Yesterday, Defamerpublished an article titled “Is Andy Kaufman Still Alive?” Gothamist, theComic’s Comic,Dangerous Minds, and others posted similar stories. The posts were based on accounts of a very strange ten minutes during Monday night’s ninth annual Andy Kaufman Awards, during which Andy’s brother Michael claimed to not know if Andy was alive, and then may or may not have been reunited onstage with his long-lost niece (Andy’s daughter). I was a judge at the (untelevised) event, so I figured I’d share what I saw and clear some stuff up.
I met Michael in January when I interviewed him about “On Creating Reality,” an Andy Kaufman exhibition at Maccarone gallery in New York. I hadn’t spoken with him since then, but last week I got an email from Wayne Rada, the producer of the Andy Kaufman Awards, saying that Michael wanted me to be a judge at the finals. I said I’d be happy to, and when I got to the Gotham Comedy Club I was told that Michael would be making a “very special announcement” at the end of the show.
After the contestants finished their sets, I went to the basement with the other three judges, who told me that, with the exception of tonight, Michael was always down there with them. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight it seems obvious that I was asked to take Michael’s place in the judging process so he could focus on making his special announcement at the end of the show.
We probably deliberated for all of about four minutes before coming back upstairs, as the host of the show was wrapping up. Before announcing the winners, he said, Michael would like to say a few words. Michael walked up to the stage and squinted a little in the lights. He’s a soft-spoken man with mannerisms eerily similar to his brother, and when he began to speak the entire room fell silent.
The Kindest Thing Jay Leno Ever Did for Me Was Call Me a Lesbian
After a lot of hard work coming up as a stand-up comic in Los Angeles, I got a call late in the evening on Labor Day telling me that I’d be appearing on The Late Late Showwith Craig Ferguson the following night. This would be my network TV debut. I actually appreciate that I didn’t know sooner than the night before. I didn’t have that one last time to run my jokes and eat shit because I was too hopped up on making them perfect to properly tell them. As it was, the Friday before Labor Day I went up to San Francisco to do two shows at Lost Weekend Video, an actual video store! With videos! Lost Weekend built an awesome twenty seat room into their basement for movie screenings and comedy and such. The last sets I got in before taping Late Late were there—loose and low pressure and literally in a basement.
Walking into CBS Studios, a producer on the show introduced me to another gal taping a segment for a later episode of Late Late. She was wearing some sheath dress that looked completely perfect and was gliding around in heels—the heel of which basically had the same diameter of a single human hair. I was wearing an old shirt I had picked out to sweat through during the drive over and then arrive in. I love to make a sweaty entrance.
While she was running through talking points I found out that Elettra—that lovely heeled lady—is not only a model with a successful cooking show, she also happens to be Isabella Rossellini’s daughter which means she is also Ingrid’s Bergman’s grandkid. That’s some serious royal Hollywood blood. I am, however, Brenda Esposito’s daughter, and my mom’s a rocking lady from Ohio.
The VICE Podcast Show is a weekly discussion which delves inside the minds of some of the most interesting, creative, and bizarre people within the VICE universe. This week, Reihan Salam gets comedian Reggie Watts to reveal his agenda of world domination.
Deep Thoughts on Jack Handey’s Days Writing for ‘SNL’ and His New Novel, ‘The Stench of Honolulu’
Jack Handey—who is indeed a real person, despite common misconception—is best known for his series of hilarious faux aphorisms, Deep Thoughts. Handey is also the writer of many ofSNL’s best sketches from the 80s and 90s, such as “Toonces, the Cat Who Could Drive a Car,” “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer,” and “Happy Fun Ball.” For the past decade, he has been a regular contributor to the New Yorker’s Shouts & Murmurs section. This summer he released his first novel, The Stench of Honolulu, which begins: “When my friend Don suggested we go on a trip to the South Seas together, and offered to pay for the whole thing, I thought, Fine, but what’s in it for me?”
Lincoln Michel talked to him for VICE about writing, funny grammar, and proper cowboy dance moves.
VICE: I’m curious about the writing process for your novel, The Stench of Honolulu. Did you write most of the jokes separately, like for Deep Thoughts, and then add them to a narrative? Or did you write the jokes as you wrote the story?
Jack Handey: Some jokes were preexisting, but most were written as the story developed.
In the early 2000s, SNL ran excerpts from a fake novel of yours called My Big Thick Novel. If I’m not mistaken, one or two of those bits ended up in The Stench of Honolulu. For example, the one with a woman named Lanani (in the novel it’s Leilani) who gets annoyed about being a “personal blowdart counter.” Did the idea for writing an actual novel originate in the My Big Thick Novel spots?
Yes, I stole that joke from My Big Thick Novel. I think the novel did have a lot of its origins in My Big Thick Novel. I like a jungle setting, because just about anything can happen there, real or supernatural. It adds to the possibility of jokes you can use.
“Sorry, I’m only 19. I can’t buy alcohol,” I mumbled without looking up from the game of Tetris I was playing on my flip-phone. “Say it’s for Pauly. Tell the bartender you’re my intern.” And so, it was 8 PM on a Sunday night after the Comedy Store’s Potluck Open Mic night in mid 2009 that a gullible and obese 19-year-old aspiring comic finally achieved the American Dream: doing Pauly Shore’s bitch work for free.
It had been a year since I had dropped out of Pierce Community College to try my hand at standup comedy and things weren’t going particularly well. The biggest comedy clubs in LA like the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory use what’s basically a half-lottery, half-friendship system for their open mics. I would very rarely get picked. Unlike smart comedians, who would grumble off and leave looking for another place to do a set when they were rejected, I would stick around and watch the show. Partially because I wanted to learn from the performers, but mainly because I had no friends. I was having a conversation with one of the few Potluck regulars who tolerated me when the Weasel himself anointed me as his indentured servant.
I showed up at the next morning for my first day of interning and stood around for 15 minutes, waiting for Pauly to arrive. Finally, a beat-up car pulled into the lot. Pauly stepped out wearing a worn-out T-Shirt with a drawing of his face on it and “PAULYWOOD” written underneath. “Hey duuuude!” he announced, pointing to a massive suitcase in the backseat of his car, “Carry this in for me, Intern.”
Nothing Is Less Funny Than Scientologists Doing Comedy
All the great men of history have had their escape valves, their private passions. Einstein played the violin. Disraeli wrote romantic novels. Napoleon used to rub two ferrets covered in sulphur together until one of them caught fire. So it is with the head of Narconon International, Scientology’s notorious drug-rehabiliation wing.
The guys and gals in Laughworks have been taking their laugh-an-hour routines around the Scientology world for the last decade, but of late they’ve gone quiet. Clark in particular has been busy defending his organization from charges that it routinely took out credit cards in the names of people it was supposed to be helping. All that changed last Tuesday, when Stand Up for Valley Org took to the stage in LA. As the name suggests, it was an entire evening of Scientologyl comedy devoted to raising money for the San Fernando Valley Scientologists’ plan to build an Ideal Org, which is a deluxe kind of church.
A Filmmaker’s Life and Work with the Drunken, Racist, and Probably Fictitious Lounge Singer
Scroll to the bottom of this piece to watch the exclusive premiere of Tony Clifton’s music video for “Lonely Girl.” It’s safe for work… ish.
Before the flood, Jeremy Johnson and his wife were always in the process of starting or ending some new independent business venture. Nothing ever stuck. Before Hurricane Katrina filled their New Orleans home with poisonous water, they’d curated a personal museum of pop-culture knick-knacks that they eventually tried turning into a thrift shop. Looking back on it, the most important items in Jeremy’s collection included the official WWF Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler figurines, and a copy of Lynne Margulies’s Kaufman documentary I’m From Hollywood, which told the story of the aggressively strange, groundbreaking comedian and performer’s venture into the wrestling ring. “Andy Kaufman hit me hard at a young age,” Johnson explains. “In sixth grade, this male friend of mine would get these girls in the neighborhood to come over, we would watch videotapes of Andy Kaufman wrestling women, and we would wrestle the girls in his parents’ living room while watching the videos.”
Katrina also flooded the school where Jeremy had been teaching moderately disabled high school kids, so in 2007, at the age of 27, Johnson began working at a coffee shop, while rebuilding his home. As an emotional booby prize, Johnson finally had the time to indulge his amateur filmmaking urges. “For a long time I’d been denying my creative side,” Johnson says. He slung coffee to a number of New Orleans layabouts, including an old gray-haired hippie type who began coming in every day to chat up Jeremy about pop culture, especially film. Not until the ponytailed fellow asked Jeremy to help him film a commercial for insult comic and “singer” Tony Clifton’s big comeback tour did Johnson recognize him as Andy Kaufman’s former writing partner, Bob Zmuda.
[Editor’s Note: Welcome to “I’m Short, Not Stupid,” a weekly column focused on highlighting rare and obscure short films. Enjoy this flick (the video is at the bottom) and check back next week for another peculiar adventure in the art of short moving pictures.]
Bear is not a classic story of two lovers, two lovers fighting, two lovers making up, and two lovers living happily ever after. Jack, played by director Nash Edgerton, is a fuck up with a good heart. He also always seems to have something up his sleeve. The film begins with sage words from Jill, Jack’s ex-girlfriend who went all the way down the drain in Nash’s previous short film, Spider (which will debut on VICE next week). Unfortunately, Jack’s new girlfriend, Emelie, doesn’t know about his pension for pranks and has no idea the wild ride in store for her. Both Bear and Spider are crafted around the premise of a boyfriend messing up and attempting to right his wrong with a theatrical gesture.
Nash has been on the scene for some time, making his mark as an actor, stuntman, writer, and director. While doing stunts for big budget features—like the Matrix trilogy andthe Star Wars prequels—he made a number of music videos, including three for Bob Dylan. His original work is darkly comic, violent, and expertly executed. And Bear is no exception.
There are many reasons Bear is so effective: good actors, realistic characters, beautiful cinematography, and a smart script. However, what really takes it over the top is Nash’s closely controlled reveals in story and character that string the audience along so we’re just as stunned as Emelie is when Jack makes his big “transformation.”
What’s It Like Being a Stand-Up Comedian in Saudi Arabia?
Breaking into stand-up comedy is notoriously hard in Western countries where there’s an infrastructure of clubs and agents and laws that allow performers to say pretty much whatever they want. But in Saudi Arabia, where the notoriously oppressive government still uses beheading as a punishment and women aren’t allowed to drive, among other things, it’s nearly impossible to be a comedian. The country’s stand-up scene is “burgeoning,” to be kind, or “pretty much nonexistent,” if you want to be mean.
So when Ahmed Ahmed, the Egyptian-American comedian, was performing in Saudi Arabia in 2008 and the bookers wanted to find some locals to open for him, they had to hold auditions to find ordinary people who were funny enough to get onstage and tell jokes. An English teacher named Omar Ramzi got a Facebook message that said auditions were being held, tried out, and soon found himself in front of a thousand people doing stand-up for the very first time.
Omar stuck with comedy, and four years after his debut he had become famous enough to acquire a nickname (“the White Sudani”), made good money doing underground comedy gigs, and was featured on national TV and in the Saudi Gazette, an English-language daily newspaper. The catch was that despite being born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Omar had never received Saudi citizenship and was living illegally in the country thanks to a string of mishaps. After navigating the not-funny joke that is the Saudi bureaucracy, he eventually managed to flee to Cairo. I reached out to him through Skype to talk about the turns his life has taken.
VICE: So your nickname is “the White Sudani”? How did that happen? Omar Ramzi: Yeah. See, my mother’s Irish and my dad is Sudanese, and obviously most Sudanese people are dark-skinned, with African origins, but there is a small minority of white Sudanese that came from North Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, and places like that. My dad is from that small minority. We’re like the bluefin tuna of the human race—almost extinct.
What was it like growing up as part of that tiny minority? So, I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but I lived a very different life than most people—I lived in a compound, which is like a gated community. There’s several of them all over the country. The one that I lived in was called Saudia City, which is for the employees of Saudi Airlines. They had everything: They had their own schools—American schools, British schools—medical centers, pools… It was like a little city where the rules of the country did not apply. Women could drive and wear whatever they wanted to. There were parties and alcohol. And just outside the gate, you would see women all covered up with the black [burqa], like all ninja’d out, you know? They were like completely different worlds.
When you started doing stand-up, you were doing it in that wider world of Saudi Arabia. What was that like? It must be a lot different from what I think of as stand-up in America. The thing is, in the West, heckling is part of the norm in stand-up comedy. In this part of the world they don’t know about heckling. There’s no such thing. People sit down and they will respect you, even if you suck ass.
Omar’s first show ever.
That must be nice. Yeah, but it’s a bit of a challenge because they had a lot of rules. You can’t use profanity. You can’t talk about the government. You can’t talk about the royal family. You can’t talk about religion. So what is left to talk about? What is left to make fun of? I ended up making fun of the students I was teaching English to. I’ll tell you one of my jokes. I was teaching them the difference between “to” and “too.” After like three weeks of going through it, I thought, They must finally understand. So I asked who could give me an example of the difference between the words.
[heavy Saudi accent] “Teacher, teacher, I have the answer for you, teacher!”
[normal voice] “OK, go ahead.”
“For example, teacher, the one with the one ‘o’ teacher: ‘I want to go to the supermarket.’”
“Oh, very good, good job. What about the other one?”
“Yes teacher of course teacher. For example: ‘I want to go tooooooooooooooooo the beach.”
So you know, things like that, things that everyone could laugh at and that weren’t insulting.
Kaufman on Kaufman: An Interview with Andy’s Brother Michael
When I was a kid I used to love Taxi. It had been cancelled for a number of years by the time I got into it, but I watched the syndicated episodes whenever they came on Nick at Nite. Thinking back on it now, most of the characters—even the ones who went on to be megastars—are blurry and ill-defined in my memory. Andy Kaufman’s portrayal of the bizarre immigrant cab mechanic Latka, however, is crystal clear. That’s not surprising. As with everything Kaufman did, Latka was memorable because he was so damn unique. He was miles away from any other character on television—on Taxi, he sometimes seemed to be on a different, more surreal show—and Kaufman was just as far away from any other human in real life. Whether he was standing alone on stage nervously playing the Mighty Mouse theme song and lip-syncing only the chorus, orwrestling women and declaring himself the World Intergender Wrestling Champion, or fucking with Letterman decades before Joaquin Phoenix, he was one of a kind, which is why he is still so widely respected today. Oh, and he was also Elvis’s favorite Elvis impersonator.
On Saturday, an exhibition presented by Jonathan Berger, titled On Creating Reality, opens at Maccarone gallery in the West Village. The show will feature a boatload of Andy’s personal effects, as well as a rotating cast of his close friends and family members, at least one of whom will be at the gallery at all times. These people—who are part of the exhibition themselves—will be available to chat with visitors and offer a unique look into the life of one of contemporary culture’s most enigmatic figures. In preparation of the show, and because I am a gigantic Kaufman fanboy, I called up Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother, to talk about the show and his brother’s life.
VICE: Hi, Michael. I just wanted to ask a little bit about the show. Do you know what sort of artifacts are going to be there? Michael Kaufman:I know some of them. His most recognized Elvis jacket will be there, as well as his famous pink Foreign Man jacket that he would take off to become Elvis, and also the mock shirt he tore away. Andy was an author and we published three books for him after he died. Not only will the books be there—that’s not a big deal—but you’ll be able to see handwriting of Andy’s. The World Intergender Wrestling Belt will be there. His 11th grade report card, which has a lot of red on it.
How did he do? One of his 11th grade teachers said to my mother, “The only reason I’m passing your son is I don’t want to take a gamble at having him in my class again next year.” Also in the collection is a wonderful series of communications where Andy went to visit a girl who was dying. She was a fan of his, and when his plane was delayed in Chicago on its way to Washington, he drove out to Demotte, Indiana, to visit her. Word got out at the hospital and Andy wrestled three people. I have pictures. They were supposedly nurses and maybe one patient’s mother. It’s the only time he ever lost a match. He let them beat him. And then there’s a letter from the mother, thanking Andy for doing that. Seven weeks after his visit, she died. That whole correspondence will be there. Andy never told anyone about that. I only knew about it because I went through the stuff.
What was it like being Andy’s brother? Were there times when you saw a bit he was doing on TV and didn’t know if it was real or not? Yes. One time I told him not to let me know what was really going on, because when people asked me questions I didn’t want to lie to them.
Can you tell me about one of his gags that duped you? A couple of months after I told him not to tell me anything anymore, he was on the TV show Fridays.