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Rock historian Ed Ward with part two of his look at Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. There's a new anthology of their work, "Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band" (Warner archives/Rhino).

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Other segments from the episode on December 17, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 17, 1999: Interview with Bob Zmuda; Commentary on Captain Beefhart and His Magic Band.

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Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 17, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Archive Interview with Bob Zmuda
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

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

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

The new movie "Man on the Moon," which opens next week, is about the eccentric comic Andy Kaufman, who seemed to walk the line between genius and madness. On today's archive edition of FRESH AIR, we hear from Bob Zmuda, who wrote for Kaufman, was his close friend, and is the film's co-executive producer. Zmuda also wrote a memoir about Kaufman.

Also, rock historian Ed Ward continues his retrospective look at Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

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

The movie "Man on the Moon," starring Jim Carrey as comic Andy Kaufman, will open next week for the holidays. On today's archive edition, we'll hear from Kaufman's writer and good friend Bob Zmuda, who also served as co-executive producer of the film and wrote a recent book about Kaufman.

Kaufman 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 was one of the most enigmatic performers to emerge during the comedy boom of the '70s. Early in his career, when he performed at comedy clubs, audiences were as likely to be angry, bored, or mystified as they were to laugh.

Here's a scene from "Man on the Moon" from that early period after a performance at a club.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MAN ON THE MOON")

JIM CARREY, ACTOR: So Mr. Besson (ph), same spot tomorrow?

ACTOR: I don't know, Andy, I think I have to let you go.

CARREY: You're firing me? You don't even pay me.

ACTOR: Look, I don't want to seem insulting, but your act is like amateur hour. You're doing singalongs for 6-year-olds and puppets that aren't funny, playing records.

CARREY: But it's totally original. No one's ever done it. I'm not like everyone else.

ACTOR: Everybody else gets this place cooking.

CARREY: It was cooking. I thought it was cooking. There was a man over here that was really upset.

ACTOR: Yeah, he stormed out, and a lot of other people left in the middle of your act. I can't sell booze to people that are walking out.

CARREY: It's just about booze, it's not about comedy, it's not about art.

ACTOR: I can't sell booze...

CARREY: That's all it's about, booze.

ACTOR: ... when you're singing "Pop Goes the Weasel."

CARREY: Booze, you just want to sell booze. That's all that matters.

ACTOR: I'm running a business here. It's show business. Show business, show business. Without the "business," there's no show.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

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

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

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 childlike record player. He put the needle down, and then it was the "Mighty Mouse" theme. (singing) "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 Andy 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 thinks 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 guy's 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!"

GROSS: (laughs)

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. 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) then. 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 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.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

GROSS: My guest is Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman's writer and friend and co-executive producer of the new film about him, "Man on the Moon." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest, Bob Zmuda, is the author of a recent book about comic Andy Kaufman called "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." Zmuda wrote for Kaufman and was his close friend.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

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?"

"Well, you know, 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 you"...

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." And he'd keep up this rap.

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.

Well, 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 TMers. 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 two 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 after that.

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. (singing) "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." (singing) "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 is the worst -- 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.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

GROSS: Bob Zmuda is the author of "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." He's also co-executive producer of the new movie "Man on the Moon," which opens next week.

Our interview was recorded last September. We'll hear more in the second half of the show.

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

(BREAK)

GROSS: Coming up, Foreign Man. We continue our conversation with Bob Zmuda about his adventures as Andy Kaufman's friend and writer.

And Ed Ward continues his look at the group that was alternative 30 years ago, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

(BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our interview with Bob Zmuda. He's the co-executive producer of the new movie "Man on the Moon," which stars Jim Carrey as the enigmatic comic Andy Kaufman. Zmuda was Kaufman's good friend and writer.

Here's a scene from "Man on the Moon" when Andy Kaufman, while in character as Foreign Man, first meets the man who became his manager, played by Danny DeVito.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MAN ON THE MOON")

DANNY DeVITO, ACTOR: Hey, I really enjoyed your set.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I really liked what you did out there.

JIM CARREY, ACTOR (Foreign Man accent): Thank you very much.

DeVITO: So I understand you're from Lithuania.

CARREY: No, I am from Caspia.

DeVITO: Caspia, huh?

CARREY: It is a very small island in the Caspian Sea. It sunk.

DeVITO: Oh, I'm sorry. (clears throat) Well, look, probably out of my mind, but I think you're very interesting. And if you ever need representation, we should talk.

CARREY: OK.

(normal voice): Mr. Shapiro? Wow. It is an honor, sir.

DeVITO: Caspia, huh?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: I spoke with Bob Zmuda last September after the publication of his book, "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All."

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: A lot of people will know Andy Kaufman best from his role in "Taxi" as Latka Gravas, a role that 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 if -- 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 could 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, 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 a 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 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. (laughs)

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 (mocking Southern accent) little neck of the woods. Is that what they call it, 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.

(END AUDIO TAPE)

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest is Bob Zmuda. He wrote for Andy Kaufman and was his close friend.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: 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. Troiani's 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.

(END AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: Bob Zmuda, recorded last September. He's the author of "Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All." He's also co-executive producer of the new movie "Man on the Moon" starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman. It opens next week.

Next Monday on cable, TV Land will show the Andy Kaufman special "Andy's Fun House," which was first broadcast in 1978.

This is from the sound track of "Man on the Moon."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MAN ON THE MOON")

SINGERS (singing): Mr. Trouble never hangs around when he hears this mighty sound.

SINGER (singing): Here I come to save the day!

SINGERS: That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way.

Yes, sir, when there is a wrong to right, Mighty Mouse will join the fight. On the sea or on the land, he gets the situation well in hand.

So though we are in danger, we never despair, 'cause we know that where there's danger he is there.

He is there, on the land, on the sea, in the air!

We're not worryin' at all, we're just listenin' for his call.

SINGER: Here I come to save the day!

SINGERS: That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way!

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Coming up, the second half of Ed Ward's Captain Beefheart retrospective.

This is FRESH AIR.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Bob Zmuda
High: 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.) (REBROADCAST FROM 9/8/99)
Spec: Movie Industry; Entertainment; Kaufman

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: Archive Interview with Bob Zmuda
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 18, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

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

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Don Van Vliet (ph), better known to rock fans as Captain Beefheart, spent the 1970s trying to get the world to accept his eccentric vision. He even tried to sell out, but it didn't work.

In the second part of a two-part series, rock historian Ed Ward looks at Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band in the years following their early critically acclaimed album, "Trout Mask Replica."

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND)

ED WARD, ROCK HISTORIAN: By early 1972, Captain Beefheart had a magnificent critical reputation and a cult following, which was bigger in England than in his native U.S. He and the long-suffering members of his Magic Band had long been aware that this didn't put beans on the table, but that it made them a prestige item for their record company.

Their previous two albums, "Trout Mask Replica" and "Lick My Decals Off, Baby," were, to put it mildly, difficult. And so Beefheart decided that the next one, "The Spotlight Kid," should be more commercial.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND)

WARD: To some extent, it was. Songs like "Grow Fins" alluded much more specifically to Beefheart's blues roots, although some of the lyrics were just as impenetrable as ever. Still, it actually snuck into the lower reaches of the U.S. charts.

Encouraged, he pulled out all the stops for the next one, "Clear Spot." The record company too helped by packaging it in a clear envelope and pressing it on clear vinyl. And for one of the tracks, augmenting the band were some top session musicians.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "TOO MUCH TIME," CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND)

WARD: On "Too Much Time," Beefheart's vocal eerily recalled Otis Redding, and the fans felt that this was the single that would break the band. They were wrong.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "CLEAR SPOT," CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND)

WARD: As the title track shows, Beefheart was, in his own way, writing songs with melodies, bridges, and all the rest. But not only did "Too Much Time" sink without a trace, the album itself did even worse than its predecessor.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band were dropped by Reprise Records in 1973. They spent time on Mercury Records after that, languishing in a futile attempt to sell out. But by 1975, Beefheart was forced to disband his group and go on the road with his old friend Frank Zappa as part of the Mothers.

Zappa returned the favor by helping Beefheart put a new band together, and much of 1976 was spent recording an album called "Bat Chain Puller." Unfortunately, Zappa and his business partner parted, and the tapes wound up in limbo. But the new material was school good that everyone felt it was inevitable that some company would pick up on it.

Warner Brothers came to the rescue in 1978, and a new album, "Shiny Beast," came out later that year.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND)

WARD: "I'm playing this music," he sang in "Tropical Hot Dog Night," "so the young girls will come out." It was a glorious album, no doubt about that, fusing the avant gardism of the past with the lessons Beefheart had learned from his stabs at commercialism. The young girls may not have responded, but a new generation got to hear prime Beefheart.

The band toured, and as punk rock heated up, they drew crowds of old fans and curious new ones. The momentum wasn't enough for Warner's to hold onto them, however, but Virgin Records, recognizing the band's strength in England, took up the challenge. And the next album, "Dock at the Radar Station," is one of Beefheart's masterpieces.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND)

WARD: But again, Captain Beefheart threw everyone a curve. He announced he would stop recording and broke up the last Magic Band. in 1983, he turned full time to painting. A gallery show had sold out in New York the previous year. Nor has he wavered since then. Don Van Vliet is making a better living as a painter than Captain Beefheart, his alter ego, ever had from music.

Many of his fans have never forgiven him for quitting, but they forget that music was something he did when his art career was stymied. I miss him as much as everyone else, but his paintings are good, and his music endures.

GROSS: Ed Ward currently lives in Berlin. The "Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band" two-CD anthology is a Warner Archives Rhino release.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Ed Ward
High: Rock historian ED WARD with part two of his look at Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. There's a new anthology of their work, "Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band" (Warner archives/Rhino).
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Media

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: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
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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