[17 July 2013]
To ensure I hadn’t lost my sense of humour completely, I’ve repeatedly listened to Andy and His Grandmother, an album of comedy from Andy Kaufman, deceased American entertainer, actor and performance artist. I’d been really looking forward to hearing it, because Kaufman’s reputation as a funny man is written in large letters through pop culture and this is, after all, PopMatters. But unfortunately for me, this album falls flat. To make sure I wasn’t depressed or something, I looked Kaufman up on YouTube as a televisual experience (I’m nothing if not dedicated), and in this medium, at the very least, he is an entertaining comedian. Unfortunately, this does not make Andy and His Grandmother a success on its own terms (and there are some great comedy albums, so the format cannot be entirely to blame).
Kaufman died in 1984, and this release features a selection of audio experiments and pranks edited from 82 hours of micro-cassette tapes that Kaufman recorded from 1977 to 1979. It has historic value, in that Kaufman is sadly no longer with us, and in his time, he pushed the boundaries of comedy. His most accessible and well known work was through his character Latka (in U.S. hit comedy Taxi), but this was merely a commercial diversion for him; in stand-up, Kaufman’s comedy was more extreme, and Latka could transform himself into Elvis Presley.
Kaufman seemed to prefer the avant-garde, and 30 years on, this particular material does not seem as original as it must have felt at the time. A lot of it, with 21st century ears, seems mundane; there are “arguments” with a girlfriend which really are quite grating and some of the humour now comes across as outdated. The album does get better as it goes along, perhaps as Kaufman got used to the idea of the new technology, but still much of the content is either the start of an idea or what could be considered unfinished business. Despite this, if you’re a huge Kaufman fan, it’s likely to be of great interest, but potentially it may cause you a wave of depression. Sometimes, if not always, life is just too short.