What's Streaming: ANDY & JIM: THE GREAT BEYOND
The ego takes a back seat
For those of us who watched Andy Kaufman on “Saturday Night Live” in the ’70s and followed him through the ’80s in the sitcom “Taxi,” we were treated to one of the most controversial artists alive at that time. Kaufman was known not just for the outlandish but also for pushing the envelope further than anyone else. Some may remember his lip synching to the “Mighty Mouse” theme song: “Here I come to save the day!” But who remembers his Las Vegas show that was an hour of nothing but obnoxious noises?
You just never knew what was real and what wasn’t with Kaufman, especially with the likes of his character Tony Clifton, the loud-mouthed lounge singer who hated Kaufman. It wasn’t clear for the longest time that Clifton was a fictitious character largely due to Kaufman’s showbiz partner, Bob Zmuda, playing the role in partnership with Kaufman.
The world lost a polarizing figure when Andy Kaufman died of cancer in 1984. Many of us are still waiting for his return as his last prank on society. So, when it was announced that Jim Carrey was to portray Kaufman in the biopic “Man on the Moon,” we all knew we were in for a treat.
“Man on the Moon” wasn’t just a movie. Its production was an event that was tense, hysterical, confusing, offensive and touching. Upon the movie’s release, the studio promoted it with the slogan: “Jim Carrey IS Andy Kaufman.” This was a distinction from other actors who are credited with “AS.” Why? Because the day that Carrey landed the role, he stopped being Carrey and became Kaufman for the duration of filming. It was as if Kaufman had possessed Carrey and even Kaufman’s family was caught up in it.
Carrey remained in character even when portraying Kaufman during his bout with cancer, going so far as to be wheeled around in a wheelchair and portraying the symptoms with an eerie accuracy. This resulted in many feeling it was too much and offensive, but for those who knew Andy it was a way of saying goodbye in the most touching way.
“Andy & Jim: The Great Beyond” (aka “Andy & Jim: The Great Beyond — featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton”) is a documentary composed of a sit-down interview with Carrey and 20-year-old, behind-the-scenes footage shelved because Universal pictures feared its release could be damning for both Carrey and the studio. Universal was worried that Carrey’s antics could cause lawsuits. Twenty years later we, as an audience, are treated to that footage, thanks to Netflix.
Carrey embodied not just the personality of Kaufman but was every bit the equal when it came to joking and pranks in the style of Kaufman. At one point, during the recreation of Kaufman’s legendary feud with wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, Carrey pushed Lawler’s buttons so much that an actual fight broke out in the ring while off-film and Carrey was rushed to the hospital. The media picked up on this and reported the story while Carrey laughed it off at a local hotel room.
But it didn’t end there. During production Carrey was invited to the Playboy mansion. He accepted but only if he could show up as Tony Clifton. He was the life of the party for several hours — that is, until Carrey actually arrived as himself, leaving Hugh Hefner embarrassed and outraged. It was Zmuda playing Clifton while Carrey was at In-N-Out having a burger, waiting for the prank to end.
Carrey remained in character even when portraying Kaufman during his bout with cancer, going so far as to be wheeled around in a wheelchair and portraying the symptoms with an eerie accuracy. This resulted in many feeling it was too much and offensive, but for those who knew Andy it was a way of saying goodbye in the most touching way. As much as Carrey transformed himself, he had transformed those around him by taking them back in time.
The end of the movie is a tribute to all artists and actors. For when Carrey finally stops being Kaufman, he finds that he has stripped away so much of his own ego that he has a difficult time discovering who he was before it all started and finds enjoyment in the act of being nothing.
So if you want to kill an hour and a half for a laugh and a spiritual journey of the ego, take a trip to the great beyond with “Andy & Jim” on Netflix today. Just leave the ego in the back seat.
To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.