An Interview with Chip Chipperson by Jennifer Carmody (from the Carmody Central Podcast), April 15, 2014

Aside from Doug Stanhope, there’s no living comedian that’s more painfully honest than Jim Norton.  To say Norton is an open book is an understatement.  He frequently discusses his sex addiction, his numerous encounters with prostitutes, etc. without batting an eye.  And doesn’t care what you think … at all.  In fact, one of his stand-up specials was called “Please Be Offended” and one of his books was titled “I Hate Your Guts.”  Many people are put-off by Norton’s willingness to delve into the darkest parts of his life so openly, but I find him extremely funny and refreshing.  I don’t always agree with him politically, but I appreciate his honesty and his disdain for anyone who isn’t equally as forthright about their dark side.  In a world where pious and sanctimonious bulls–t is increasingly praised, we need more artists like Norton.

Having said all this, my favorite part of Norton’s comedy is his pathetic, creepy, deluded, and brain-damaged alter-ego Chip Chipperson.  Chipperson is a masterpiece of anti-comedy, the equal of anything Andy Kaufman or Sacha Baron Cohen has ever done, if not any character Phil Hendrie has conceived.  But many people, including some Norton fans, HATE Chip.  And I can’t blame them.  Seriously, Chip is THAT f–king annoying and repulsive.  But to appreciate Chip is to love him.  Jennifer Carmody interviewed Chip for her podcast and for Chip fans, this is pure, undiluted Chip at his finest … or worst … I realize it’s hard to tell the difference.

If you’re even remotely sensitive, please don’t listen to this.  The language is beyond not safe for work.  The first 2/3 of this are gold.  However, in the last 1/3, Norton goes into some of his other disturbing alter-egos and while funny, is uneven and isn’t quite as good as the first 2/3.  But if you’re a fan of anti-comedy, strap in.

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Andy Kaufman v Jerry Lawler

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A compilation of various clips and footage detailing comedian Andy Kaufman’s feud with championship wrestler Jerry Lawler from the early 1980s. If you’re a fan of the Andy Kaufman wrestling documentary “I’m From Hollywood,” this is like seeing the box set of this documentary with the complete clips present. This is not a documentary, but if you enjoy Andy Kaufman and/or professional wrestling, this is a lot of fun.

Interview with Bob Zmuda by Marc Maron

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This is a lengthy, riveting, and extremely funny interview with Bob Zmuda, late comedian Andy Kaufman’s partner-in-crime that Marc Maron conducted back in 2012 on his “WTF with Marc Maron Podcast.” The interview is over 2 hours long, but if you’re an Andy Kaufman fan, this is a must-listen. While a lot of this is probably bulls–t to a certain degree (some parts are not consistent with the account Zmuda gave in his 1999 book “Andy Kaufman Revealed”), trust me when I say that this is some goooood bulls–t! I guarantee you won’t be bored. The interview starts 6:27 into the presentation.

“The Top” (1984) with Andy Kaufman, Dan Aykroyd, Rodney Dangerfield, etc.

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If this seems like a really bad attempt at avant-garde humor/entertainment, you’d be correct. Why am I posting it here? Because it’s an extremely rare debacle that involved a lot of famous people doing a favor for someone named David Jove. Jove was the producer of the infamous (and truly great) early 1980s hardcore punk cable TV show “New Wave Theater.” When that show’s host Peter Ivers was murdered in 1983, some of Ivers’ friends tried to help Jove get a new show started.

“The Top” is similar to “New Wave Theater” in tone, but with a lot more money thrown at it and a lot less balls and heart. Originally Chevy Chase was hired to host, but when he got stuck in the middle of a spontaneous slam-dancing session which he had no knowledge of, he fled the studio and the producers hired Andy Kaufman instead. This was Kaufman’s last live appearance and sadly, it’s not particularly good. Still, it’s a good example of what sometimes happens when the avant-garde tries to go mainstream.

Andy Kaufman on “The Dating Game”

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I’m not quite sure when this aired, but professional comedians were often hired as ringers for the infamous daytime game show of the 1960s / 1970s “The Dating Game.” Here Kaufman does a version of Latka as a contestant who seems clearly puzzled by what’s expected of him. Very funny stuff. Especially the bachelorette who seems like a parody of a 1970s porn star, even though that may not be her intent.

Bob Zmuda on Norman Wexler (from Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast)

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Andy Kaufman’s best friend and co-conspirator Bob Zmuda had plenty of great stories when he sat down with Marc Maron for his WTF podcast. But arguably the best story Zmuda told was about the three weeks he worked for legendary screenwriter Norman Wexler (“Joe,” “Serpico,” “Saturday Night Fever”) in the early 1970s. Kaufman apparently got a lot of ideas (especially for his obnoxious Tony Clifton character) based on Zmuda’s tales of working for Wexler.  Zmuda reveals how Wexler really got his knack for writing intense, gritty dialogue.  Hilarious, jaw-dropping stuff, especially the tale about Wexler and Zmuda terrorizing a bakery.  This incident sounds like it was lifted from a Lars Von Trier film starring Sacha Baron Cohen, but it really happened, according to Zmuda. Not safe for work. If you like what you hear, you really need to read Zmuda’s terrific 1999 book “Andy Kaufman Revealed” which delivers more Wexler tales, as well as tales about Kaufman.

Vic Ferrari … Man of Action!

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One of my favorite TV characters was Andy Kaufman’s sweet, but clumsy Eastern European garage mechanic Latka Gavras on the the terrific late 1970s/early 1980s situation comedy “Taxi.” One of my favorite arcs on the show was when Latka, frustrated with his lack of success with women, started reading Playboy magazine. Latka not only buys the Playboy philosophy hook, line, and sinker, but transforms completely into the smug, hip 1970s ladies man Vic Ferrari.

This clip is not the best quality but it’s still watchable.

“Saturday Night Fever” (1977) dir. John Badham, scr. Norman Wexler

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Being a cultural phenomenon can be a good thing for the initial success of any film. Some of these iconic films not only maintain their popularity throughout the years, but their status as classics only strengthens. Examples of this phenomenon: “Casablanca,” “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” and “Pulp Fiction.”

However, some films are so of their time, that they don’t hold up as well and are often dismissed in later years as flukes. “Saturday Night Fever” is probably the best example of a film that was phenomenally successful (with both audiences and critics) during its initial release, but which subsequently became a pop culture joke due to the fading popularity of disco.  While the reputation of “Fever” has improved slightly over the years (most noticeably after lead actor John Travolta became hip again from his role in “Pulp Fiction”), most people look at it as a campy reminder of the 1970s at their tackiest.   Yes, there are a lot of scenes that seem unintentionally funny these days (Travolta’s character Tony primping in front of the mirror).  Yes, those 1970s fashions are painfully ugly.  And yes, the film has a wall-to-wall disco soundtrack, so if you despise disco, this film will likely be pure torture to watch.  But while I would never call “Fever” a great film, it’s a damn good one.

While most people remember the dancing, the music, and the bad fashions, most people don’t ever talk about how dark “Fever” actually is. “Fever” is an extremely gritty and grim 1970s NYC urban masterpiece that belongs in that celebrated genre of films that also includes “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Warriors,” and “Death Wish.”   The language is pretty crude and by today’s standards, very politically incorrect.  Many of the male characters in the film are fairly misogynistic.  There’s also the extremely dark fact that Tony not only attempts to rape his dance companion at one point, but that he doesn’t stop the gang rape of a young woman who is in love with him when it’s happening in the backseat of the car he’s driving.  (He thoughtfully calls her the c-word after it’s over and she’s crying hysterically).  I’m not criticizing the film for any of this, by the way.  These ugly scenes not only illustrate how complex “Fever” actually is, but that there’s no way the film would ever be released, let alone shot, as scripted if made these days.  Nowadays, Tony would have to have a “redemptive arc” of some kind or be punished in some way for what he does or doesn’t do.  The ugly scenes in “Fever” are so powerful, it makes me a little pissed that the film isn’t better than it actually is.  But what’s there isn’t bad at all.  When I watched it again recently, the film that it most reminded me of is Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

The scene I’ve included here is not from any of the famed dance sequences, but the scene where Tony and his friends enact revenge on a gang they believe hurt their friend.  It’s a pretty well-staged and intense fight scene.

The unsung hero of “Fever” is the screenwriter Norman Wexler.  In addition to “Fever,” Wexler was the author of many gritty 1970s films including “Joe” and “Serpico” (both films yielded him Oscar nominations).  However, the secret to Wexler’s genius was revealed in Bob Zmuda’s book about Andy Kaufman “Andy Kaufman Revealed!”  Before Zmuda became Kaufman’s partner-in-crime, he worked for Wexler as his assistant.  However, Zmuda called Wexler “Mr. X” in the book because Wexler was still alive when the book was written… and Zmuda still lived in grave fear of Wexler.  (He confirmed “Mr. X” was Wexler long after Wexler passed away).  Zmuda’s accounts of “Mr. X” are some of the funniest and most dangerous tales of urban performance art you’ll ever read.  “Mr. X” later inspired Kaufman’s brand of confrontational performance art, but compared to “Mr. X,” Kaufman comes off as cuddly as Wayne Brady.