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View Full Version : Andy Kaufman: Comic genius or silly nut


JoeyBlades
12-23-1999, 03:58 PM
This is one of those things that I wrestle with from time to time, but with the advent of the movie, all of the questions come pouring back in. You see I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. Most of the basic funny things that everyone else thinks is funny, I also think is funny. I also tend to see the humor in many things that is lost on the general populace. Intellectual humor, I somtimes think... though maybe I'm just kidding myself.

But with Andy, things have always been different for me. Sure I thought he had an occasional funny moment, but all around me people were calling him a comic genius. I kept thinking that I just wasn't getting it, but more and more I came to believe it was a case of the "emperor's new clothes". When I think of comic geniuses, I think of Johnathan Winters, Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, Gene Wilder, Steve Martin, Jerry Sienfeld, Lenny Bruce, Joseph Heller, Douglas Adams, etc....

I know that Andy is sometimes characterized as a performance artist and that a cheap laugh was not always what he was striving for. His proponents say that all he wanted was a reaction... I guess this is where I never got it, because my reaction was usually something on the order of curious indifference.

As far as I'm concerned, the funniest thing about Andy Kaufman was that everyone else thought he was funny when I didn't... Hey, mamybe that was the effect he was after, but I suspect that this is giving him too much credit.

Any Andy Kaufman fans out there that care to try and change my mind? I'm really trying to be open minded about it, because I admit that maybe I really just don't get it...

pldennison
12-23-1999, 04:19 PM
Roger Ebert had a good observation in his review of the movie. He said that Kaufman's whole career was not so much dedicated to entertaining people as to studying the concept of the relationship between entertainer and audience; and understood and appreciated that a performance is never more fascinating than when it is going terribly, terribly wrong. To that end, he kind of made audiences EARN entertainment from him, for better or worse (often worse).

Or, as I said to my wife last night,"The best way to conquer flop sweat is to do it on purpose."

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"It's my considered opinion you're all a bunch of sissies!"--Paul's Grandfather

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
12-23-1999, 04:20 PM
Silly nut.

An occasional genuinely funny moment, but for the most part just plain silliness.

"Comedy" rountines such as:

Reading "The Great Gatsby."

Bringing his parents to Letterman's show to tell them how much they meant to him.

Bringing three young adult black youths to Letterman's program, showing him the "children" he was planning to adopt.

Doing stand-up routines in gibberish.

The "Fridays" incident.

In spite of all this, I like him more now, looking back, than I did at the time.

Back then, I just thought, "What an idiot!"

Now, though, I think more of "I wish I could get paid for doing that kind of idiotic stuff."

Wolf of Were
12-23-1999, 04:23 PM
JoeyBlades, I think Andy Kaufman is funny, but I only have seen him in the TV series Taxi.
Although, you gotta admit, there really IS no difference between a "comic genius" and a "silly nut". It's all in the perspective...


./^\_/^\

< o | o >
.<_ | _>
...\U/

Court Jester
12-23-1999, 05:35 PM
I always thought there were two kinds of comedians, the ones that said laugh at me (Jerry Lewis eg) and the ones that said laugh with me (Lenny Bruce, George Carlin.) Then Kaufman came along and was totally different. The main thrust of his act was "I am laughing at you." Much like art that is a single silver dot on a red field, you either get it as art or think of it as a silver dot on a red field.

Kaufman was an artist like that. You either "got" his message (or pretended to get his message so you wouldn't look like an idiot to your friends,) or you didn't. At that time I "got" him about half the time. Looking back I realize that half of time was when I was stoned.

I regret he died (if he truly did die and is not off somewhere co-managing a 7-11 with the King, but that's another thread) as young as he did because I think he could have developed into an awsome actor. His whole life was one big act, I think he could have translated himself to film very easily.

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A hat with bells on is not funny, it is the jester underneath.

astorian
12-23-1999, 08:14 PM
Andy Kaufmann was a lot like Frank Zappa, and I DON'T mean that as a compliment. What I mean is that Frank and Andy were both:

1) Sometimes very funny

2) Usually stupid

3) Never NEARLY as important as they (and their most slavish admirers) wanted to believe

4) Cop-out artists of the worst kind; rather than come clean and admit that some of the things they did were sheer crap, they (and their slavish admirers) pretend (a la Pee Wee Herman) that their failures were INTENTIONAL! Point out that a given Kaufman routine (or Zappa album)was stupid, annoying or uninspired, and you'll get a sneer that says, "You a**hole. That was SATIRE! If you were as smart as me, you'd get it, and realize how brilliant it was... but of course, you're too dense to understand such subtle wit." (I dunno... sounds like the gimmick from "The Emperor's New Clothes" to me.)

#4 is what made Kaufman and his most rabid fans so annoying. Hey, I frequently found Kaufman's bit on "SNL" and the Letterman show hilarious. I loved his "Old MacDonald" routine, his Elvis imitation, his Mighty Mouse bit, and several other things he did. Three minutes of Andy Kaufman was frequently a delight. An hour of Andy Kaufman got tedious very quickly, partly it never seems to have occurred to Andy Kaufamn that anything he did might be less than brilliant.

Tony Clifton was a bad idea, badly executed. Even as a parody of a bad Vegas lounge act, Tony Clifton was neither accurate nor funny. And while his wrestling-with-women routine was mildly amusing for a while, it got old FAST. Those were just two examples of bad, unfunny bits that Kaufman should have abandoned quickly, and written off to experience.

But of course, Kaufman's die-hard fans will never admit that Kaufman ever did ANYTHING wrong. Instead of acknowledging that TOny CLiftonwasn't funny, they'll say "Tony CLifton wasn't supposed to be funny- he was ANdy's way of intellectually exploring the issue of what's funny and what isn't."

Sure. And Paul McCartney hasn't REALLY made lousy albums for the last 20 years- he's merely been DELIBERATELY pushing the envelope to make us think about what separates good music from bad music.

Troy McClure SF
12-23-1999, 10:25 PM
I'm with Jester. I admit, all I've ever seen of him, I've seen in the past month, but I think he did what he did for no one but himself. Right now, he's probably laughing at how he was able to be on SNL, Letterman, everywhere, when most people were wondering what the hell he was doing. I think he's funniest if you see what he sees.
Sorta like, when you're playing with your cat, pointing a laser pointer on the wall and watching him go after it, wondering what the hell it is. We watch this and we laugh. Same with him. He laughed at our confusion, and hey, I thought that was funny.

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JMcC, San Francisco, JJM's page from the Bay (http://members.tripod.com/~weirdstuff/index.html)
If I were beaned with a fastball, fling my limp, lifeless body to first, cause, dammit, I earned it!

Cooper
12-23-1999, 11:38 PM
The 'imitations' bit on SNL was beautiful. Whatever spark of inspiration that led him to that seems to have abandoned him in everything else of his that I have seen. I do not consider him a comic genius because a comic genius produces great comedy in great quantities (the OP examples I'll second are Heller, Adams and Seinfeld).

Incidentally, if you look at Zappa's work as comedy music or satire or social commentary I think you really are missing the point. The point of it was great rock n' roll - the lyrics were just accompanianment (SP???) to some of the most diverse, complex (yet searing) music ever produced.

Road Rash
12-24-1999, 11:19 AM
What made Andy Kaufman a genius was a timely death. He was basically an amusing bufoon who would have faded into obscurity or gone mainstream had he lived. Death has a way of making people suspend their face in a particular time.

Lets say Jimi Hendrix had lived a little longer. Toward the end of his life, according to what I have read, his drug and personal problems had seriously affected his talent. Near his death sucked as a musician.

Andy Kaufman I heard lived a very healthy lifestyle. Drank little if at all and stayed away from drugs. But he was wierd enough anyway.

Comparing him to Frank Zappa in a bad way I feel is inaccurate. Frank had a lot of stupid things to say, but his music was always top notch. People who played with him say that he was an instrumental perfectionist and his music showed that talent. Frank Zappa was generally nice to his audience, Kaufman often angered his audience by his stupidity.

astorian
12-24-1999, 11:48 AM
I have mixed feelings about Frank Zappa AND Andy Kaufmann, though I don't deny that each was talented, and each did some brilliant and highly original work in his chosen field. Both bring to mind Dr. Johnson's old critiscism: "This work is both good and original; however, the parts that are good are not original and the parts that are original are not good."

I give Zappa a lot more credit than I give Kaufman, for several reasons:

First, Zappa knew, understood and accepted that his work would not be embraced by most people, and contented himself with cultivating a small, loyal audience that appreciated his work. Zappa didn't try to ingratiate himself (via pop hits) with mass audiences, only to pull a fast one at live concerts, and play nothing but experimental music. Kaufmann was far less honest than Zappa. He DID ingratiate himself with mass audiences (by playing Latka), and sold plenty of tickets to his live perfromances on that basis. It was a cheap trick to woo thousands of people to a concert, expecting to see lovable Latka, and then spring Tony Clifton on them, or lie down on stage and sleep through a show.

Second, because Zappa accepted that his music and humor were not for everyone, he didn't spend a lot of time whining about how "nobody understands my genius" and crying about his dwindling popularity. When you insult large segments of America, and large parts of your audience, you're going to drive many of them away. Zappa didn't just accept that, he REVELLED in it. Kaufman,, as we see in "Man on the Moon," thought he had to divine right to insult his audience while STILL keeping their love and devotion. That was immature, stupid and hypocritical.

Third, none of Zappa's friends have tried to make more of Zappa in death than he was in life. The people who loved his music STILL love his music. The people who thought he was hilarious still do. But they're not on any crusades to convince non-believers of Frank's sainthood. Kaufmann's admirers have used his tragic death to turn a so-so comedian on the way down (his last big career move was "Heartbeeps," a movie so stupid, boring and oversentimental, I'm surprised Robin WIlliams wasn't in it). Kaufman was well past his peak at the time of his death. If he were alive today, I suspect he'd be doing "Hollywood Squares."

NicePete
12-24-1999, 02:17 PM
Spoken like a man who really misses both the humor and the music of The Donnie and Marie Show

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Plunging like stones from a slingshot on Mars.

Rainbowcsr
12-24-1999, 06:17 PM
Neither. Pain in the ass.

In my judgement, his best part was when he played on Taxie and even then, when they decided to give him a split personality, I didn't like the alternate one.

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What? Me worry?'

Stoid
12-24-1999, 10:07 PM
Well, I am one of those who just fell outta my chair at the SNL routines. Completely hilarious. And I can appreciate what he was trying to do for himself, but I have to say that I could not personally appreciate Clifton or the wrestling crap. That disappointed me. I admired his balls, but I wasn't entertained.

My sister knew him, she was a regular on the Dick Van Dyke variety show in teh 70's and he was on it. She said he was as strange in life as he was on stage, but sweet.

DAVEW0071
12-26-1999, 08:26 PM
The impression I get from Andy Kaufman is that, had he not died, he would have wound up like an aging vaudevillian who never changed his act, but still managed to get occasional gigs on local variety shows or an occasional cameo in a movie.

Just like the guy who only juggles fishbowls with water in them, Kaufman was stuck being the "weird guy who doesn't always make sense". Steve Martin's earlier years were sort of similar. His humor didn't always make sense, and sometimes it was just plain dumb (remember "Cruel Shoes"? Pathetically unfunny). But it was hip, and that's what counted.

The difference between Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman is that Martin went mainstream, managing to learn how to act for film and still stay funny. Selling out? Perhaps, but the name of the game in entertainment is to stay marketable. Andy Kaufman got weirder and weirder in an attempt to keep his name in front of people. He chose the road less traveled by, and for some, that made all the difference. But the best career move he made was dying young. It saved him from approaching 50 and trying to find some other bizarre schtick to get his name in the papers.

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The Dave-Guy
"since my daughter's only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?" J.H. Marx

JoeyBlades
12-28-1999, 11:36 AM
First, let me say (again) that I did find some of Kaufman's humor pretty decent. The "Foreign Man" who eventually became "Latka" is pretty good. His Elvis impersonations were sometimes OK. I even smiled at the Mighty Mouse routine, so I guess I'm not down on all of his bits. It's just that a lot of the latter stuff struck me as patently unfunny.

The Frank Zappa argument is an interesting one that only complicates the issue more for me. First, it is very clear to me that Frank was a very, very sophisticated musician. Not everyone appreciates musical complexity and even I have to admit that some of Zappa's music failed to appeal to me, though by and large, most of it did. Much of Frank Zappa's humor was certainly avant gard and I'll be the first to admit it that I didn't find all of his humor funny, though most of it does strike me as pretty damn funny...

So here's my delima. Maybe Kaufman to me is as Zappa is to astorian...

One other observation about Kaufman. I've seen comics bomb before. Life is full of unfunny people who are completely oblivious to their lack of humor - in spite of their attempts at comedy. The difference is that with these failing comics, I can almost always recognize the underlying elements of the comedy that they are attempting. With Kaufman the comedy was usually non funny, non interesting, almost psychotic, non sequitur. It's almost as if he put all of his energy into being as blandly unfunny as possible - if this were the case, I would certainly label this as a bizarre kind of genius, though not particularly entertaining. In comedy, it's not how funny **YOU** think you think you are that counts...

This point and the Zappa one did make me realize one thing. Just as I don't like all forms of music and, in fact, don't recognize some forms of music as being musical - why should I expect more from various forms of comedy? When I think of it this way, I don't find it quite as troubling.

12-28-1999, 04:18 PM
I think he was good.Not a genius. Look at most comedians. They are kindof boring.Can you remember a Seinfeld joke? Andy kept your attention,which Is important if your a performer.

Studi
12-28-1999, 05:39 PM
Why can't he be a comic genius *and* a silly nut?

Tony Clifton
08-15-2012, 01:49 PM
Anyone can be silly. The source of Andy's genius was not his silliness, but the fact that he made it so vivid and believable for his audience. He made everyone a willing participant in his silliness, and that is something only a master can do. That's why his audience would cheer him after his routines and let themselves be loaded onto a bus and taken for milk and cookies. A silly ass is sometimes amusing, mostly annoying. Andy turned everyone into happy and wide-eyed children. That's the work of a master.

As you can see in his bongo routines, there are very complex layers of social and symbolic cues. Nothing makes sense on the surface, but there is always a real story and dialogue going on underneath. This is what engaged his audience and made them laugh in disbelief- they had no idea why they were understanding gibberish. He was pulling them into his silliness using very specific techniques of pantomime, gesture, expression and his sheer confidence. Watching Andy Kaufman is like being talked into walking happily off a cliff into...what exactly? That was his secret. So to answer your question: Genius. To quote Dana Carvey "All roads lead to Andy Kaufman"

Marley23
08-15-2012, 01:50 PM
If you feel like responding to this thread, please note that all the posts before Tony Clifton's are from December 1999.

Czarcasm
08-15-2012, 02:03 PM
Calling him a comedian is a mistake-he was a performance artist, and his instrument was the audience. In my opinion his acts were designed to elicit a variety of responses, not just laughter.

CalMeacham
08-15-2012, 02:19 PM
Neither. Pain in the ass.

Seconded. I never liked his act, and when he came on I'd simply change channels.






[quote]Calling him a comedian is a mistake-he was a performance artist, and his instrument was the audience. In my opinion his acts were designed to elicit a variety of responses, not just laughter.


I agree that he probably was a Performance Artist -- but I never heard him called this until after he died. He was "sold" and presented as a comedian.

He doesn't owe his ambiguous reputation to his early death -- people were regarding hi m as either an idiot or a genius before he died.


To me, it's telling that SNL did a poll as to whether to have him on again or drop him, and the poll unambiguously axed him. I think most people didn';t like him.






To those who say that it was all conceptual, and that he was playing with people's expectations and with the verey idea of entertainmemnt, I gotta say that it sounds interesting in retrospect, but it's hell to have to sit through, and not really entertaining or mind-expanding.

I used to wonder why it was that people apparently hated Alexander Calder's "Circus". You go nto see it at the Whitney, especially with that film of him performing the live ircus with these ingenius bent-wire-and-fabric figures, and you wonder how people could have been bored by this. Thomas Wolfe devoted a whole chapter to denouncing it in You Can't Go Home Again. And the reality is that the damned thing took forever to set up and to run through and most of the time things didn't work. People got embarassed, or bored. All of that stuff is edited out of the film you see.

I get the impression that Kaufman's act was like that -- if you tell people about it, maybe show them a film of the highlights and then the payoff (when there was one), maybe with a voiceover that explained what the voice thought he was trying to do, well, then your audience might think Andy was one clever guy.

But if you made them sit through a tape of the whole performance they'd punch you in the nose.

aceplace57
08-15-2012, 02:31 PM
His worst act was playing the Mighty Mouse record. I never saw this as funny.

Tony Clifton was an obnoxious Kaufman character. He started brining that character to the Taxi set and nearly got fired. He had the whole cast hating him.

http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/cc038c770a/andy-kaufman-performs-mighty-mouse-from-andykaufmanfan

Bryan Ekers
08-15-2012, 02:36 PM
Well, Tony.... Kaufman's appeal isn't quite as universal as you describe.

Hampshire
08-15-2012, 02:42 PM
but I think he did what he did for no one but himself.

This in a nutshell. I don't think he ever planned any of his stunts or performances thinking of how he would entertain the audience. I think it always was how would he entertain himself by getting a certain reaction from the audience.
He wanted to shock, confuse, anger, scare people and see how they responded.

Gagundathar
08-15-2012, 02:49 PM
Kaufman as Latka on Taxi was amusing.
Otherwise, not so much.

Very interesting zombie thread. Especially since it was resurrected by Tony Clifton.

The Hamster King
08-15-2012, 02:59 PM
His worst act was playing the Mighty Mouse record. I never saw this as funny.I think it's hilarious. I remember laughing out loud the first time I saw it. I just watched it again on YouTube and it's still funny as hell.

Typo Negative
08-15-2012, 03:00 PM
He had a couple of good bits. Mostly he was moron playing practical jokes on paying customers.

The Tony Clifton character was the worst of it.

CurtC
08-15-2012, 03:02 PM
Roger Ebert had a good observation in his review of the movie. He said that Kaufman's whole career was not so much dedicated to entertaining people as to studying the concept of the relationship between entertainer and audience;

I think Ebert was seriously overestimating Kaufman. Sort of like the movie Being There, where everyone overestimated Chauncey Gardner. My impression is not that he was "studying the concept of the relationship between entertainer and audience," but was instead just an idiot.

Dragwyr
08-15-2012, 03:11 PM
I find it interesting that Tony Clifton's post had generally good things to say about Andy Kaufman while the Tony Clifton that Kaufman portrayed NEVER had anything nice to say about him.

silenus
08-15-2012, 03:19 PM
Total waste of space.

pulykamell
08-15-2012, 03:43 PM
I think it's hilarious. I remember laughing out loud the first time I saw it. I just watched it again on YouTube and it's still funny as hell.

I agree. The guy was funny as shit. Love his subversive, absurdist, uncomfortable humor. I'm no Kaufman expert, nor am I particularly intimate with his ouvre, but pretty much everything I've seen has been right up my alley. I wish there were more comedians like him around today. Most comedy bores the shit out of me, to tell you the truth.

The Hamster King
08-15-2012, 04:50 PM
I wish there were more comedians like him around today.Have you seen Tim and Eric (http://www.timanderic.com/)?

Fear Itself
08-15-2012, 06:04 PM
Why can't he be a comic genius *and* a silly nut?Or comic nut and silly genius?

TriPolar
08-15-2012, 06:08 PM
He was funny sometimes and annoying other times. A lot of people would say that about him, but they wouldn't agree on what was funny and what was annoying. For a comic, that's pretty good. For a cutting edge comic, that's outstanding.

I first saw him on SNL doing Mighty Mouse. Cute little bit of comedy, but just a little skit. Next time I saw him was on SNL again, starting out with foreign guy doing bad impressions, and then he said he'd do an impression of Elvis. He turned around, transformed himself, and did very good Elvis imitation. Not out and out humor there, just impressive and showed his ability to entertain. Over the years I watched him go through his phases of humor, some brilliant, some stupid, but he kept on going and was always willing to try something else and push the envelope a little further. Too bad he decided to leave everything behind and go live in a monastery in Tibet.

Gatopescado
08-15-2012, 06:22 PM
Have you seen Tim and Eric (http://www.timanderic.com/)?

They would only compare to Kaufman if you really, really hated Kaufman. And then they wouldn't even be that good.

Jamicat
08-15-2012, 08:59 PM
Before I read the thread I'll chime my perspective.

I think most of his comedy was lost on people. Because, the lack of set up to the punch line.

What he did was go straight to the punch line instead, and all the rest of the act was all disembodied filler after the fact.

Like as if it was his first time preforming, always a little hesitant, unaware of how to get the audience prepared for the kill shot...in which made most people go..."was that funny? :confused: ", when he did his performance.

That what what he did. He played the really bad comic trying to be funny.

I was a kid when he was on SNL, too young to understand what it all was about, but old enough to see him on taxi, and I was fine with that.

His schtick wasn't from a book called, "So you want to be a Comedian". Here's the top ten ways to preform.

He did Anti Comedy..."How to do Stand-up Comedy completely the wrong way and still be funny...especially to people that are really high."

Sorta like, how Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart was to pop-music, Andy was to standard stand-up Comedy.

I never found him all that funny but I can appreciate it, same with the aforementioned musical artists.

I don't think the word Genius applies in these contexts.

"Different", as in anti-"x" is more applicable.

Sam A. Robrin
08-15-2012, 09:09 PM
I often find myself telling young practical jokers what I learned at slightly more than their age that there are a lot of ideas that are funny to talk about, but not funny to actually do.
Andy Kaufman's act was funny to hear about, but not funny to watch.

Jamicat
08-15-2012, 09:22 PM
I got suckered into a thread from the last millennium. :rolleyes:

Funny how Zappa kept coming up though.

Greekfreak
08-16-2012, 12:07 AM
Silly nut with an inability to self-edit.

A lot of comics come up with unfunny bits, but most of them are smart enough to know when one doesn't work. Andy threw the kitchen sink at the wall and very little stuck.

Overrated in the extreme.

denquixote
08-16-2012, 02:16 AM
[QUOTE=astorian;396443]Andy Kaufmann was a lot like Frank Zappa, and I DON'T mean that as a compliment.

I tend to agree with you except that Zappa was funnier. If you ever saw the Reuben and the Jets album, the liner notes were hilarious. On the other hand Andy seemed to me more talented musically with the Elvis impersonation.

Alessan
08-16-2012, 02:42 AM
He was a troll. The ur-troll, if you will. Thank God he died before the internet took off.

DMark
08-16-2012, 11:34 AM
Andy Kaufman, as well as many other so-called "comic geniuses" were early versions of hype over substance. I sometimes think critics/fans had better drugs back then and found these people hysterically funny - then again, with those drugs, they probably would have thought the employees at the DMV were a laugh riot.

Pauly Shore - other than his mother owning the comedy club and her being an agent, he would never have found work and was never funny.
Sam Kinnison - there is only so much of a screaming tantrum anyone can take in one setting - ask any parent or teacher or employee at a psych ward.
Gilbert Gottfried - his supposedly funny voice is about as entertaining as fingernails on a chalkboard, and gets tired faster than drunk Uncle Fred telling jokes using his version of a negro accent.
J.J. Walker - dyn0mite! Oh yeah, nothing more funny that to hear that catch phrase in his stand up act, over and over and over again. I remember catching one of his shows (free ticket) in Chicago and within five minutes, people were leaving the club in droves.

All of these guys may have had some funny bit somewhere along the line, but like all one-trick ponies, they quickly ran out of originality and material.

Kolak of Twilo
08-16-2012, 12:43 PM
Kaufman is someone I have gone back and forth on a different times but I've settled on the side of genius. Possibly deranged. Definitely not to everyone's taste.

I just watched the Might Mouse clip again for the first time in years and it still cracks me up too.

I recently listened to this podcast (http://wtfpod.libsyn.com/episode-274-bob-zmuda) with Marc Maron interviewing Kaufman's partner in crime Bob Zmuda. I found it highly entertaining and it added a layer of complexity to my understanding of what they were doing that increased my appreciation of his work.

Anyone who has even a slight interest should give it a listen. And even those who don't care for him may find it worth the time.

pulykamell
08-16-2012, 12:55 PM
Have you seen Tim and Eric (http://www.timanderic.com/)?

I'll have to check it out. I'm also the guy who thought Freddy Got Fingered was borderline genius (and I have the New York Times critic, A.O. Scott, to at least back me up on this one with a surprisingly positive review), so I like comedy that tends to be a bit off the beaten path.

mlees
08-16-2012, 01:31 PM
Kaufman is someone I have gone back and forth on a different times but I've settled on the side of genius. Possibly deranged. Definitely not to everyone's taste.

I just watched the Might Mouse clip again for the first time in years and it still cracks me up too.

I watched a youtube of a mighty mouse act. It seemed all he did was lip sink "Here I come to save the day!" whenever it came up (which was three times in the 1:44 video I watched). That's it. I cracked a smile the first time he did it. By the end I was thinking "That's it? That's all?".

This "genius" label seems pretty subjective. You have to find that approach to comedy/entertainment/humor as one that suits your taste to be able to apply the "genius" label, it seems to me.

How do we define "genius"?

Bryan Ekers
08-16-2012, 01:49 PM
Here's the secret of Kaufman's success:
He walks out on stage.

Kolak of Twilo
08-16-2012, 02:10 PM
This "genius" label seems pretty subjective. You have to find that approach to comedy/entertainment/humor as one that suits your taste to be able to apply the "genius" label, it seems to me.

I can agree with that. Applying the term genius, particularly in the arts, is very much a subjective thing. It either speaks to you or connects on some level or completely leaves you cold. It seems Kaufman was/is an extreme example of that.

The Hamster King
08-16-2012, 02:14 PM
It seemed all he did was lip sink "Here I come to save the day!" whenever it came up (which was three times in the 1:44 video I watched). That's it.But that's not all that he's doing. Look at what he's doing with his hands and his posture. The nervous twitches and the false starts when he's waiting, and the sudden shift in body language when he actually starts to sing. What's funny is not that he's lip-synching a stupid song. What's funny is the character he creates. It's a loving self-referential send-up of the sort of person who would choose to lip-synch a stupid song, the tension between the dorky awkwardness of the situation and the sudden soaring joy of the singing. It's a butterfly of goofy grace bursting forth from a cocoon of flop-sweat and inadequacy.

mlees
08-16-2012, 02:33 PM
But that's not all that he's doing. Look at what he's doing with his hands and his posture. The nervous twitches and the false starts when he's waiting, and the sudden shift in body language when he actually starts to sing. What's funny is not that he's lip-synching a stupid song. What's funny is the character he creates. It's a loving self-referential send-up of the sort of person who would choose to lip-synch a stupid song, the tension between the dorky awkwardness of the situation and the sudden soaring joy of the singing. It's a butterfly of goofy grace bursting forth from a cocoon of flop-sweat and inadequacy.

I noticed that. I just didn't mention it. (He switches from someone who appears to be awkward performing in a public setting, and appearing to be confident while actually singing.) I get it. Still "meh" for me.

Why was the audience laughing while he gets a drink of water?

mlees
08-16-2012, 02:36 PM
I would define someone as "genius" if they define a new genre, or otherwise impact the profession as a whole. He didn't do that... I don't think, anyway.

There aren't too many copy-cats of his style, nor does there appear to be a huge untapped demand for performers who intentionally manipulate/piss of the paying customer.

Kolak of Twilo
08-16-2012, 04:08 PM
It seemed all he did was lip sink "Here I come to save the day!" whenever it came up (which was three times in the 1:44 video I watched).
The Hamster King's response explains this well but I would add that a big part of what he did was create really awkward moments like he does in this clip. Most of his performances involve him behaving in a way where the audience starts feeling uncomfortable watching his twitchy, awkwardness on stage. When he finally lip synchs to the song the audience laughter is partially in response to the tension he creates being released. I tried to explain this as best I can. Hopefully it makes sense to you.

Why was the audience laughing while he gets a drink of water?
Think about it for a second - a performer will usually pause for a sip of water because their mouth or throat are dry from the effort of speaking or singing and here this boob is lip synching to a song and yet his throat is dry. It's absurd.

I would define someone as "genius" if they define a new genre, or otherwise impact the profession as a whole. He didn't do that... I don't think, anyway.

There aren't too many copy-cats of his style, nor does there appear to be a huge untapped demand for performers who intentionally manipulate/piss of the paying customer.
There are actually a lot of professional stand-up comics and other comic actors who have cited Kaufman as a huge influence. Will Ferrell would be someone whose style is clearly influenced by him. Jim Carrey is another.

I don't know if you know the story about how he first started out in NYC comedy clubs but apparently he started showing up at one of them (The Improv maybe) back in the early 70's totally in character as his Latka character, carrying a suitcase and began bugging the owner to let him on during the open mic portion. Nobody there knew him and everyone thought he really was some poor misguided immigrant who spoke broken English and thought he could do comedy. When he finally convinced the owner to let him get onstage he would start telling horribly unfunny jokes in character and doing really lousy celebrity impersonations. At this point the audience would be squirming in their seats feeling bad for this poor idiot making a fool of himself onstage. Then he would go into his Elvis impersonation, but this time instead of being terrible he was fucking spot on and the audience would be blown away. Once he was done he would go back into his Latka character, gather his things up and leave. This is a link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r59AWfhwpPg) to him doing the bit on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Some of the impact is lost because by this point the audience knew he was doing a character but still a pretty funny performance.

You may not find him amusing but his impact is pretty much undenialble.

mlees
08-16-2012, 05:04 PM
Think about it for a second - a performer will usually pause for a sip of water because their mouth or throat are dry from the effort of speaking or singing and here this boob is lip synching to a song and yet his throat is dry. It's absurd.

Absurd? He's pretending to be nervous. When your nervous, your mouth goes dry. ("Cotton mouth") Seemed like an innocuos action to me, but the audience laughs.

There are actually a lot of professional stand-up comics and other comic actors who have cited Kaufman as a huge influence. Will Ferrell would be someone whose style is clearly influenced by him. Jim Carrey is another.

They have not made a career out of alienating (or confusing) the audience, though. Were they specific about what was the influence? (Other than maybe making comedy seem like a desired or viable career path.)

I'm not saying you're all stupid for liking him. (To each his own. It's no different than arguing about ice cream flavors.) I just question the "genius" label.

Kolak of Twilo
08-16-2012, 05:13 PM
I'm not saying you're all stupid for liking him. (To each his own. It's no different than arguing about ice cream flavors.) I just question the "genius" label.
No worries, I'm not taking it that way at all. I learned a long time ago what we find funny can be a very individual thing. I was just trying to elaborate since you seem to be rather intrigued by what Kaufman's appeal is to some of us.

I would recommend you listen to the Marc Maron podcast I linked to in post #43. It's long but I think you would get a good understanding of what he was about and how he influenced comedy in a general way. I remember that coming up in the conversation but the details are fuzzy at the moment. You can play from that link or download it from iTunes. It's pretty interesting just to hear all the stories. And Maron has gotten to be a darn good interviewer.

As for the genius label, I would simply say artistic genius is a very subjective thing.

Unless we're talking about the Marx Brothers of course. They were indisputable geniuses, right?:D

Shodan
08-16-2012, 05:45 PM
I think I've said this in other threads on Kaufman, but I think he started out exploring the boundaries, and what made up comedy, and ended up seeing how irritating he could be and still get people to pay to watch it.

He was brilliant on Taxi, because the sitcom format forced him to deliver on the joke. But his stand-up deteriorated into seeing how many times he could do an act based on shaggy dog stories. There was no punch line, nothing beyond "I do something weird and see if you will fall for it."

And I say this as someone who thought the Mighty Mouse bit was funny as well as subversive.

But everyone knows professional wrestling is a put-on. What is achieved, what does it say, just to do more of it?

It was like a lot of 70s humor, especially on SNL - I think the reason I found a lot of it funny was because I was high at the time.

Comedy as modern art - there is no point beyond "there is no point beyond what you assign to it". I've heard that one enough.

Regards,
Shodan

mlees
08-16-2012, 05:45 PM
Unless we're talking about the Marx Brothers of course. They were indisputable geniuses, right?:D

The snarky one is. (Groucho.)

alfonzos
08-19-2012, 08:05 PM
Performance Artist. If he were a comedian, then he would worry about not getting laughs.