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Keith PhippsAndy Kaufman was, by all accounts, a difficult person to get to know, and had he not been, it's hard to imagine his comedy working half as well. With Kaufman--famous for his work on Taxi, but legendary for what he did elsewhere--it was always clear that he was making a joke, but never entirely clear who it was on, or even if he was in on it. At one point in Andy Kaufman Revealed!, his writing partner, best friend, and co-conspirator Bob Zmuda describes the real Kaufman as being somewhere unseen working the controls of his body from a bridge deep within his mind. That makes him a particularly tricky subject for a biography, and Zmuda's is one of two timed to coincide with Milos Forman's forthcoming biopic Man On The Moon.
As a biographer, Zmuda suffers from a problem of perspective: In some ways he's too close to Kaufman to write about him, and in others too distant. For many moments in Kaufman's life, he simply wasn't there, not being present during his childhood and barred from the set of Taxi and Heartbeeps as too great a distraction to the easily distracted actor. But taken as a personal reminiscence, Andy Kaufman Revealed! proves both enlightening and entertaining. Kaufman lived his act, and while it's true that if anyone got a chance to know the real Kaufman it's Zmuda, it's more important for the sake of the book that he knew the act. The "revealed" of the title is only half there for the sake of a joke: Zmuda explains what went into such creations as Tony Clifton, Kaufman's wrestling career, and other elaborate pranks that played themselves out in public. It's fascinating material, and it goes a long way toward compensating for the fact that Andy Kaufman Revealed! reads with all the flatness usually associated with ghostwritten memoirs (which it is). Also curious: the tone with which Zmuda addresses Kaufman's sexual exploits and involvement in Transcendental Meditation. Maybe it's co-writer Matthew Scott Hansen's fault, or maybe it's Zmuda's way of doing another joke with Kaufman by parodying tell-all biographies, but the book's passionless, voyeuristic reportage seems less interested in understanding and more interested in exploiting the peculiar aspects of its subject's private life. Only in its closing chapters, which address Kaufman's sudden death from cancer in 1984, does Zmuda let his guard down and portray his friend in terms that are moving as well as entertaining.
Still, Andy Kaufman Revealed! is difficult to put down, providing a compelling look at the life of comedy genius whose comedy and genius were his life.