Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Andy and His Grandmother"

Writing about comedy can be a drag. To analyze a joke is to demystify it, taking away any suspension of disbelief created by the comedian. Reviewing a routine always ends up feeling awkward or curmudgeonly. But this is why Andy Kaufman is the ideal comedian to ponder and write about. He wants us to ask, "what is going on? Is this funny? Why is this funny? Is this really happening? ...Wha!?" If we don't over-think Andy Kaufman, we did it wrong.

Andy and His Grandmother, the first and only Andy Kaufman album, was condensed into LP length from 82 hours of raw micro-cassette tape by Vernon Chatham. Featuring narration from Bill Hader, the comedy is confusing from start to finish. In other words, it's pure Kaufman.

Highlights include candid conversations with his grandmother as well as his groupies. These recordings sound very real, as in, these aren't skits. But how can we tell? When we hear an escalating phone argument between a couple of Andy's lovers, is anyone acting? If they are, they're pretty great actors. But then the question remains, what's so funny about an argument? If it's real, why does that warrant a track on a comedy album?

Andy Kaufman's philosophy of comedy was meta before there was meta. He's so self-aware of his wolf-crying that he's able to pull pranks without straining his conscience. It's a shame that this will be his only album, because the 'theatre-of-the-mind' aspect of audio suits Andy's style perfectly. If Tim and Eric did a rendition The War of the Worlds, it might go something like Andy and His Grandmother. The most heavily produced track on the album, "Sleep Comedy," actually sounds like a Tim and Eric skit (recorded 30 years before Awesome Show Great Job existed), with weird looped gibberish and encounters with Federico Fellini to boot.

One of the most compelling moments comes when Andy is talking on the phone with his friend about the concept for the album. He records this phone conversation, and they actually talk about how the album will be about fucking with people's heads. Now why would he record that? It's almost like he actually forgot that his recorder was on. It fucks with my head so hard, not only because of the mobius strip of a comedy act but because of what they start talking about after. It turns into a conversation about how the prank could go so far as to faking the death of Andy Kaufman. At this point, I'm listening and actually thinking to myself, "wait... is it a prank? Is Andy going to show up in conjunction with the release of this album?" He actually got me. Andy Kaufman got me. And I loved it. I laughed at myself. Which is probably exactly what he wanted.

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