am 25. April 2000
Since this is the only book to date to go through the entire story of Andy Kaufman, it's probably going to wind up the "definitive" version of his story. And that's kind of a shame.
It's not that there isn't illuminating detail here, and it's not that it doesn't look into everything. But Zehme has made some fatal flaws here in telling a truly fascinating story.
Some of the other reviewers here have made some complaints that I'm inclined to agree with. For starters, I was already kind of frustrated that there was no index - but realizing from other reviews that he didn't credit sources either is even worse! Now I'm suspicious...
Next is definitely the flaw that is grating people here the most - Zehme's really, really pretentious writing style. I agree that it's annoying after a while. This book purports to be the definitive true story of him, but his specualtion left me genuinely confused at times trying to figure out the story - not a good sign. And the "cleverness" of a lot of his writing gives the book a cynicalness that it doesn't need.
But probably the biggest, most personal, reason I couldn't like this more than I did - though I do think it's an essential read for Kaufman fans - was that it is a very cold, kind of clinical, book. Zehme, I don't think, gets that much closer to the "true" Andy than anyone else has to date. And in trying to get into Andy's head, Zehme tends to overlook Andy's heart. There's not enough *joy* here, and there were moments of great joy, love, etc. in Andy's life - and even when Zehme goes into them his "clever" writing sours it all for no good reason. Admittedly Andy's life was full of dichotomies, but Zehme doesn't give them all equal weight - which ruins the portrait.
"Lost in the Funhouse" is ultimately a story of a man who died, rather than a man who lived. I read the Zmuda book, and although it does have its own flaws (it really took a while to get going) at least it tried to provide a more balanced portrait (and it did have an index). And while the film "Man on the Moon" did have to adapt and alter many events/people for the limitations of filmmaking, at least it came across (for me) as more alive, rounded, and heartfelt.
Perhaps someday someone will come up with a biography on Andy that's as informative as "Lost in the Funhouse", but provides more equal emphasis on the various parts of his being and presents it all straightforwardly as in a traditional biography (perhaps taking a clue from Brian Momchilov's wonderful Andy webpages). THEN we would have the definitive Andy book.
am 14. Dezember 1999
Irritating. Irritating. Irritating. After all the whining about Bob Zmuda's recent book, netjunkies awaited this book and twitched nervously. Well, the wait is over and sadly, this is faaaar worse than Zmuda's amusing though brag-filled tome. Bill, Bill, Bill... did you actually think this was clever writing? What the hell kind of an "exhaustive biography" doesn't have an index, footnotes, or a single reference? He quotes yet doesn't bother to mention where the heck he's quoting from. The abrupt stylistic shifts are annoying rather than avant garde. And if I hear one more comment about what a "great" and "respected" writer this man is, i'm going to start pounding roofing nails into my brain. I mean, c'mon... this clown ghosted books for freakin' REGIS and LENO. Not exactly good homework for tackling the prickly mind of a comedy genius. So very irritating... Can't someone hurry up and publish Kaufman's own novels so we don't need to savor the tiny excerpts in this horrific pile of "People Magazine" 3rd grade book reportish scholarship? Oh, and take a look at that picture of the author. SNICKER! What a pompous little pose. Poor Zehme. Maybe you should've gone to college after all. INDEX, Bill. INDEX. FOOTNOTES. Repeat after me: credit your sources. Thank you.
am 24. Mai 2006
Ich hab selten eine so gut geschriebene Biografie gelesen! Jeder der sich ein bisschen für Andy Kaufman interessiert (ich kannte vorher eigentlich nur den Film Man On The Moon), sollte sich dieses Buch kaufen. Bill Zehme schreibt und zitiert so, dass man bald denkt, man hätte Andy jetzt verstanden. Aber mit jedem neuen Abschnitt ist man wieder überrascht und verwirrt, und so geht es durch das ganze Buch.
Aus einer Menge Fakten über einen außergewöhnlichen Menschen hat Zehme eine wunderbare Geschichte gemacht, die man nicht so schnell vergisst.
am 3. Januar 2000
Those who are curious about Kaufman should skip "Man in the Moon" and Zmuda's book and go straight to this one. You'll get the man, what he did, and what it all meant. I find the recent mythologizing of Kaufman ("comic genius") to be as bizarre as his comedy. Forget the fact that most people who saw him, frankly, did not find him funny (he was a has been by the time he died) or that many who knew him couldn't stand him (including the cast of "Taxi"). Who can read this book and not conclude that Kaufman was an unhappy man with serious emotional problems who nonetheless pulled his neuroses together into an interesting career?
There would be no myth of Kaufman's "comic genius" without his early death, far more likely he'd be a guest on the new Hollywood Squares. The truth hurts. Comedians like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steve Martin, etc., did much more to push the boundaries of comedy during the 1970s, they were funnier, but they lived, moved on, it we find it hard to praise the living. Kaufman's life was a train wreck, entertaining to read about, and yet was it ever more? There's a long list of dead celebrities whose lives were interesting but they weren't exactly significant (eg. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Princess Diana). Kaufman was one of these icons, not a genius. Funny how some people can't tell the difference.
am 28. Dezember 1999
I never really cared much about Andy Kaufman until I read Lost in the Funhouse over the holiday weekend. Some friends of mine, diehard Andy mavens, recommended it, and I'm glad they did. In a nutshell, Wow! In fact, I'm about to embark on a second reading, and that doesn't happen often. But once was just not enough to fully absorb and appreciate all the fascinating detail and nuance author Bill Zehme has injected into this thoroughly entertaining, though very tragic, tale of the real-life Boy Who Cried Wolf.
The interplay of voices and brilliant, often dizzying prose carries shades of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, another inventive novel that intrigued and affected me deeply from the start--and even more so after a second perusal. That's not to say that Funhouse requires two readings, though, because it doesn't. But when a book is this good, you don't want it to end, and so I guess a second time around is one way of sustaining my enjoyment and delaying the inevitable postpartum funk.
The vast majority of readers, Kaufman fans or not, will love this book. But even if they don't, that's just as well. Andy would have wanted it that way. Now that I know more about him, I'm certain Andy would have hated to see his life story receive wimpy, lukewarm responses, because those kind aren't from the gut. And Andy's performance art was all about the gut, even if it meant rubbing people the wrong way and getting booed off the stage. Then again, he was equally thrilled by a standing ovation.
Except for his stint on Taxi, a job Andy apparently despised, his was a world devoid of "jokes" and self-affirming laughter, something most comics thrive on. But Andy wasn't a "comic" in the truest sense (he fancied himself a "song-and-dance man"), and thus couldn't have cared less whether he got laughs or jeers. One was just as good as the other. In light of that, he was, it seems, the most intrepid, invincible performer who ever walked the earth. Zehme's book illustrates this unique quality and many others not only factually, but stylistically and emotionally. By marshaling illuminating detail, interspersing myriad voices, including the subject's own, and crawling under Andy's thick skin, Zehme has broken new ground and created something quite remarkable here.
I now realize that there is absolutely no way to effectively encapsulate the life and mind of Andy Kaufman with so-called "normal" prose. Only by literally and figuratively entering his roller- coaster world and his often bizarre and troubled psyche can one even begin to understand him. And since most of us have neither the inclination nor the ability nor the courage to take such a plunge, we're lucky to have someone who's done it for us. And masterfully, I might add. Mr. Zehme, you took a chance and did Andy and literature proud. Congrats and, on behalf of the man himself, tenk you veddy much!
am 28. Dezember 1999
It's funny that Andy espoused a Friendly Friendly World and that there can be such mean-spirited consumers of his wide-eyed legacy. I know well many people who knew Andy as closely as anyone could have known him. These people have been raving about this book--and only this book; they are stunned that the author achieved Andy's voice on the page, they are stunned that the puzzle that was his life has been so metticulously pieced together. So I eagerly read it and was equally stunned--it's a breathtaking ride. Like a fine dizzying novel fortified by every manner of fact. (What's the beef about no sources--this book explodes with sources galore--anyone check out the acknowledgements? Plus we see every significant interview Andy ever did explored from new angles. It's all right there.) I have read Zehme's funny magazine profiles for years and can fully understand why he took six years here sorting through material no one else had privvy to. Whereas the Zmuda book is a factual mess, much like Man On The Moon--for a guy who claimed to be the Best Friend, he didn't seem to be paying much attention while he lived in Andy's orbit. (He claims to have played Clifton countless times on various talk shows; in truth he was Clifton thrice--twice on Merv, once on Dave. He claims and claims all kinds of grandiose things that are elegantly invariably refuted in the Zehme book. Is anyone else out there reading closely here? Zmuda, to his credit, made a career of sorts on his great ability to lie a lot--which thrilled Andy of course. But that gift is a cheat in the realm of letters.) This book--just like Andy--is unlike anything we have ever seen in biographies. It takes leaps that Andy would have been so proud of. Which is what his true intimates all seem to be saying. This is simply the real thing, a tribute of the highest order. If you were willing to accept the challenges Andy threw at all of us, you should just embrace this book--and treasure it. You'll laugh and cry but most of all get closer to knowing how this life was lived.
am 30. November 1999
The common theme most recently heard by most is that there was "no real Andy Kaufman." Many think he was crazy and a man without substance. Bill Zehme's ambitious and sometimes risky biography clarifies once and for all what motivated Kaufman to do the things he did.
Many know Andy Kaufman as the comedian who played the squeaky-voiced auto mechanic Latka Gravas on TV's 'Taxi.' Some believe he redefined comedy with his eccentric, often joke-free performances. His countless media stunts and hoaxes often engendered more confusion than appreciation, and countless many dismissed Kaufman and his intrepid approach to entertainment as simply insane. Some even regarded his bizarre death of lung cancer in 1984 as merely the latest of his many escapades. Fifteen years after the fact, there are still people convinced that Andy Kaufman faked his death to consummate the ultimate deception. Although considered a genius by many contemporaries, Kaufman's brand of comedy was offbeat, extremely confrontational, and always misunderstood. He was not an easy man to know or even to like on a personal level. Despite the contradictions, the popular fascination with the 'Dada of Ha-Ha' persists today. It will peak on December 22nd with the opening of 'Man on the Moon,' directed by Academy Award-winning director Milos Forman and starring Jim Carrey (as Andy), Danny DeVito and Courtney Love.
Bill Zehme, a senior writer at Esquire who has also written for Rolling Stone and Playboy, is renowned for his exceptional flair in authoring stylish celebrity profiles. Zehme's most successful book to date, The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin' and two others he coauthored, one with Jay Leno (Leading With My Chin) and the other with Regis Philbin (I'm Only One Man!), may have served as practice for the challenge ahead, because his biography of Kaufman, Lost in the Funhouse, is distinguished in every respect. In writing this superb biography, Zehme effortlessly overcomes what many biographers would consider a major obstacle: sorting out the fact and fiction in Andy's life, much of which was cloaked in illusion, misdirection and lunacy. It was hard to really know what actually occurred behind the scenes as Andy cooked up his most provocative and controversial performances. But as Zehme amply documents in Lost in the Funhouse, Andy manipulated the media constantly, whether raising high-octane hatred from the city of Memphis as a bad guy 'rassler,' or calling in phony tips to the National Enquirer ('I'm fighting with Bernadette Peters while we film Heartbeeps'). His televised brawl on 'Fridays' was as orchestrated as the slap to his face from Jerry Lawler on Letterman's 'Late Night.' Sometimes (many would argue most of the time) his hoaxes backfired to his detriment. The last two chapters of Zehme's book sadly portray the extent of that damage. Zehme succeeds in shedding new light on Kaufman's short and peculiar life to produce a dynamic portrait of a misunderstood artist. After several years of exhaustive research, Zehme has crafted a book that succeeds on its own terms. It's not a conventional narrator-driven biography, but one that cleverly paints images and events in ways that are entertaining unto themselves. The book's roller-coaster narrative has all the thrill of an amusement-park ride. Not only does Zehme use Kaufman's own words and those of others, but he seemingly goes into the head of Kaufman to expose the unique way he viewed the world. Despite the adventurous method, Zehme provides the reader with great historical clarity and unmasks many of the myths and legends that have become associated with Kaufman's time in the spotlight. Zehme uses parcels of Kaufman's voluminous writings and candid interviews with Kaufman's family and closest friends to frame key episodes in his life. The book avoids much of the speculation and romanticism of others who have penned articles, websites, and books on Kaufman. In Lost in the Funhouse, Zehme reveals that Kaufman's bag of tricks and illusions was fully developed in his teenage years -- so much for claims by others who have been taking credit for many of Kaufman's signature achievements. Andy's nightclub performances, his Carnegie Hall show, and both TV specials (for ABC and PBS) were adult variations of the birthday-party shows he gave for small neighborhood children when he was in his early teens, in which he showed movies on the wall, lip-synched to records, performed magic tricks and led sing-alongs of 'The Cow Goes Moo' and other favorites. (Even his milk-and-cookies idea was something Kaufman thought of in college.) This is fine writing unfettered by sentiment. Zehme has channeled Kaufman in a way Jim Carrey could only dream of attaining. He illuminates the mysteries behind a recognized genius and performer extraordinaire who was also proud, difficult, arrogant, highly intellectual and consumed by self-obsession. Bill Zehme has accomplished what no one else could. He has found an uncanny ability to enter Kaufman's mind and leave us with a compelling impression of the complexities and frailties of a Boy Wonder mincing in a world of disbelieving adults. This epic biography takes us on an unforgettable journey through the funhouse inside of Andyland.
am 10. Dezember 1999
I was never much of a Sinatra fan until I read Zehme's last book. It was so terrific and original that I developed a whole new appreciation for Sinatra. So, when this book came out, I have to say that I was more interested in reading Zehme's writing more than I was in his subject (Kaufman). I was not disappointed. I just finished the book tonight, and while I can't say I was transformed over Kaufman as I was about Sinatra, I can say that Zehme has written something extraordinary here. Around about half way through, as I was marveling at Kaufman's frenetic and madcap life on and off stage, it occured to me that it was Zehme's prose--also frenetic and madcap at times--that gave a compelling portrait of this unusual man. I had almost a visceral response to this book. It moves like a runaway freight. I have read a lot of biographies lately, Guralnick's Elvis and Thurman's Colette, and as good as those are, this is easily the best written. If you enjoy excellent writing, and in this case about a most unusual subject, don't hesitate to get this book.
am 30. Dezember 1999
I've read this book and it is a gem. Having kept the flame of Andy's legacy alive on the World Wide Web for the past four years, I must say that I read this book with a little more of a critical eye than your average Andy Kaufman fan. Bill Zehme did not let me down and I am happy to have a copy of this fine book in my possession. Bill's biography is fascinating and sheer poetry.
I know that Andy's family loves the book because I've spoken to them and they've told me so. I don't think a writer can receive higher praise than to receive it from the immediate family of the subject.
This biography will stand the test of time and years from now will surely serve as the only comprehensive biography of Andy Kaufman. Zehme is the guiding light, the North Star when it comes to the life and times of Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman.
Thanks Bill, I wish the movie "Man on the Moon" would have had half the content, spirit and meaning of your fine tome.
am 5. Januar 2000
Forget Jim Carrey and Bob Zm-hwatisname. This is the authoritative and true story of Andy Kaufman's strange life and mind, written with the grace, humor -- even poetry! -- that are Zehme's style.
I knew Kaufman only from Taxi and had zero interest in reading about him, but this book drew me in and made me want to know more about him, even to seek out video evidence of his genius. It also persuaded me that he wasn't just some self-indulgent nut but a true visionary, of the comedic variety, and way ahead of his time.
Zehme, a comedic expert himself with a uniquely funny way with words, has interviewed hundreds of people for this bio, including those closest to Andy.
He doesn't sugarcoat Andy's dark side, but neither does turn him into the one-dimensional wack-job Carrey makes him in Man on the Moon.
Read this book, or Andy will come back from wherever he is and put you in a headlock.
Bill Zehme: Thank you very much!