Andy Kaufman’s longtime sidekick and partner in crime Bob Zmuda appeared on WTF with Marc Maron today and, Maron himself put it best, it’s an “epic episode.” Kaufman died at 35 in 1984, but Zmuda has continued his legacy by keeping Kaufman’s legacy and stories alive.
Kaufman changed the face of comedy and Zmuda had a front row seat in watching Andy redefine how audiences take in a performance. His two-hour interview on WTF is definitely one of the finest episodes of the podcast, which is quickly approaching its 300th interview. In the Jim Carrey-Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon, it’s clear that Kaufman wasn’t your average guy, or even your average comedian. He challenged audience members and even fellow cast members on Taxi and the short-lived sketch show Fridays.
In his WTF interview, Zmuda (who was played by Paul Giamatti in Man On The Moon) delves into Kaufman’s childhood, their first meeting, and behind the scenes of some of the two’s most well known performances. One of the biggest aspects he stresses is that Kaufman wasn’t interested in comedy, he was interested in being onstage and doing what he wanted. In the beginning of the interview Zmuda and Maron compare Kaufman’s act to Jay Leno’s, who would set up his jokes and deliver a punch line in an almost mathematical equation. Leno described Kaufman as being so different from the rest of the New York comedy scene that he might as well have been speaking Chinese while everyone else (a comedy class that also included Larry David) was speaking English.
Before he was famous, Kaufman used to show up to comedy clubs in character as a foreigner who just got off the bus and had dreamed of stardom. He’d get onstage, intentionally bomb, then turn the show on its head by breaking out a spot on Elvis Presley impersonation. He blurred the lines of reality by having an old woman fake a heart attack onstage, goading women into wrestling with him, and pissing off everyone from David Letterman to Michael Richards. If you search “Andy Kaufman” on Google, the first result that comes up is “Andy Kaufman still alive.” He was just that kind of guy, and the explanations are just as crazy as what really happened.
Find the interview here or on iTunes, here’s Kaufman digging at pro wrestler Jerry Lawler.