Andy Kaufman
Andy and His Grandmother
Drag City

By John Wenzel

If Andy Kaufman were still alive, and some believe he may be (Tony Clifton notwithstanding), one can only wonder what he’d make of Andy and His Grandmother. Chicago indie label Drag City is billing it as the first-ever release of an Andy Kaufman record, so on the scale of posthumous releases it easily rates a 10 for rarity (note: all Tupac albums are 1s or 2s).

andy and his grandmother

In true Kaufman style, it’s not a comedy album in either the stand-up sense or the audio-sketch sense. But given his renown for a certain type of conceptual prank that has come to bear the unfortunate moniker of “anti-comedy,” it’s fair to ask if Kaufman would have wanted anything to do with this relatively straightforward, 17-track sampler, since it was culled from a staggering 82 hours of micro-cassette material that Kaufman recorded between 1977 and 1979 (during his Saturday Night Live fame but pre-Taxi and wrestling with ladies).

Andy and His Grandmother exists because of Wonder Showzen co-creator and Adult Swim regular Vernon Chatman, who selected the material here, editor Rodney Asher (director of The Shining conspiracy-theory doc Room 237) and, fittingly, SNL short-timer Bill Hader, who “narrates” a few of the tracks. On the surface, it’s a patchwork of recordings that Kaufman made of himself fucking with people, documenting their annoyance or anger, their quiet and bemused moments, or even their postcoital ones (as on the quietly poignant “Slice of Life“).

The tracks that include his actual grandmother making sure he doesn’t want some gefilte fish or telling him she loves him are pure charm. The collections of angry people telling him to turn off his tape recorder, or to shut the fuck up as he’s being forcibly removed from a movie theater, were probably deviously hilarious to Kaufman at the time. Others present slightly different versions of classic Kaufman acts, including him hammering away on a sound or rhythm with a tribal intensity, or goofing on animal sounds.

Overall it’s quick and clean, and Hader’s straight-faced narration only adds to the bluff. But it also dips into Kaufman’s twisted side, as when he taunts prostitutes for a date (which to him means bowling and a pizza), or when he takes his grandmother for a drive and tries to convince her that his car can steer itself. His grandmother’s frightened cries of “Andy, could you hold onto the wheel?!” dip into the kind of psychotic, quasi-suicidal adrenaline well Kaufman was probably feeding from at the time.

If Kaufman were alive today it would be fodder for a podcast or comedy-reality show like Nathan For You. But since he recorded this stuff apparently without any intention of releasing it, it’s more like a collection of maniacal private jokes made public, and more evidence that what was funny to him might also be funny to others who like their comedy absurd and relentless.

Even if it’s not Kaufman’s great lost stand-up set, it’s got enough of his lunacy, darkness and utter randomness to sit alongside his best-known video material. And who knows? If this sells well enough we might get another volume. Or twelve.

Purchase on Amazon.com

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