Anyone familiar with the late comedian and provocateur Andy Kaufman should view a “comedy album” released nearly 30 years after his death with suspicion, for a few reasons. Over the course of a career cut short by cancer at 35, Kaufman made clear he drew his greatest joy from screwing with people. So anything he did would certainly not resemble a traditional comedy album, especially one assembled by Vernon Chatman of Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel and edited by Room 237 director Rodney Ascher. That it took 30 years to bring Andy And His Grandmother into existence also seems suspicious, considering the biopic The Man On The Moon briefly returned him to the zeitgeist 14 years ago. What took so long?
The answer lies in the source material: 82 hours of micro-cassette recordings, which Kaufman made in the late ’70s. When Kaufman died in 1984, girlfriend Lynne Margulies wasn’t sure what to do with the tapes. She was eventually put in touch with Chatman, who culled them down to 47 minutes and 17 tracks with the assistance of editor Ascher.
From 1977 to 1979, Kaufman was apparently inseparable from his recorder, which he viewed as a new performance tool. He’d record everything from conversations with his grandparents to chats with women he was dating to pranks he was pulling, though just about everything qualified as a prank in the world of Andy Kaufman. (“All you wanna do is record these things so you can make yourself puffed up and feel good,” says a woman on “Andy Loves His Tape Recorder,” a compilation track of various people telling him to stop recording.)
During one of the few more straightforward tracks on the album, Kaufman records a drive with his grandmother, whom he has convinced that his car operates independently by radar. Hands off the wheel, he accelerates as his grandmother grows more alarmed. In another, Kaufman—sounding Tony Clifton-esque—and cohort Bob Zmuda antagonize their cab driver in Hollywood to the point that the guy threatens them repeatedly.
Those types of pranks constitute only a small portion of the album, which is loosely connected by recordings Kaufman made with an unidentified woman. Track five, “Slice Of Life,” is ostensibly recorded after they have sex for the first time. The conversation continues a few tracks later with “I’m Not Capable Of Having A Relationship,” where Kaufman explains that he’s not boyfriend material. Phone arguments erupt on tracks 13 and 14—and bring in a second woman for some love-triangle drama—before it ends in a screaming match on the album’s final track, where the woman demands the tapes.
A conversation between Kaufman and Zmuda follows the argument, where Kaufman marvels that the album he plans to assemble from the tapes could be a “masterpiece.” “The concept would be its funny because it’s real, but it would be dramatic at the same time,” he says.
Who knows what Kaufman intended for the album, because he stopped using the micro-recorder in 1979. As such, Andy And His Grandmother is more curio than masterpiece, an interesting bit of unheard material for comedy nerds and conspiracy theorists. Kaufman and Zmuda discuss faking his death “when I’m more famous” at the end of the album, then joke about how he would come back after each hoax. “Then, when you really die, nobody will believe it,” Zmuda says. “So they won’t believe your own death. You’ll be immortal, go on forever.” Considering 81 hours of tape remains, posthumous Kaufman releases could go on for a very long time—and that’d be Kaufman’s best prank yet.