More than just pushing the boundaries between performance and real life, Andy Kaufman never truly acknowledged the divisions between them. The trickster performance artist popularly known for stints on SNL and Taxi has become an increasing influence among comics — and a legend among comedy fans — since his death from lung cancer in 1984. His most admired work involves testing his audience’s limits, for better or for worse; this ranged anywhere from taking his entire Carnegie Hall audience out for milk and cookies to literally wrestling women while denigrating their entire sex. So it’s no surprise that Jim Carrey, who invoked the impish spirit of Kaufman in order to play him in Milos Forman’s 1999 biopic Man in the Moon, got lost in the part and nearly broke the production in half.
At that time, Carrey’s process was documented by Kaufman’s former girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, and Kaufman’s former writing partner, Bob Zmuda. Though the studio was not keen to release footage in 1999, the new Netflix doc Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton unlocks the vaults, putting Carrey’s backstage shenanigans on full view. Director Chris Smith, who had profiled other curious creatives in documentaries like American Movie and The Yes Men, intercuts the tape from 1999 with interviews with an older, wiser, mellowed, present-day Carrey. Though Kaufman fans will be disappointed not to learn much about their idol, the documentary is a fascinating look at the way Carrey willfully pushed himself out of his comfortable seat as the famous comedian who made Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. Here are the ten big revelations we gleaned from the film.
(It should be noted that Carrey is the only actor interviewed in 2017, so all quotes come directly from his mouth unless otherwise noted.)
Jim Carrey contacted Andy Kaufman telepathically early in the moviemaking process.
Once Carrey got the news he’d be playing Kaufman in Man on the Moon, he was on the beach wondering where Andy would be. (Carrey never mentions the wildest bit of Kaufman lore, promoted by longtime Kaufman collaborator Bob Zmuda, that Kaufman is alive and in hiding somewhere in New Mexico.) While musing that his idol would be trying to communicate telepathically, Carrey saw a school of dolphins surface in the distance. “It was completely absurd,” says Carrey. “But somehow, it worked.” In the days that followed, Carrey says he felt Kaufman tap him on the shoulder and say, “Sit down. I’ll be doing my movie.”
Milos Forman had to “prostrate” himself before Tony Clifton.
When Carrey let the spirit of Tony Clifton (one of Kaufman’s characters) rule his behavior, he passed out (possibly) drunk on couches, crashed Steven Spielberg’s offices, took over the Playboy Mansion, brought a bunch of Hell’s Angels to the set, cowed friends and foes alike, and demanded that his ego be stroked. The last directive also had to be followed by Forman, the Oscar-winning director of Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who reportedly called Carrey two weeks into shooting to say, “I have never been intimidated by another man, and I am intimidated by Tony Clifton.”
Carrey’s antics inspired a “crazy melodrama everywhere” on set.
Because Kaufman was a master of blurring lines between art and reality, it follows that a production discombobulated by its star’s behavior could become unmoored. According to Carrey, the Kaufman family (including Andy’s brother, Michael, and sister, Carol) “embraced me as Andy, as if I was family, as if I was back.” Meanwhile, the actors began losing their bearings, too. In one scene, the actor who played Kaufman’s dad, Gerry Becker, had a very real father-son argument with Carrey while the latter was getting into makeup. The interaction left one of the makeup ladies in tears, confessing that Becker’s language reminded her of something her own father might have said. Of this phenomenon, Carrey says, “No one really knew what was real or not real half the time.”
Universal initially withheld the backstage footage for fear that Carrey would “look like an asshole.”
The behind-the-scenes tape of Jim & Andy was initially commissioned by the studio as an electronic press kit. Carrey suggested Lynne Margulies and Bob Zmuda be in charge of the project, and the higher-ups agreed. After the footage of Carrey’s aggressively puckish behavior began to surface, the studio was not impressed. While quoting some of Universal’s derision to Zmuda on set, Carrey said, “I don’t care if Jim Carrey wants to jack off all day. It’s our movie. It’s our set. It’s our concept.” And yes, Carrey remembers hearing they did not want him to look like an “asshole.”
Relatively speaking, Courtney Love comes across like a mannered, well-adjusted performer.
Given Love’s long history of impulsive behavior in and out of the public eye, one would be tempted to think her presence would be enough to light the gasoline pooling beneath the production. Sure, Love — who played Kaufman’s aforementioned girlfriend Margulies — frolics in her underwear with Carrey as a sort of on-set initiation. But in relation to the madness Carrey emanates, she comes across like another of Carrey’s fans and a positively normal person.
Kaufman’s “Thank you veddy much” is Carrey’s “Alrighty, then!”
Kaufman’s wrestling bouts, Carrey posits, were a reflection of his disdain for standard joke structures and crowd-pleasing in general. Carrey goes so far as to say that being a slave to catchphrases and fans’ expectations can “chew you up.” Director Chris Smith, in one of his savviest moves, plays a stock interview of a young, up-and-coming Carrey wondering what it would be like to be so famous that “getting away with … anything he wants to” is impossible. Though this early clip feels like a starry-eyed actor dreaming of his future, its final moments betray Carrey’s deep doubts about the cost of fame. When the film returns to the set of Man in the Moon, it feels even more like Carrey’s Kaufman-esque behavior is an escape from that prison of fans’ expectations.
The compromises of Carrey’s own father’s life pushed Jim to pursue comedy.
When asked about his dad, Percy, who passed away in 1994, Carrey talks about Percy’s talent as a saxophone player — though Percy never emigrated from Toronto to see if he was good enough to make a living at it. Instead, Carrey’s father became an accountant to support his family and, at the age of 51, lost his job anyway. The Carrey family became homeless for a time, and the bitterness never left Percy. “When you compromise and fail,” says Carrey of his father, “It hurts even more than failing at what you love.”
Kaufman’s long-lost daughter “met” her father for the first time on set.
In a further blurring of the lines between real life and make-believe, Kaufman’s daughter — who was put up for adoption when Kaufman was a teenager and never knew her father — asked to meet “Andy” on set. Carrey says that she and “Andy” spent an hour in a trailer together “telling each other that they love each other, exploring the reason why it happened like it happened, and where he is now.” There isn’t any footage of this meeting — and, no, that’s not Kaufman’s real daughter on TMZ insisting her dad is alive.
Pro wrestler Jerry Lawler attacked Carrey on set.
In real life, Andy Kaufman and pro wrestler Jerry Lawler were friends. They planned exhibitions and appearances together, including their famous encounter on Late Night With David Letterman. But on set, the puckish Carrey took to taunting Lawler, and violence seemed imminent on more than one occasion. Things really came to a head when Carrey scorned the idea of using stunt doubles for a wrestling scene, and antagonized Lawler by accusing him of “being an establishment player who’s afraid of insurance companies, afraid to do something outrageous, afraid to be an artist.” (In his defense, Carrey says, “At that point, I was not me… I was making choices based on what Andy does.”) Lawler attacks, Carrey goes to the hospital and, to Carrey’s glee, the whole affair makes the news.
Carrey might come out of limbo to play Jesus.
Anyone wondering where Carrey has been in the past decade or so might listen to his spacey, spiritual 25-minute commencement speech for Maharishi University of Management or read about the suicide of his former girlfriend, Cathriona White. There’s a heavy sadness to his current incarnation, but he seems to be a spiritual seeker these days. (“I used to be a guy who was experiencing the world,” he told Jimmy Kimmel in May. “And now I feel like the world and the universe experiencing a guy.”) Organized religion gets mentioned more than once in Jim & Andy and near the end of the film, Carrey says, “I wonder what would happen if I just decided to be Jesus?” Say what you will about messianic delusions, Carrey has the beard for it.