In honor and remembrance of Andy Kaufman, the great performance artist, comedian and self-proclaimed “song-and-dance man,” 30 years after his death, I give to you the complete, extensive interview sessions I shared with the major players surrounding the release of last year’s debut and posthumous comedy record, Andy and his Grandmother. Released by Drag City, the LP/CD/MP3 was a collection of over 80 hours of Kaufman source material and ideas recorded on microcassette from 1977-79. Referencing his intent to make a experimental comedy record from his ramblings, practical jokes and provocative phone pranks, Rodney Ascher and Vernon Chatman edited the 80-hours down to 48 minutes of strategically arranged soundbites that they hope maintain Kaufman’s desired attitude, delivery and overall product. The following interviews were conducted for a story published on August 30, 2013 and can be viewed here: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/kaufmans-last-tape
The final interview in this exclusive sneak peak series is with Lynne Margulies. The last and most important piece of the puzzle, Lynne was Andy’s girlfriend and was there with him when he died in 1984. Lynne was a gracious interview subject, quick to provide answers to all our questions, she constantly refered to Andy’s life as a work of art, completely ahead of his time. We were lucky enough to have interviewed someone who knew Andy so well, and we thank Lynne for her time and shared reminiscence.
Hello Lynne, this is Nolan from Esquire. How are you?
Hello Nolan, I’m fine. I’m just getting up. I’m a late-nighter. I’m actually getting up early to talk to you.
Well I appreciate it. I’m a late-nighter too. I really appreciate it.
No problem. Just having my morning coffee.
So where are you based out of nowadays?
Where do I hang my hat? We live on the Oregon Coast, right by the beach. Oh my God it’s just Heaven. I live in Heaven.
Is it by where they shot the Goonies?
I don’t know where they shot the Goonies. Where was that? I have my Google machine on my lap. Along with my cat. It’s gorgeous here. We’re near Newport ,which is central coast. It’s so inexpensive that we got a house where we’re 500 feet from the beach. I’m looking up filming locations. Oh, Astoria. It’s a bit north of here, but that’s where we were looking, but we’re about 60 miles below that.
I’ve always thought that the Oregon coastal drive was even more stunning than the California coast. It’s more archaic.
It’s on a par. I mean the California coast is so beautiful, it’s almost like you can’t touch it. It’s almost like it’s not at a human level. The Oregon coast is at a human level. You know what I mean?
Well let’s just get down to that boring Andy Kaufman (laughs).
So why now? And when did you decide to let these tapes come to light? Was it something you considered for a long time, or is it something you found that you forgot about?
Here’s how it worked. Andy had done all this recording and he and Bob Zmuda had the idea for Andy to carry these tapes around. Andy always loved comedy records like Steve Allen put one out called “Funny Phonecalls” and Jerry Lewis would call people in the middle of the night and record it. Andy loved that so he always had the idea of making a record with these recordings. He told me about it and when he was sick he made me promise, like he made me promise with other things like “I’m from Hollywood,” to get as much as I could out there. One of those things was the record. It was always in my head that I was always going to try, but I didn’t have the faintest idea of how I was going to do it. When I put the book out, “Dear Andy Kaufman, I hate your guts,” I told Jodie about the tapes. She actually put me in touch with Dan at Drag City and said, “I know someone who might be interested.” That’s how it happened. Jodie and Willie from Process found Drag City for me and Dan and I met at a Starbucks in LA and I had this shoebox of tapes that Andy had kept them in and we sat and listened to them and he was like “Oh my god.” That’s actually how it happened. After lugging them around all these years.
So it was all about finding someone to do it or finding a way to find someone to do it?
Yeah because I could have done it, but I would never get around to it. There were like 80 hours of tape, you know. I would listen to little bits and I would think there has to be someone who wants these. Vernon took it on and I’m so thankful. I’m just so busy trying to make a living that I don’t know if I would have gotten to them. Thank god for Drag City and for Vernon.
It’s funny because Drag City is one of my favorite music labels, so I thought it was amazing that it landed up there. I know they have some comedy, but it surprised me nonetheless.
They just saw the potential. I am so happy.
What did you think about the outcome of how they edited it and what landed up on the final product?
I think they did a really good job. They presented so many aspects of Andy. They presented him when he was at the theater in the fight with the ushers. He carried it on. He actually did that. I actually have an affidavit from him suing the theater for this total bogus thing. It captures Andy’s girlfriends—there was that one girl that Andy kept around because she was just so easy to drive crazy. He just loved it. He just strung her along because he was getting such great material. It just captures the Andy that people probably don’t know. They haven’t seen that exact side of him so there’s actually a brand new side of Andy, which is really exciting. After someone dies, to have this brand new material… I think he captured the overall spirit of what Andy was trying to do.
That’s one thing I was wondering about… the names of his girlfriends get bleeped out.. I was curious if you were one of the girlfriends on the tape and if you were hesitant about the material that was coming out?
I’m not on there. I hadn’t met Andy yet when he was doing those recordings. When we met he had stopped and he had stopped for a couple of years. So I’m not on there, but I know who it is because Andy told me about her. He would just drive her crazy. He would say, “I need your signature.” It was hysterical.
So he wasn’t recording people when you guys were together?
No, not any more. He was doing the wrestling thing. His whole focus was wrestling when I met him. His whole focus was even beyond wrestling the women, his focus was on wrestling Lawler. I met him then and that’s what we did all the time.
Are we to assume that the arguments in the tapes are all real and not staged?
Oh yeah! He never told anyone what he was doing. Most of the people had no idea that he was recording them because it was just a microcassette that he kept in his pocket. When he was out in the World recording, out at the World Theater in LA, that guy didn’t know he was being recorded. Andy just did that whole thing just to capture that. And the girl only knew she was being recorded only when he told her, just to make her crazy.
So do you think she knows that these tapes came out and will be made public?
I have no idea because he wasn’t in contact with her anymore. Bob wasn’t in contact anymore. No one knows what she’s doing. No one has heard from her. I kind of wish she would come out of the woodwork and say, “This is me.” But nobody knew how to find her. I didn’t know how to find her. Bob didn’t even remember her last name, so we had to bleep her.
So, a lot of people probably think they’re going to hear a straightforward comedy tape, but in reality this is really more of an audio documentary of sorts. Do you agree?
It’s comedy because it’s Andy’s comedy. Andy loved to get people riled up. To him that was the funniest thing in the world. So, to Andy, this is comedy. But this is not your standard comedy tape. It’s certainly not standup. But people who know what Andy is about should understand the comedy. Certainly someone coming to it who has never heard of him would think “What the hell!?” But then one would hope that would make someone look into Andy and find out what he was all about. Someone maybe who wasn’t born yet could find out more about him.
Is there anything from the recordings you wish made the official release?
To tell you the truth I haven’t listened to everything. Vernon and Dan are the only people on earth who had heard all the hours. I used to pull a tape put at random and listen to it. The main thing for me was the girlfriend stuff because Andy loved that. He had actually told me about the theater incident, but I had never heard that, so I was happy that they found and included that.
Were there notes made along with the recordings or was it just a box of tapes? To what degree did he annotate the tapes?
Andy, what he did, you know how big a microcassette is? He would write on the little card that came with it and scribble what was on each tape. You can read on the tape “World Theater”, “Me and Bob”. Each tape has a log, but not any notes.
At the very end it has the women pleading for the tapes and he says “You’ll just have to take me to court.” Did she ever put up a fight or did she just disappear?
She just disappeared, and I’m not really sure, but I think he just got tired of her eventually. Oh, the other thing I’m really glad ended up on there was him talking to Zmuda about faking his own death. Obviously that’s a huge thing that’s been out there in the world, and now I feel vindicated by it, because here is Bob and him talking about it.
Oh yeah, I was hired as creative consultant. Bob and I were there every second of filming. When the writers were tackling the script, I said to them “I don’t know what you guys are going to write because there’s nothing cinematic about Andy’s life.” Really, the biggest tragedy in his life is that he died. The movie up to that point, there’s nothing cinematic up to that point. I don’t think anyone who knew a person that a movie is based upon is a good person to ask. You know, it’s not Andy. It’s not the Andy I know. Jim did a good job playing someone he never met. It’s a movie that gives you an idea about who the movie is about, but it’s not my Andy. But I doubt that happens with anyone when someone makes a biopic. The person who knew them best goes, “Well it’s a good movie, but…” But Jim did an amazing job, and it was fun—it was fun as hell for me and Bob. I had the best time of my life hanging out for the whole thing. And Courtney tried her best to be me. She tried to get my giggle. You know, for me it was just a blast more than anything. I cried though. I cried a lot. It was very cathartic because I had all of this stuff bottled up for years. The crew was like “Oh here goes Lynne crying again.” That was the reality for everyone because I would cry because something would remind me of him.
So the argumentative Andy on the tape wasn’t the Andy that you knew?
Nope. Nope it’s all Andy riling people up– just like when he did the bad guy wrestler. It’s all just him. That’s his performance—getting people angry. The angrier they got, the happier he was.
What do you think or want the ultimate significance of these tapes to be? Is it just another facet of who he was?
Yeah, it’s a different facet, and it’s a facet that wasn’t out there before. It’s a performance that no one has ever seen. I think my whole mission since Andy died is to keep his legacy is alive. As I said, he made me promise to get these things out, and everything else that I could. I swore to him that I would do everything I could. To me there are a lot of levels to it. There’s keeping Andy’s name and legacy out there. One thing these tapes do is give people who weren’t even born yet an idea of what Andy was life–people who have never even seen Taxi and they’re suddenly going “Oh there’s this guy and he’s doing these amazing things.” He’s being rediscovered once again. So that’s my mission in life as far as Andy goes… to keep his name out there. And these tapes are great because they are brand new. They’re not rehashing anything. It’s just wonderful.
I talked to Rodney who did some editing with Vernon, and he said he had read everything possible on Andy and no one had ever mentioned these tapes. Is that strange?
He only did it for a couple of years, back in the 1970s and he put them away and never talked about them much. He told me about them and he gave them to me, but it wasn’t big for him because he went on to other things. But it was important to him to put an album out. That was the one thing that I knew. Bob knew about them. Andy credits Bob as being co-creator of these tapes because it was Bob’s idea basically. If you read Bob’s book, Bob did this for Norman Wexler and Andy just loved that idea. But most people didn’t know they existed.
He talks a little on the record about Columbia wanting him to make a record. Was there any truth to that, or was that made up?
That was when he was talking to the girl right? No, he didn’t have a record deal. He was just trying to drive her crazy. I’m good friends with Richard Foos, the owner of Rhino records, and Richard said Andy would call him up and talk about these tapes and putting a comedy record out. But he said Andy kept changing his mind about what it would be so nothing came of it. That would have been in the late 1970’s or early 80’s.
I found the part about the “dream comedy” especially fascinating. Did he ever do anything further about that?
Isn’t that amazing?! I like the one about the animals where he’s talking to animals on the phone. As far as that goes, I was surprised when he did that too. As far as I know he didn’t do much like that. I would attach it to things he did at the Improv back in the 70’s and he would bring a sleeping bag out and he would lay down in the sleeping bag and take a nap, but that dream thing was something I’d never heard him mention before.
After the tapes and the book, are there still other things you want to release into the public to add to Andy’s legacy?
Yeah, Bob and I have a lot of stuff we haven’t told yet. And we’re going to. We are going to the true story of everything behind everything. So there is more. We’ve kept a lot of things private and we decided its time.
Since you’re probably the only person I will ever talk to who actually knew Andy Kaufman, is there anything you’d like to say in summation about Andy? I know that’s vague and maybe unfair, but I’d like to hear something all encompassing.
You see… that’s where I told the writers that they were going to have trouble writing about him because there wasn’t anything cinematic about him. The real Andy, the REAL Andy, he was what he did. His whole act was him wanting to have fun. That’s all he did was do stuff like on the tape. Everything was all about having fun and then that would become part of his performance. Then there was the other side of him where when you would talk to him he was just soft-spoken and intelligent. He took meditation very seriously. There’s no mysterious Andy behind any of this. There’s no mysterious Andy that no one gets to see because EVERYTHING he did in his act was just Andy. When he wasn’t doing stuff, he was just quiet. But he was always having fun. He was ALWAYS having fun.