Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman

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9781841152301: Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman
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First biography of the comedian Andy Kaufman, soon to be played by Jim Carrey in Milos Forman's new film Man On The Moon. In the 1970s a handful of young American comedians revolutionised US comedy. At the forefront was Andy Kaufman. From his debut on Saturday Night Live, lip-synching Mighty Mouse's cry of "Here I come to save the day!", to his role as Latka on the sitcom Taxi, Andy was breaking new ground, and hiding a vastly darker side. Whether creating an alter-ego - lounge lizard Tony Clifton - or wrestling women, whatever the "gag" was, Andy Kaufman was living it. Part performance artist and part prankster, Kaufman lived his life as a relentless performance, and he inspired, and enraged those around him in equal measure. So when he was diagnosed as having cancer at 34, hardly anyone believed him, not even when they saw his body in the coffin... With the full cooperation of Kaufman's family, friends and colleagues, this is a trip into the dark side of a comic genius.

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Review:

Bill Zehme's biography of comic actor/performance artist Andy Kaufman (subject of the feature film Man in the Moon) is a meticulously researched, eminently readable, and very strange book--this last being perhaps no surprise given its subject. Written over a six-year period, Lost in the Funhouse is crammed with details gleaned from interviews with the actor's family, friends, teachers, coworkers, and unwitting participants in Kaufman's pranks. In particular, the book provides great insight into Kaufman's early life in Great Neck, NY, his relationship with transcendental meditation, and his first forays into nightclubs in the early '70s. Zehme, author of The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin', weaves together multiple narratives from varying perspectives, including passages in which the author appears to have entered his subject's brain. Zehme did have access to unpublished letters and manuscripts (which fans would certainly like to see published on their own one day), but the only person who could legitimately verify the accuracy of these passages is no longer with us.

At its best, the book approaches that apex of artful celebrity bi-fiction, Nick Tosches's Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams. The transitions from one perspective to the next are a bit jarring at first, but once the reader gives in to Zehmes's collage of multiple personalities, one is considerably closer to understanding the book's subject. Kaufman was nothing if not a collection of various intense personalities: the young boy continually mourning his grandfather's death; the likable and naive Foreign Man; the talentless and irascible lounge singer Tony Clifton; the bliss-seeking student of TM; the devoted and loving son who never had anything to do with his own child; and world champion of inter-gender wrestling. Lost in the Funhouse is the one Kaufman tome that will please neophytes as well as those with their own Andy Kaufman Web sites. --Mike McGonigal

From the Inside Flap:

From renowned journalist Bill Zehme, author of the New York Times bestselling The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin', comes the first full-fledged biography and the only complete story of the late comic genius Andy Kaufman. Based on six years of research, Andy's own unpublished, never-before-seen writings, and hundreds of interviews with family members, friends, and key players in Andy's endless charades, many of whom have become icons in their own right, Lost in the Funhouse takes us through the maze of Kaufman's mind and lets us sit deep behind his mad, dazzling blue eyes to see, firsthand, the fanciful landscape that was his life.  Controversial, chaotic, splendidly surreal, and tragically brief--what a life it was.

Andy Kaufman was often a mystery even to his closest friends. Remote, aloof, impossible to know, his internal world was a kaleidoscope of characters fighting for time on the outside. He was as much Andy Kaufman as he was Foreign Man (dank you veddy much), who became the lovably bashful Latka on the hit TV series Taxi. He was as much Elvis Presley as he was the repugnant Tony Clifton, a lounge singer from Vegas who hated any audience that came to see him and who seemed to hate Andy Kaufman even more. He was a contradiction, a paradox on every level, an artist in every sense of the word.

During the comic boom of the seventies, when the world had begun to discover the prodigious talents of Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and so many others, Andy was simply doing what he had always done in his boyhood reveries. On the debut of Saturday Night Live, he stood nervously next to a phonograph that scratchily played the theme from Mighty Mouse. He fussed and fidgeted, waiting for his moment. When it came, he raised his hand and moved his mouth to the words "Here I come to save the day!" In that beautiful deliverance of pantomime before the millions of people for whom he had always dreamed about performing, Andy triumphed. He changed the face of comedy forever by lurching across boundaries that no one knew existed. He was the boy who made life his playground and never stopped playing, even when the games proved too dangerous for others.  And in the end he would play alone, just as he had when it was all only beginning.

In Lost in the Funhouse, Bill Zehme sorts through a life of disinformation put forth by a master of deception to uncover the motivation behind the manipulation. Magically entertaining, it is a singular biography matched only by its singular subject.

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