foreign Man" routine, where he would transform himself into Elvis. Describe what he would do.

ZMUDA: Yes, well, this was the classic Kaufman, early days in New York. And he was amazing because Andy -- the first time I saw him at the Improv -- and I was just a patron walking off the street and having my two-drink minimum. And when you walked in the club then, there was this foreign guy with a suitcase.

Now, this was before he was Andy Kaufman and famous, so you believed this guy was real. And he'd be fighting with the club owner, Bud Freeman (ph), and begging him, ("Foreign Man" accent) "Could you please just put me on? Put me on, please? I -- I -- I -- I come long way. Just put me on stage."

And you'd be hearing this, but it wasn't done very theatrical, and it was always low-key, so people walking in the place -- so even though Andy was going to perform that night, he came in two hours before his set, and he created this psychodrama that you believed, this prank that -- that could Bud Freeman put him on stage.

And every time somebody came on stage -- and in the early days of the Improv were, like, Jay Leno and Elaine Boosler and Richard Belzer and Richard Lewis. And we were all kids back then. And every time somebody got through performing, way in the back in the other room you would hear this foreign guy pleading with Bud to put him on stage.

So finally, Bud would say at the end of the show, "Ladies and gentlemen, I never do this, but this man just came to town. And don't tell your friends. I'm never going to do this again. But I'm going to put him up to close the show. And his name is Andy Kaufman."

And Andy would come on stage, and he would do this "Foreign Man" character. And of course, it was awful! He'd do impressions, like, ("Foreign Man" accent) "I'd like to do Jimmy Carter. Hello. I am Jimmy Carter, president of the United States."

Oh, and people -- you would sit there in the audience, and -- and women would hit their boyfriends not to laugh because it wasn't laughing, you know, with the guy, it was laughing at him. It was so embarrassing. And just when he got the -- to the -- and people actually going back and telling Bud, "You should take this -- you're going to fry this guys' brains for life." People are laughing at him. And then he'd cry that people were laughing at him.

And then finally, after these series of terrible, terrible impressions, he would do Elvis Presley. And wow! He'd blow you away. He was Elvis -- every gesture, every sound. The songs were great. The dance and the movement was great. But then the strangest thing. At the end of doing Elvis, he'd go back to ("Foreign Man" accent) "Thank you very much." And you believed that this was just some foreign guy who had this great Elvis Presley impression down. And then, of course, he'd walk off the stage, and you believed it. So it was really quite amazing.

GROSS: Well, you really believed it. You went backstage after seeing him do "Foreign Man." And tell us briefly what happened.

ZMUDA: I had never been more intrigued -- actually, I didn't go backstage. Actually, I hung out in the front of the Improvisation, waiting for him to come out because I go -- I totally -- I said, "I can't believe this. This is the most amazing thing, that the man can totally do this drop-dead Elvis, and yet with this incredible foreign accent."

And he saw me waiting when he was -- he had -- he drove his dad's car around that time, and he had a lot of props. And he came out, and he saw me standing there, and he sensed that I wanted to talk to him. So he approached me. He says, ("Foreign Man" accent) "Can you help me? I have props to put in my trunk of the car because my back hurts." I said, "Sure."

I mean, I was fascinated. I wanted to meet this guy. So I started loading all his props. And he has congas, and he had a -- I remember, a 16-millimeter movie projector with a screen -- and back then, these 16-millimeters are, like, 200 pounds -- all kinds of puppets, all kinds of stuff. And no sooner did I get the last prop in the trunk of his car -- and believe me, my back was hurting at that time -- he turned to me. He said, ("Foreign Man" accent) "I just want to say" (normal voice) "thank you, sucker!"

(LAUGHTER)

ZMUDA: And he jumped in his car, and he pulled away! I couldn't believe it! And of course, I was thrilled because here it was Andy Kaufman performing just for me.

GROSS: Well, you and he got to be good friends, and then, of course, you became a writer for him, as well. He -- early on in your relationship, he enlisted you to be a plant in the audience when he did his character "Tony Clifton (ph)." And this was...

ZMUDA: Oh, yes.

GROSS: This was early on in the development of Tony Clifton.

ZMUDA: Yes. But what he would do is that we would go out to Jersey, and somehow we got these bookings in these Italian clubs, these more or less restaurants with a little piano bar. And he would have me -- tell me that he was going to -- that I needed to be a plant in the audience, and that just to go along with it, and he might humiliate me, but make believe I didn't know it was him.

And he had this character, like you said, Tony Clifton, that he did. And back in the early days, Tony Clifton was nothing more than just Andy Kaufman with a cheap black wig, sunglasses and a mustache. And he'd go in there and...

GROSS: Oh, and he was just -- he was a really cheesy...

ZMUDA: Cheesy lounge lizard.

GROSS: ... obnoxious lounge singer.

ZMUDA: (sings) "Volare" -- stuff like that. And that was the act. And so he wasn't a very good singer, and he was very obnoxious to the audience. And of course, he'd walk in the audience to ask -- just like a lounge singer would -- where you're from, this and that. And then he'd -- he came up to me, and he soon found out -- and I would go under the name "Bob Gorsky (ph)." And he'd say, "What's your name?" And I'd said, "Gorsky," and he'd go, "Oh, Polish, huh? I see. Don't think because you're Polish, you try to be funny and screw up my act."

And one thing led to another, and would end up by him taking my glass of Chianti and just pouring it over my head, pushing my face in my soup. And by now, the audience wanted to kill him because they really believed I was real. And I would be so humiliated, and I'd be just bursting into tears. In fact, I'd be laughing, but nobody would know that. And I'd run out the front door. By then, he'd run out the back door. We kept his dad's car going on the corner. We'd jump in it and haul ass out of there because people wanted to kill us. And this became the beginnings of Tony Clifton.

GROSS: Now, a couple of really interesting things about this. First of all, he's doing this stuff, and it's not in a comedy club. It's in an Italian restaurant. People aren't expecting either performance art or a comedy. They're expecting a real lounge singer.

ZMUDA: And what's amazing, what's really amazing, is he doesn't tell anyone afterwards it's a joke.

GROSS: Right!

ZMUDA: So the humor is only for himself. That's what's so amazing about Andy Kaufman. He performed for himself. He couldn't care if the audience liked him or hated him or -- just so they weren't indifferent to him. He said that Andy believed that -- first of all, every performer supposedly wants to be loved. We all know this. And yet Andy -- that was not an issue for him. He did not believe that you even had to be liked as a performer. You didn't have to be loved by the audience. That wasn't your job. He changed that.

And then he probably changed the most radical thing in the world about comedy. He said, "You don't have to be funny." What? Wait, wait! I don't have to be loved by the audience. The audience doesn't have to like me, and I don't have to be funny? How does that work? And yet he did that. He pulled it off. There has never been anyone like him before or since.

GROSS: My guest is Bob Zmuda, author of the new book "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(ID BREAK)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Zmuda, who was Andy Kaufman's writer and good friend. He's now written a memoir about Andy Kaufman, and he's also co-executive producer of the forthcoming Andy Kaufman movie that will star Jim Carrey.

Andy Kaufman, as you say in your book, was fascinated with the power that celebrities have and how society indulged that power, even when celebrities abused it. And I mean, one example of this is in his persona as Tony Clifton, the cheesy and obnoxious and rude lounge singer, he would go up to a girl who was on a date in a club, and if her boyfriend went to the bar or went to the restroom, he would start talking to the girl. And what would he say?

ZMUDA: He'd say to her -- he'd say, you know, "Honey, you know who I am, Tony Clifton." Actually, he would do it as Andy Kaufman. He'd go up to them as Andy Kaufman and say, you know, "I'm -- I'm Andy, and I saw your boyfriend just went to the men's room. And you know I'm a major celebrity in Hollywood. And you know, I'm kind of attracted to you. I'll tell you what. How about -- what does -- what does your boyfriend do?"

"Oh, he works as a short-order cook." "Oh. I'll tell you what. Look, he's a nice guy, but I could do more for you than he could. I really could. I really think you're adorable and cute, so let's do this. Let's start dating. When he comes back, just tell him it's over between you two. If you do this for me, I promise you I will help"...

And this would usually be a girl who's, like, an actress, struggling actress. "I will leave with you right now. I -- listen, I will even pick up the bill. But when he comes back, will you please just tell him that it's over between you two and that you're running off with me."

And of course, people -- the patrons in the place would be listening to all this and think, "Who does this Andy Kaufman think he is? How obnoxious is that?" "Baby, you know I'm a star from the TV show `Taxi,' blah, blah." (INAUDIBLE) with this rap and...

And then the guy would come back from the bathroom, and the girl would say -- and he'd say to -- he'd say, "Well, are you going to speak up?" And she said, "Yeah." She said, "John, I just want to tell you that I really like Andy here, and" -- "Now, you got to tell him right now." "And I'm dropping you, and I'm leaving with Andy. He has a lot to offer my career."

"That's it, baby! That's how it works in Hollywood! OK, John, you -- I'm sorry about it." And the guy would just be broken down, crying. And people in the place just couldn't believe it, and they would think "How obnoxious is this Andy Kaufman, throwing his weight around, his celebrity around?" and such like that. And of course, the guy would go out of the bar, out of the restaurant crying.

And of course, that person would be me, and the girl, of course, would be in on it. But we would do these things constantly! It never stopped with Andy! Ninety-eight percent of Andy Kaufman's work has never been seen because it took place in restaurants, on airplanes, on street corners. And he was constantly, constantly putting people on.

GROSS: Another kind of put-on I want you to describe -- you say Andy Kaufman was obsessed with studying failure. And he developed something called the "Has-been corner."

ZMUDA: Oh, yes.

GROSS: And got Richard Beymer to play along with that. Richard Beymer had been the star of "West Side Story," the movie adaptation. He played Tony.

ZMUDA: Yes.

GROSS: Tell us a little bit about the "Has-been corner" and what he had Richard Beymer do.

ZMUDA: Well, this was -- this was amazing, is that when Andy first moved to Hollywood, because of his Transcendental Meditation, he took a room in a house -- he rented a room in a house of this lovely couple who were also TM'ers. They all meditated together. And I'd go hang out there.

And finally, after about three months, the guy who owned the house with this woman was this man named Richard. And one day I'm talking to Andy, and he's talking about, "Yeah, show biz," and how it's very fleeting and everything. And he said, "Yeah, Richard went through something like that. Richard used to be a performer, and he was in `West Side Story.'"

And I said, "What do you mean? Like, a high school production or something?" He said, "No, no, no." I said, "Not Broadway." He said, "No, not Broadway. He was in the movie with Natalie Wood." I went, "Richard?" And I looked, and I went, "Yes, of course!" His roommate was Richard Beymer from "West Side Story."

And of course, you know, Richard -- it's one of the most incredible stories in show business, is that when Richard -- Richard and Natalie Wood did not sing in the movie version of "West Side Story." They brought in other people. Robert Wise, the director, brought in other people to do the voices.

Well, at that time, the East Coast intelligentsia, who are already upset that the people who played these roles on Broadway were not going to play it in the movie, and now you're going to use these movie actors and not even have them sing but somebody else sing -- and so the critics really -- really just destroyed Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer (INAUDIBLE)

Now, Natalie Wood was a big enough star that she survived it, but Richard Beymer really didn't. The critics were just horrible to him, and that he was lip-synching this whole thing. And it crushed him, and he did not work for many, many years afterwards, and he was a little bitter about it.

Well, Andy, of course, thought this is a great has-been story, and he asked Richard if Richard would one day come at the Improv and tell the story, and that Andy would give him the shot to finally sing "Maria" from "West Side Story," not dubbed, in his own voice, his own lovely voice. And he somehow convinced Richard to do this.

Well, we're at the Improv one night, and Andy tells this story, how Richard Beymer's career was destroyed after "West Side Story," the movie, came out, because he didn't sing. And he said, "Richard, I want you to come up here now. I'm going to give you the opportunity. Will you sing for this audience `Maria'?"

Well, Richard Beymer approached the mike, and he started. (sings) "The most beautiful sound I ever heard, Mari -- Mari -- " and he was awful! And he tried, and Andy said, "Just calm down and try it again." (sings) "The most beautiful sound -- Ma" -- and it was awful! And the people were laughing, and Richard knew they were laughing. He started tearing up. He ran off-stage, and Andy said, "Ladies and gentlemen, now you know why he's a has-been."

GROSS: (laughs)

ZMUDA: "He can't sing." Well, of course, Richard did this as a joke, and you know, he had such a great sense of humor about it. And years later -- and then soon after that, when we did the Andy Kaufman special, we wanted Richard to do this on the ABC special. But Richard figured, no, in a little club it was OK, on national TV, forget it! But he was a great sport about it. And that was Andy. That was Andy was fascinated with has-beens, fascinated with the idea of failure.

His -- look, think about it. His "Foreign Man" character is a failure, comes out on stage and fails. Tony Clifton isn't worth -- Tony Clifton -- failure. Tony Clifton is the worst act in show business. And Andy was -- was fascinated and tried to -- was just fascinated. And further on with Tony Clifton, he finally creates a character that -- that can't fail because if he fails, that's the idea of the act! So he tries to second guess and totally change the rules of engagement of what show business is. Fascinating.

GROSS: Now, was Andy Kaufman worried himself about getting washed up or worried himself about failing?

ZMUDA: That's a good question. I don't believe so. I think because of the fact that he dealt with this so much, with this -- you know, and people would say they saw him on Letterman, and he'd be crying and saying that his career's over. And certainly, the things he did for his career, such as wrestling women, and as Tony Clifton, pouring eggs over Dinah Shore's head and being thrown off the "Taxi" -- I mean, all these things would be enough to tell you this ain't helping the career!

But Andy didn't really care. You see, Andy Kaufman was probably the most spiritual person I ever met. He existed on such a different level. And like I said, he was a governor in the TM movement. There are only 40 governors. He was there when the TM movement in the '60s first started in America. So Andy was a very spiritual guy. Andy spent three hours a day doing yoga and meditating.

And the career was really -- he felt really kind of like just what he had to do to pay the bills, I guess. And he didn't take it all that seriously. His real serious job in life was his spiritual growth and development.

GROSS: Bob Zmuda is the author of "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(ID BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Bob Zmuda.

He's written a new book about the eccentric comic Andy Kaufman called "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." Zmuda wrote for Kaufman, was his close friend and is co-executive producer of the forthcoming movie about him starring Jim Carrey.

A lot of people will know Andy Kaufman best from his role in "Taxi" as Latka Gravas, a role that kind of drew on his "Foreign Man" act. What did he think of being in a sitcom? And you know, what did you think of his performances in "Taxi"?

ZMUDA: Well, let me ask -- let me say what first he thought about it. He hated it. And as many people associated with "Taxi" will tell you, Andy just loathed being on the TV show "Taxi" and just hated every moment of it, realized it was the price paid for his celebrity because it did give him the celebrity that was necessary for him then to go on different shows such as "Saturday Night Live" and Letterman and do his thing.

You know, it's very hard for an artist to be hired to some -- for somebody -- and Andy really, in a way, felt that he had sold certainly "Foreign Man"'s soul out when they made him the lovable Latka on "Taxi." Andy -- it's not that Andy hated the American sitcom, he just -- it was just not part of his world. And I don't think he ever watched a "Taxi" episode in his life.

I think -- I know for a fact that throughout his whole "Taxi" run, he tried desperately to do as little as possible on the show. Where most performers' egos are looking for more lines, Andy would walk around the set and -- "You want my line? You want this?" And they finally got down so ridiculous that at the end of the "Taxi" run, Andy had it down -- I think he showed up only two days.

Everybody else was there working five days. Andy'd show up one day for a rehearsal and then the day just to shoot the show. And this led to great animosity, as you can imagine, with the cast of "Taxi," where some people just thought that this was so insulting and so unprofessional.

And yet it was just the opposite of that, that Andy just figured -- and Andy, first of all, was a -- you know, he was a -- you know, you could give him the script. He had photo -- photo memory, so he could just look at the script, and he'd have it down. Look at his performance of Latka on "Taxi." It's -- it's flawless. And yet at the same time, he didn't care much about it. He was more interested in mounting his own productions, his own shows and doing his own craft.

GROSS: Now, there were times when Andy Kaufman's own colleagues, fellow actors or comics, would get really angry with him, I think in part because he never kind of drew the line between real life and performance.

ZMUDA: Well, he played it out. He played out whatever the scenario he was playing. If it was a character -- I remember Jay Leno came up to him once, you know, after a Tony Clifton performance, and said, "Hey, Andy, it was great." And Andy went, "What are you talking -- I'm Tony Clifton." "Yeah, Andy. Come on. It's me, Jay. We work together. Drop it." And he wouldn't drop it.

You know, if Andy took on a persona, he became that, and he walked into that club and left that club playing that role. And some performers had a very hard time with this because it's sort of, like, "Hey, let me into the club, Andy." And Andy didn't let anybody into the club except me. You know, occasionally members of his family.

But he had to protect -- for him to believe the incredible insanity that he created, the mythology that he created on stage, you had to just give him that. It was -- you know, it's comparable, like, to working to Houdini. I could say, "Yeah, I worked with Houdini." Houdini was Kaufman, and you just knew you did not give the secrets away.

And -- and I for years kept secrets about Andy Kaufman until now, because of the movie, that I finally, you know, decided to reveal the truth about all this in my book because I wanted people to separate the difference. Was Andy Kaufman totally out of his mind or is there any method to the madness? And I think there's a greater appreciation of Andy Kaufman when you realize what great lengths he went to to fool the public. And that's a more fascinating aspect than just somebody being crazy.

GROSS: I think what -- the part of Andy Kaufman's career that is most baffling to audiences is the wrestling part of his career. A -- why was he so obsessed with wrestling? And B -- did he really break his neck? Did -- was the fight with Jerry Lawlor, the wrestler, for real, when Jerry the wrestler did the pile driver and tried to break his neck, and Andy Kaufman landed in the hospital for several days and then wore a neck brace for months, and then kept coming back for more?

Now, you discuss this in the book. I won't give away anything that you say about it in the book. I do, however, just to kind of recapture the moment, want to play a clip from that period.

ZMUDA: Oh, great!

GROSS: And this is -- this is -- this is when they're, like, challenging each other, and when they're really, like, working up the animosity toward each other and getting audiences really angry before -- before the big match. And so Andy Kaufman, playing, like, Mr. -- Mr. Hollywood Star, is seated in front of a swimming pool with his shirt open and his tuft of chest hair sticking up. He's got a big medallion and a gold chain on his neck.

ZMUDA: Sleazy guy, yeah.

GROSS: Real sleazy looking. And here he is, challenging Jerry Lawlor. Let's hear it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ANDY KAUFMAN: Hello, Mr. Lawlor, Jerry Lawlor. Do you remember me? I'm Andy Kaufman from Hollywood. Remember, you pushed me around in the ring last time I was down in (mocking Tennessee accent) Memphis, Tennessee? Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Lawlor. I am not a hick. I am not from (mocking Tennessee accent), Memphis, Tennessee. I don't come from Tennessee, like you do, OK?

I come from Hollywood, California, where I make movies and TV shows. I am a national television star, and I want the respect that I deserve when I come down to Memphis! And I don't like any hick like you pushing me around in the ring!

I never agreed to wrestle you! I was wrestling someone else! You stuck your nose in! You came in the ring! You pushed me around! And now you know what I'm going to do? Mr. Lawlor, I have a lot of money, OK, a lot of money. And I've hired a lawyer, and I'm going to sue you for every cent that you've got, every cent that you're worth! You will be in debt to me for the rest of your life! You'll never eat again when I'm through with you! You'll never wish -- you'll wish you never heard the name Andy Kaufman! Do you hear me? Do you believe me? You don't believe me?

Just in case you don't believe me, I brought my lawyer with me. You'll meet him right now, Mr. Bob Zmuda.

ZMUDA: Well, Mr. Kaufman, the bottom line is this. The law is the law. Assault and battery is assault and battery. It does not matter if this man attacked you viciously on the street of New York City or in L.A. -- well, it wouldn't happen in Los Angeles here, but in the South, if you are attacked on the street or if you were attacked in a wrestling ring. You did not sign any contract that you were going to wrestle that man this -- that evening.

KAUFMAN: That's right.

ZMUDA: He jumped in the ring. He hit you. It's just as much -- if a spectator jumped in that ring and hit you over the head, like this man clubbed you -- I saw the tape.

KAUFMAN: Tell me, do I have...

(CROSSTALK)

KAUFMAN: Do I have a case, Mr. Zmuda?

ZMUDA: You have a perfect case.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: OK, and Bob Zmuda, that's, of course, you. (laughs)

ZMUDA: As that sleazy lawyer.

GROSS: As that sleazy lawyer.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Now, without giving away what really happened, because I know you want to save that for the book and for the movie, how do you think that Andy Kaufman's bizarre wrestling career affected his career? Because I think a lot of fans were so confused and so alienated by this wrestling obsession.

ZMUDA: Which totally surprised Andy because as you -- of course, as you see what he was doing there, he was playing the bad guy wrestler, you know. And to him, it was an act that he put on. And you know, it truly amazed him that people took it seriously.

Now -- you know, wrestling has really changed today because now wrestling is really like soap opera, that everybody knows that it's -- you know, it's all -- it's all put on. But back then, in the early days of wrestling, certainly when Andy was doing it, people believed it. Now, Andy didn't believe it because he knew, and he knew the wrestlers. But people would believe it so much so that it would -- you know, it was -- it was scary at times. When we went into that Memphis Coliseum, people wanted to kill him -- the arrogance of this guy from Hollywood!

You know, and then I'm -- I love that -- the clip that you played. And we did other ones, too, where he took out a bar of soap, and he says, "You know, I'm Andy, and I'm -- you know, I'm the star of `Taxi' in Hollywood, and I'm going to be in your little neck of the woods. And I'm sure you're going to want to come up to me and ask me for my autograph and shake my hand, which I will do. But I hear there's a cleansing-ness problem in the South, and perhaps -- this is called soap. Wash your hands, dry them properly and I will be happy to shake your hand."

Well, this just drove everybody crazy! And it just got the audience so frenzied and excited. So of course, when Jerry Lawlor, you know -- you know, and it didn't break his neck, but when Jerry Lawlor gave him the pile driver, the crowd went wild and loved it! And of course, this is just what Andy wanted.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Zmuda, and he was Andy Kaufman's good friend and writer. Now Zmuda's written a book called "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." Zmuda is also co-executive producer of the forthcoming movie about Andy Kaufman.

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(ID BREAK)

GROSS: Bob Zmuda is my guest. He was Andy Kaufman's good friend and writer, and how he's written a memoir about him called "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." He's also co-executive producer of the forthcoming Andy Kaufman movie called "Man on the Moon," which will star Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman.

I think some people thought his comedy was really, in part, an expression of mental illness, whether that was multiple personality disorder or some other inability to distinguish between real life and art, between a character and the real person himself. Do you think that there's any truth in that?

ZMUDA: Yes. Absolutely. And I think -- you know, I kind of try to track it in the book of what I think happened to him as a child, a certain trauma that took place with him when his -- with his -- when his grandfather died, that then led to -- to him reacting and being in certain ways.

He did -- now, I'm not a psychologist. All I could tell you that -- a friend of his who was a psychologist in Chicago -- still is, Dr. Joseph Troiani (ph) -- was one of the close -- and who Andy at times would use in his shows. And Dr. Troiani spotted definite multiple personality disorder in Andy Kaufman. Certainly, when Andy got too much pressure on him in Hollywood, he would become that dark lounge lizard, Tony Clifton, for two or three days at a time.

There was a car he kept in his garage that he only drove when he was Tony. I'd get the call. He'd say, "Hey, you know -- hey, Bob, I think Tony Clifton's coming to town." And we all knew, all of us who worked for Andy and were around him as assistants, as secretaries, as management, knew what that meant.

And then Andy became this totally different person. Andy was a vegetarian. Andy didn't smoke. Andy didn't drink. Andy meditated three hours every day. Holistic medicine, the whole thing.

Well, Tony Clifton, his alter ego, was this dark character who smoked, who drank, who ate prime rib around the clock, and Andy would become this character for days. And then he'd have to go through a series of yoga cleanses to cleanse his body of this foul-mouthed personality that would invade his psyche.

Now, some people could say, Well, what is that? Is that just him doing an act? Is that putting them on? Well, I'll tell you, if you were there and saw a guy going through this for three days, I would support Dr. Triani's (ph) findings that Andy Kaufman did suffer from multiple personality disorder.

Not only that, I think he was also-- I know for a fact he had a lot of obsessive-compulsive disorders also. If you walked down the street with Andy Kaufman, it was like walking down the street with Jack Nicholson in as-- in the film "As Good As It Gets."

You could not step on a line on the sidewalk, if you walked around a pole you had to go back and walk down the same pole, you all had to reverse yourselves. If you got on a plane, you had to walk on with your right foot first. That was mandatory. If he was in a restaurant, all the utensils, the knives, forks, and spoons would have to be washed and cleaned by himself with a little detergent that he would bring along.

And he would-- at a certain point you would say to yourself, Well, maybe he's-- you know, because-- maybe he's putting this on, and maybe he's joking us all. And I think he wanted people to believe that. I believe he really suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and tried to cover it up.

GROSS: You were very close to him, and you were in on all the acts, because you helped him create them. But were there times, like, when he was Tony Clifton where he wouldn't-- he would just act like he was him and he wouldn't let you in on the act, he wouldn't relate to you as Andy Kaufman?

ZMUDA: Oh, if he was Tony Clifton, no, my-- God forbid you call him Andy Kaufman. He'd have a meltdown, he'd throw a chair through a window. Oh, no, no. All of us, you know, along with George Shapiro (ph), his manager, his secretary, Linda Mitchell, myself, we all ourselves-- when we heard that Tony Clifton was coming to town, we ourselves took on different personas.

See, because an-- because Tony Clifton didn't know Bob Zmuda, didn't know George Shapiro. He had his own set of friends. So it was this incredible psychodrama that would go on-- oh, my God-- at the time. I'd tell my girlfriend at the time, I said, "Tony Clifton's coming to town." She'd say, "Oh, brother, that's it, I ain't gonna see you for a few days."

And you would just take on this other identity of this incredibly well-drawn other personality that now people are looking at and saying that there's more than just maybe a character there, and a little more of a channeling of a real persona.

GROSS: So what if you didn't want to play?

ZMUDA: Well, it was my job to play.

GROSS: Yes, but say you were off duty?

ZMUDA: (laughs) You were never off duty working for Andy Kaufman. Are you fooling? Plus, besides, I had-- it was too much fun. It was the greatest time. It was an e-ride, it was a roller coaster ride every day of my life. I miss him dearly. I went through great trauma after he died.

And I'm very happy now, and thank God because of this film Milos Forman and Jim Carrey put together with Danny DeVito, which was really an act of-- labor of love on all their parts, that it kind of really just got me-- once again, it was a-- there was a lot of closure for me working 85 days straight on doing that movie, because it just showed me what a great time I had.

And I forgot all the sad parts. It was fantastic.

GROSS: Bob Zmuda, thank you very much for talking with us.

ZMUDA: It's my pleasure.

GROSS: Bob Zmuda is the author of "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." He's also co-executive producer of the forthcoming film about Kaufman, called "Man on the Moon," starring Jim Carrey, which is scheduled to be released around Christmas.

(AUDIO CLIP: EXCERPT, MIGHTY MOUSE SONG)

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Bob Zmuda
High: Bob Zmuda, the co-executive producer of the new film "Man on the Moon" about the late comic Andy Kaufman, discusses his career and long-time friendship with Kaufman.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Radio and Television

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview with Producer Bob Zmuda

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 08, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090802NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

GROSS: This Sunday, the Fox Network presents the 51st annual prime time Emmy Awards, hosted by David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier" and Genna Elfman (ph) of "Dharma and Greg."

TV critic David Bianculli says this first year after Emmy's golden anniversary is a good time to assess the state of television by looking at some of the specific nominations.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: The biggest difference between Emmys now and 50 years ago is the same thing as the difference between television now and 50 years ago. The advent of cable TV is a major player.

Just as broadcast TV has lost its monopoly on viewers, it's lost its monopoly at the Emmys. In the '90s, cable TV has come to dominate the Emmys in both nominations and wins in two major categories, TV movies and miniseries. Cable also does well traditionally in the documentary category.

These are program forms that, by and large, the networks have given up by default. In the '50s and '60s, network TV churned out serious, important hour-long documentaries as a matter of course and of pride. These days, it's all newsmagazines. Unless there's a category for best night of "Dateline NBC," the networks don't have much of a chance against "Frontline" on PBS and the regular nonfiction specials shown on HBO and Cinemax.

In the '70s and '80s, network telemovies tackled important themes, and miniseries included grand experiments that gobbled up entire weeks of prime time. These days, once again, you find the best and most ambitious movies and miniseries on cable and public TV. Most broadcast network miniseries are four hours tops, and most made-for-TV movies are instant tossaways.

But the core of network TV as we know it, the situation comedy, and especially the weekly drama, those have always been hallowed ground for the big boys at Emmy time. Oh, HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" may have earned its way into lots of nominations in the comedy categories, but aside from one supporting actor Emmy for Rip Torn, it always came up empty.

Too many Emmy voters are too partial to CBS, NBC, and ABC, and no cable series has ever even been nominated as best drama series-- until now, when HBO's "The Sopranos," a comedy-drama about a New Jersey mob boss, earned 16 nominations, more than any other show this season.

Will "The Sopranos" and HBO for the first time in history walk away with TV's top dramatic prize? That alone is reason enough to watch Sunday's Emmys. And there's enough tough competition in all the major categories to pronounce TV alive and well as we head into the year 2000.

For outstanding drama, "The Sopranos" is up against "Law and Order" and "E.R.," which had dull years, and "NYPD Blue" and "The Practice," which had good ones. Because this year's crop includes the Bobby Simone death scene on "NYPD Blue," that series is the stiffest competition for "The Sopranos." But if either of those shows or "The Practice" wins, the Emmys will have done OK.

For outstanding comedy, "Frasier" has been winning every year since about 1910. But this year's infuriatingly dull season deserves to end the streak. "Friends" had a great year, "Ally McBeal" remains strong, and "Everybody Loves Raymond" also deserves consideration.

The final contender, "Sex and the City," is one nomination HBO didn't deserve.

For outstanding actress in a drama, I'm rooting for Edie Falco (ph), who plays Tony's wife on "The Sopranos," though Lorraine Bracco (ph), who plays Tony's therapist, is a close second.

On the comedy side, the best work this year was done by Callista Flockhart (ph) on "Ally McBeal" and Genna Elfman on "Dharma and Greg," with Flockhart's role and performance the most complex of all.

For outstanding actor in a drama, the fight this year really comes down to Jimmy Smits, who had a deathbed scene, and James Gandolfini, who had a field day as Tony Soprano. Sentimentality aside, I'd give it to Gandolfini because of the intensity and texture he gives to scenes like this when he visits his therapist, played by Bracco, one last time.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE SOPRANOS," HBO)

JAMES GANDOLFINI, ACTOR: You're in danger.

LORRAINE BRACCO, ACTRESS: Get outta here! That's not fair.

GANDOLFINI: Fair? What are you talking about, fair? Who gots fair? They don't give a (bleep) about fair.

BRACCO: OK. What am I supposed to do?

GANDOLFINI: Leave town, today. Right now. As a matter of fact, I'm going to get some guys here to stay with you until you get on a plane.

BRACCO: I can't just do that, lam it. I have a life, I have patients.

GANDOLFINI: You tell 'em August came early this year.

BRACCO: It doesn't work that way! I have patients who are suicidal.

GANDOLFINI: Well, they're not gonna feel any better about their life if you get clipped.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BIANCULLI: For outstanding actor in a comedy, Kelsey Grammer remains a favorite even on an off-year for "Frasier." But this year, I think, either Michael J. Fox of "Spin City" or Ray Romano of "Everybody Loves Raymond" might walk away a winner.

As for supporting actor and actress, there's a lot of talent in every category, but there is one absolute lock. In the supporting actress in a drama category, the winner will be Nancy Marchand, who plays Livia, the nasty matriarch of "The Sopranos." It's not that the other nominees are bad, it's just that Marchand, in a complete turnaround from her role as Mrs. Pinchon on "Lou Grant," was that good.

If she doesn't win, I'm doing next week's show in the nude, and that's something you don't even want to hear.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for "The New York Daily News."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews new CDs by performers on the outskirts of country music.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Davis Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli looks ahead to this Sunday's 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on the FOX network.
Spec: Entertainment; Radio and Television; Awards

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 08, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090803NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Outskirts of Country Music Review
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

GROSS: Two artists working on the outskirts of country music, Julie Miller and Jim Lauderdale, both have new releases out. One element they share is the presence of Miller's husband, Buddy Miller, as guitarist, singer, and songwriter.

Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews both releases.

(AUDIO CLIP, COUNTRY SONG EXCERPT, JIM LAUDERDALE)

KEN TUCKER, ROCK CRITIC: Jim Lauderdale is one of those country songwriters and performers whose lack of stardom is a mystery. He's a good-looking guy, he's written big hits for other artists, like George Straight (ph), Patty Loveless (ph), George Jones, and the hottest country act of the moment, the Dixie Chicks.

Yet back on his CD, "Onward Through It All," by the plaintive vocals and iron-strong guitar lines of Buddy Miller, Lauderdale can't catch a hit of his own. If you have an ounce of interest in country music, wouldn't you want to hear this on the radio regularly?

(AUDIO CLIP, COUNTRY SONG EXCERPT, JIM LAUDERDALE)

TUCKER: Singing backups on that fine song were Buddy and Julie Miller. Julie's new CD, called "Broken Things," is a beautiful piece of work. If you liked Linda Ronstadt in her prime, for example, you'll find this CD a real pleasure to listen to.

Here she is, with her husband on guitar, singing, "Out in the Rain."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "OUT IN THE RAIN," JULIE MILLER)

TUCKER: Miller was raised in Texas and worked in New York and L.A. before settling in Nashville, where she and Buddy have had songs cut by Emmy Lou Harris. There's a lot of Harris's fragile vulnerability in her voice. But on this new CD, she also makes a point of establishing her essential toughness by rocking out with Buddy on cuts like "I Need You."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "I NEED YOU," JULIE MILLER)

TUCKER: "Broken Things," like Jim Lauderdale's "Onward Through It All," are CDs about love and loss, need and denial, passion and a restless quest for comfort. Buddy Miller knows how to cut a mean CD himself, as he did with last year's corrosive "Poison Love."

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Lauderdale and the Millers aren't more well known. But I'll keep plugging them until they are.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for "Entertainment Weekly." He reviewed "Onward Through It All" by Jim Lauderdale and "Broken Things" by Julie Miller.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Bob Purdick. Dorothy Farabee (ph) is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Ken Tucker
High: Pop music critic Ken Tucker reviews two new CDs by artists on the outskirts of country music: "Onward Thru it All" by Jim Lauderdale, and "Broken Things" by Julie Miller. Both releases feature work by guitarist, singer and songwriter Buddy Miller.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Radio and Television

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Outskirts of Country Music Review
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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