Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman
A graphic novel about Andy Kaufman written and drawn by the guy that paid tribute to Andre The Giant using the same form – I’m in!
Brian “Box” Brown is expert with this treatment – takes a historical-but-fringe figure, or event (he’s also told the story of the game of Tetris) – and uses simple-but-effective drawing and writing for a winning combination of visual and text storytelling; breaking down something human and strange into understandable bites. He is expert and knowing the parts of the story to tell.
So for his Kaufman story, since he knows (and references) there’s already been movies and books, the main focus is the wrestling storyline; how Andy’s childhood obsession with television morphed into a form of comedy that made way for his love of wrestling. There he got to hone his impersonation skills, had fun with the real-life (pre-internet) trolling and combined his love all forms of entertaining – from fake-sincerity and planned awkwardness to running on the adrenalin largely supplied by the crowd.
Kaufman is one of the greats in my book. And in Brown’s too. Clearly!
His comedic influence extends to podcasts, pranks, YouTube clips – not merely the stand-up, SNL and sitcoms of so many from his generation; yet he was a part of all of that also. And Brown explains those aspects – Taxi, Saturday Night Live, the early comedy club routines, the development of the “Foreign Man” character, his love of bongos following the chance encounter with the great Babatunde Olatunji.
But special focus is given to his inter-gender wrestling championship years and the unlikely friendship/business relationship between Kaufman and Jerry “The King” Lawler. The ruse that spilled on over into a legendary TV moment with David Letterman. Brown reminds us that wrestling was the perfect medium for Kaufman – the audience caught up in whether it was real or not, the baddest guys getting the biggest audience, that jeers and leers were the same currency as cheers. He also reminds us that Kaufman not only got a kick out of it but got his kicks too, this was a kink for him – part of his eccentric charm was his flat-out weirdness and a big part of that weirdness was in the sexual gratuity he sought from watching women wrestle.
From endlessly repeating one line of a country song to reading an entire novel to an audience, Kaufman was always more performance-art than comedian, and he managed to understand the performance-art aspect of professional wrestling. Brown suggests he was ahead of his time there too. If he’d lived another year or two he might have been part of the Wrestlemania events and Vince McMahon’s ‘rock’n’wrestling connection’. As it was he died of lung cancer in his early 30s, in 1984. The same year that Vince McMahon Sr died, handing the reigns of pro-wrestling over to his megalomaniacal and empire-building son, Vince Jr.
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