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Talks With Andy Kaufman

by Julie Hecht

Pub Date: April 17th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50457-5
Publisher: Random House

An amusing enough trifle for those who believe we really need another book about Andy Kaufman.

The year was 1978, or maybe 1979. Although she didn’t consider herself a journalist, let alone a celebrity profiler, short-story writer Hecht (Do the Windows Open?, 1997) was asked by an editor at Harper’s to do a piece on comedian Kaufman, who was all the rage at the time. Instead of a magazine-sized article, she ended up with a 150-page narrative (published here for the first time) detailing her yearlong attempt to get the man to sit down and do an “official” interview. Along the way, she endured elaborate jokes and pranks orchestrated by Kaufman (abetted by his ever-present sidekick Bob Zmuda), got into absurd arguments with him, ate meals with his family on Long Island, had long talks with his mother, listened to him obsess over sex and food, goaded him to take better care of himself, observed him prevaricate his way through interviews with other magazine writers, and eventually became one of Kaufman’s friends . . . sort of. The official interview—a two-hour Q&A over mediocre vegetarian food at Soho’s famous Spring Street Natural restaurant—didn’t actually happen until Hecht had been chasing Kaufman for a year. But by this time, the journey itself had become the destination, and Hecht had already learned about as much as she was going to from this consistently enigmatic prankster and absurdist. Written mostly in dialogue (peppered with funny and often trenchant asides from Hecht), the book paints a very specific portrait of Kaufman—a performer who treated his audience alternately with generosity or contempt—while leaving intact some essential mysteries about his personality and character. Just when Kaufman seems to have revealed some basic truth about himself—for example, the late admission that all he ever wanted to be in life was a “children’s entertainer”—he says or does something to contradict himself. The question posed by the title is, mercifully, left unanswered by Hecht, who quietly reveals herself as the perfect foil to Kaufman’s antics: centered, skeptical, opinionated, but not without humor or compassion.

Kaufman’s fans will enjoy it, but so will Hecht’s.