If you already know about the legend of the "late" Andy Kaufman, his comedy partner, Bob Zmuda, and his other comedy foil, Tony Clifton, then I need not explain further.
Let me say this. Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, May 16, Tony Clifton made his first appearance after the death of Kaufman onstage at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, Calif., and that benefit show was the genesis for what would become Zmuda's great all-star comedy nonprofit mission known as Comic Relief. To celebrate this anniversary, Clifton is returning to the same Comedy Store stage on Sunday for the first of four special shows with his band and burlesque dancers (they'll also be performing there May 19-21).
I spoke to him in a no-holds-barred, exclusive exchange that, despite his best efforts, I can assure you will not be seen elsewhere. But first, if you need catching up, here is the 2009 tour promo clip for Tony Clifton's show. Roll it.
OK. Ready? Cue Tony Clifton! First he explains the reason for his homecoming:
"At the end of 'Man on the Moon,' Kaufman supposedly dies, and then the screen goes to black, they got him in his casket. A little card comes up that says one year later, and then the screen comes alive again, and I'm coming out of a limo and walking into The Comedy Store, and singing 'I Will Survive'…we actually shot this at the real Comedy Store. They show Paul Giamatti sitting in the audience, and you thought it was him."
But no. It was Clifton.
What's this I hear about Jim Carrey performing as one of four people portraying Tony Clifton? "Jim Carrey, who plays Andy in the movie, he has the same birthday as Andy. He was in the room that night in The Comedy Store 26 years ago. And his wife at the time was a waitress at The Comedy Store…he might come in and try to do his Andy Kaufman impression, but he ain't going to do me. You know that movie would have been better if it had been 'Tony on the Moon.'"
Alrighty then. What have you learned since your big concert tour of 2008? "Now the show is even bigger. I got more musicians. I got more hot dancing whores. I got my adopted girl, Keely. I'm teaching her how to grow. I'm teaching her hygiene. I'm teaching her how to keep herself clean down there."
In a rare moment, he also told me how he appreciates my efforts to give comedy its due. "You know now, you want to become President of the United States, you have to go on Letterman, you go on Leno, and still people will not give it to the comedians. But I think that's going to shift. So I think what you got going on is a good thing."
Then he expanded upon his answer to my earlier question. "What I learned was this. When I went out on the road, I didn't know what to expect, I thought there might be old farts who watched me on Saturday Night Live. But 85-90 percent of my audience is probably male, between the ages of 21 and 30. So I was surprised to do that, and kind of shocked. I think a lot of that has to dow with the movie, 'Man on the Moon.' So Jim Carrey has brought a lot of attention to me and Andy Kaufman. And we rock on. We put on a show! We don't just go on and tell stupid jokes."
Which, of course, means stupid jokes are about to come out of his mouth at any and all moments.
"What did the lesbivan vamipire say to the other lesbian vampire? I'll see you next month." He continues. "With all this political correct bullshit. People need to hear…nigger. I was on at The Comedy Store last night. I said nigger nigger nigger. People were shocked. I was in the World War II, greatest generation. I say Jew bastard. I put down the Jews, the gays, I put down the dumb Polacks. How do you know when the Japs move into your neighborhood? All the Mexicans get car insurance." Hey-o. But he's not done.
"What I love about this country, a couple of months ago, remember Rahm Emanual said, 'Oh, that sounds retarded?' And people jumped on him, saying you can't say 'the R word.' Give me a fucking break! A guy walked into my show. And I said oh, I've got a retarded nigger here. People act
as long as you're not kicking him or something like that. That reminds me, What's the difference between a pizza and a black man? A pizza can support and feed a family of four."
Before I can stop him, Clifton explains himself. "Listen. The jokes I say are jokes I hear on the street. I'm a song and dance man. I'm an entertainer. I tell jokes. People come. You come to my show. You forget your troubles for a few hours. As you can see, I have fun, because I entertain myself. I learned this from Kaufman. Fuck the audience. Life is short. Everyone is agonizing about everything we do. Forget the problems. Remember Norman Mailer, the great writer? He said, in the end, the surgeon wins. I guess with all these fucking cable networks, everybody hangs on every political issue. Leave that shit alone. The Tea Party people? Fuck that. It's like a soap opera. It's a waste of time. And sports is a fucking waste of time. Do what I do! You're as young as the person you fuck. My philosophy is, when in doubt, fuck. Have some Jack Daniels. Have sone fun. Andy Kaufman, he didn't drink, he didn't smoke. Three hours of yoga and holistic medicine, he was going to live a long fucking life, and he died at 34. That was a big lesson for me. My grandfather lived to be 94 years old. He drank every day, smoked cigars."
Do you feel like you need to keep up on the new technology trends, too? Turns out, Tony Clifton is on Twitter. "They got me Twittering now. They say I gotta do that. Stay with the people. A promotional thing. I'm talking to you now on my iPhone. I think I may even get the iPad. I got a lot of music I do onstage. Now I think I can put all of that on an iPad. You got to stay on top of that stuff. My fans are much younger, they're teaching me and I'm teaching them. My adopted daughter, Keely, she taught me the benefits of grass, and I taught her the benefits of JD."
What do you think the odds are that Kaufman will show up at your Comedy Store gig? "They said if Andy Kaufman were alive today, what would he be doing? I said probably scratching his nails on the inside of his casket."
What about word that Zmuda put out online ads asking Kaufman to show up? "I think they're just trying to drum sales. I'm not getting paid for this. I'm doing this as community service. Did you know that? I leave the (hotel) door ajar, and I leave the metal thing out…I do remember the floor I'm on but not the room number…so I'm all fucked up, and it's four in the morning. I go in and it's some old broad, 70 years old, of course she's screaming, and security comes. They bring me before the judge, they're going to throw the book at me. But that organization comes up. What's the name?" Comic Relief. "They say give him community service. I don't even know what they're raising money for? They say they're raising money for the homeless."
Clifton does have a better handle on his future, at least. "ICM just signed me. They're all excited. They're going to be putting a tour together. This is going to be my year. I'm going to tell the truth about everything. I'm even going to tell about Danny DeVito. He tried to fuck me over on the movie. You know he's a legal midget in eight states…he tried, he gave me a hard time on the movie. He's a Napoleonic bastard because he's short. Tim Burton captured him best in the Batman movie, as the Penguin, because he's a bastard. He's a midget. I'll call him an urchin. I'll call him a shrimp. Remember on Taxi? They'd make fun of him coming out of his cage. You don't see that on TV anymore! I got to the set one morning. For a whole half a block, this was supposed to be him talking to Andy…for a whole block they built a platform two feet off the ground. It probably cost the union guys $40,000 just to build that thing…he's a little prick, if he shows up I'm going to have a midget toss. I dare him to show up. I dare Danny DeVito to show up."
"The Comedy Store will never see a show like this. We have to have generators out on the street. Everybody in Hollywood is going to be there. Every manager, every agent. Lots of celebrities. I'm looking to present myself, because I have not been in this town in many years. Let these people see what I do — 12-piece-band, the dancers. The band has about 120 songs down. I don't have a set list. I feel it out. They could come Sunday. They could come Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, they'll see a different show. Which is why we had a successful run in Chicago. People have to come back to see it again and again."
"Who knows? Maybe Andy will come in. I think this may be the last time the charity holds something to see. It's been 26 years, if the guy did show up, people wouldn't recognize him. Probably a big pot belly, no hair. Maybe he got a sex change? A big fucking transvestite."
And Clifton is moving forward with his own all-star duets album! "I'm doing an album for Comic Relief. You know how Sinatra did all the deuts with all the famous people? We got REM signed up. We're going to sing 'Man on the Moon.' It's a done deal."
Whether or not Carrey does show up this coming week to play with Clifton, he did have some high praise for Carrey. "He did two shows a night at The Comedy Store for eight fucking years for free. 'Til the Wayans Brothers, they put him on In Living Color. Then Ace Ventura. The one thing I noticed about Jim and Kaufman, the thing that reminded me of Kaufman, most guys come off stage and say, 'How did I do?' They want the report. He had the confidence. Not once did he come offstage and want to know how he did. He knew. I spent a lot of time with him and his family. We partied a lot. He's cleaned up now. But I tell you, you don't want to be drinkng with Jim Carrey. That fucker can kill you. If you got it, you're 10 times funnier in real life than you are in TV or movies."