They need to be free from concern, so I’m gonna be the guy that’s free from concern. I’m gonna appear to be the guy that’s free from concern.
As a study of character goes, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton is as detailed as they come. To watch an actor in the 1990’s, at the height of his fame, take the dream role of his comedy hero and honour his memory by taking method-acting to its logical conclusion, says and shows more about the craft of character-acting than an Inside the Actor’s Studio questionnaire ever could.
It is this notorious, unseen until now, behind-the-scenes footage which provides the majority of the film. Displaying Carrey’s journey as both Kauffman, and Kauffman’s alter-ego Tony Clifton, whilst filming the biopic of the iconic American comedian, Man on the Moon.
What ensues are a series of frantically bizarre events that stem from Carrey’s inability to admit he is not Kauffman, a concept which slowly takes over the whole production. The whole cast and crew patiently, and not without frustration, deal with Carrey’s anarchic assimilation of his comic idol.
Notable mentions include:
- Jim/Andy’s provocations of wrestler Jerry Lawler, which result in a trip to the hospital and multiple news reports and paparazzo;
- Jim/Andy/Tony’s trip to Steven Spielberg’s office to tell him how much he liked “the shark” movie;
- Danny Devito asking Milos Forman “What are we going to do?” after Jim/Andy throws water all over Lawler;
- Jim/Andy dancing in-between takes to a Mariachi band, with a half-naked Courtney Love and his pants down;
- The genuinely heartwarming moments in which Kauffman’s family visit the set and talk to Carrey in character as Andy. Moments which highlight a tender purpose to Carrey’s method, a method which tended towards unprofessional narcissism at its most extreme moments
All of the behind-the-scenes footage would easily make an entertaining venture worthy of a watch, as well as analysis. But what transforms this documentary into an in-depth and unique character study, is the interview with present-day Carrey, who speaks freely, articulately, and with 20 years hindsight.
The film opens with him describing finding out he got the part, whilst looking into the ocean. He imagined what Andy would be doing, how he would approach it, what he would be thinking. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder:
That’s the moment Andy Kauffman showed up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said “Sit down, I’ll be doing my movie!”. What happened afterwards was out of my control.
Along with other things, Carrey describes his affinity with the man, how his love for Kauffman came from the shared childhood experience of not being “part of the crowd”. He empathised with his Kauffman’s outsider reputation, and admired his ability to make people laugh. By doing shows for himself in his room as a kid, he honed an ability for comedy that helped him fit into a society, and family, that didn’t wholly understand him.
Carrey saw a part of himself in Kauffman. As he says in the film, it was this shared desire to express oneself creatively, and differ from the crowd, that drove his love for the craft of acting:
So much of this came from feeling disenfranchised. It depends on how much you kind of resent that feeling of being an outsider… and feeling like you’re not accepted, not only like, in society, but in some parts of your own family, and how you just want to get some attention. And I think that’s what that is “How am I gonna get your attention?”
This shared achievement of attention and love gained through making people laugh, is the link that Carrey has with his hero, and it is what drives him both professionally and personally to follow in his footsteps.
As an influence comedically, the comparisons are clear: funny voices, crazy energy, the physicality of expression; but the most important lesson that Carrey takes from Kauffman, is the idea of not giving a shit.
It is what he saw of him as a child, that dawned the realisation that Carrey himself could make it.
I remember watching Andy on the Dick Van Dyke show… and the Carson show, doing the Foreign Man… I wasn’t even a comedian yet, I was a comedian in my own house, and I thought, WOW, this is different. This doesn’t care what everything else is.
“This doesn’t care what everything else is”, is a mantra Carrey took into his own work, a fact which he details in the film, recounting how he woke up one night and realised that the people wanted to be free from concern, so he would be the man that was free from concern. Like Kauffman, he wouldn’t care and they would love it.
The very next night I went to the Comedy Store, and the first thing I did was say, “Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen. How are you this evening? Alrighty then.” And it killed. Slaughtered. Suddenly they just roared, because they knew I didn’t care.
Andy influenced Jim’s career with his lack of care for how people reacted, and how he just did what he wanted, how he wanted to do it and when he wanted to do it.
This certainly shows in Jim’s portrayal of Kauffman, as for the entire production he just did what Jim/Andy/Tony would’ve wanted to do. Anarchy. Total anarchy. Not being part of the club, or rising to expectations. Just simply, not giving a fuck about what people expected, and just doing what he/they wanted to do.
But what do you do after you’ve become your hero? What happens when that ends? Carrey had to become himself again, he went into a depression as he re-evaluated who he was, and how he felt about things. He had gone so deep into Andy’s being, that he had forgotten all he knew before.
His search and longing for stardom had all gone. The man who had written a 10-million dollar cheque to himself for acting services rendered, had vanished. His ambition and unhappiness with fame had faded.
But Andy stayed with him until the present day…
I’m fine just floating through space like Andy. Y’know, just flying 6000 miles an hour around the sun. Balancing on tectonic plates that are floating on lava. Ready for the end times to occur and whatever the hell is gonna happen. I’m just great. That’s all great.
What he didn’t forget, was what Andy represented, the simple art of not giving a fuck.
PS. Carrey does really regret not playing Andy Kauffman in this video.