"I'M BREAKING THROUGH I'M BENDING SPOONS I'M KEEPING FLOWERS IN FULL BLOOM I'M LOOKING FOR ANSWERS FROM THE GREAT BEYOND REM's "The Great Beyond"
Three years ago I watched a documentary called Jim and Andy for the first time.
My jaw dropped several times.
It inspired a lot of thoughts about identity and change.
I immediately sought out articles on acting to try to get closer to the themes explored in the film.
Recently I saw a reference to the anti comedy bit Andy Kaufman did when during the context of a comedy show or routine…
He stands in front of the audience reading The Great Gatsby — from the beginning.
Lets just say the audience is pissed. They are not happy, at all! BUT they are part of the performance now!
Oh yeah, also this sketch happened.
I’m weird so I love most anti comedy and meta jokes anyways.
He also created a persona for a different character, Tony Clifton. He would show up as either Andy or Tony.
Tony was also played by Bob Smuda and other times by Andy… so the potential for fucking around was limitless.
And his ability to push the audience and willingness to be intentionally un-liked — is something juicy we can all learn from.
After not seeing a full transcript of Jim and Andy online years later I decided I would transcribe the most powerful quotes and story lines Jim talked about. A highlight reel of a highlight reel that is the growth and transformation Jim Carrey went through.
In 1999 the movie, Man on the Moon was released. This film explored the life of Andy Kaufman. An eccentric comedian from decades earlier who was way ahead of his time as a performer.
Since most of Andy’s career took place either before I was born or too young to be aware — I wont pretend to be an expert on his life.
I never watched Taxi, the TV show he was on with Danny DeVito (who also stars in the film).
The only reason I had heard of him was from R.E.M.’s song Man on the Moon, which is about Andy.
There is a documentary crew (Andy’s former girlfriend — but thats just the beginning of the surrealness) filming Jim behind the scenes.
As a method actor, Jim stayed in character as Andy (or Tony Clifton) for the entire duration of the production (even the director can’t talk to “Jim” directly). Although in character he would refer to the real Jim occasionally.
As Tony, he would (at times) wear a brown paper bag (with cut out holes so he could “see”) over his head and while drinking bourbon or smoking cigarettes.
In preparing for the role, Jim describes a process he went through to channel Andy’s persona through him. In fact, several actors on set who worked with the real Andy describe how similar Andy and Jim as Andy are.
He also describes an epiphany one night asking the universe what do people in his audience want. In the middle of the night he wakes up, completely alert and gets an answer…
“…They want to be free from concern.”Jim Carrey
He talks about his ability to leave “Jim” and access the fun and goofy persona we’ve seen in many of his characters. He describes this as a Hyde, a good Hyde but a Hyde nonetheless.
“… Jim goes away.”Jim Carrey
Okay… this is starting to get trippy as fuck.
Lets go to the highlights:
The behind the scenes footage stayed in Jim’s property until this documentary was made. When Universal Studios found out about the footage while Man on the Moon was shooting, this is what happened:
“Universal told Jim… they didn’t want footage of the documentary [getting out] because they didn’t want people to think Jim Carrey is an asshole.”
“And those were the exact words that came back to me.”Jim as Andy then cut back to present day Jim
Jim explains being offered the role and mentions this is the first time he formally auditions in years. His first few movies make box office record profits by early 90s standards.
“Only you can audition for yourself”Jim Carrey
In a revealing moment on creativity:
“…Jim had trouble later on and it kinda threw him for a loop and made him angry. And he used that to express himself. In many ways — there was a lot of anger in everything he did. But hes afraid if he gets healthy, he wont have creativity sometimes. And I think sometimes he makes a conscious decision not to be completely together”Jim as Andy outside his trailer (emphasis mine)
On his father giving up life as a Jazz musician in Canada to take a “safe” job as an accountant and on how much pain he lived with in giving up on what made him happy:
“When you compromise and you fail, it really hurts. It hurts even more more than failing at something you love.
There’s really no choice to be made.”Jim Carrey
You heard that… right?
So will you chose more pain or less pain?
We will be tackling creative mindset issues like this together in more detail but it’s beyond our scope for today.
Btw… holy shit right? What an insight!
Who can be THAT honest with themselves?
Fun fact: present day Jim has other insights about creativity:
“…where does this character come from. What is the dirt, that the pearl is built around. The pearl is the personality that you build around yourself — as a protection against that thought.
If they ever find out then I’m worthless.
If they ever find out that I’m not enough… then I’ll be destroyed.”Jim Carrey
Woah… okay I’m listening:
Jim on a conversation with Michel Gondry discussing his upcoming role in Eternal Sunshine:
“When I met Michel Gondry he said: “You’re so beautiful… so broken. I love this. Please don’t get well”
“The movie wasn’t shooting for a year… that’s how fucked up this business is.”Jim Carrey
We are far from the climax though, some of the deepest comments Jim makes are about identity and story. Try this one on for size:
“At some point when you create yourself — to make it. You’re going to either let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are.
Or you’re going to have to kill who you really are.
And fall into your grave grasping onto a character that you never were.”Jim Carrey
Wow! Hes just giving this away? This is life changing.
Have you ever known anyone in life who either completed their journey like that or have spent long periods of time on that trajectory?
My dad was like that.
I was on that path for waaaaaaaaaay too long.
Then he takes it another step further:
“What everybody goes through when they create themselves. You know, to be popular or successful… it’s not just showbusiness, it’s wall street. It’s anywhere. You go to the office and put a monkey suit on and you act a certain way, say certain things. You lie through your teeth at times and you do whatever you need to do to look like a winner.
You know, at some point in your life, you have to go: I don’t care what it looks like. You know, I found the hole in the psyche and I’m going through.
And I’m going to face the abyss of not knowing whether that’s going to be okay with everyone or not.
You know, and at times: just like in the movie (Truman Show), they’re gonna try to drown you in the abyss. They go “No be the other guy, you told us were this guy. You told us you were Andy. You told us you were Tony Clifton.” …You know, no one can live that way forever.”Jim Carrey
“I think sometimes people exist so completely in their character and maybe not know how to get out of it. Or how to take another road… might take another road, might take the ultimate road.
You know, where they have to actually leave the planet to get out.
All we yearn for is our own absence. After all, you know? We yearn for what happens at death…
“Oh. I don’t have to worry about that anymore?”
…I don’t want anything. That’s the craziest thing to say. And especially in a place like America. It’s a crazy thing to say I have no ambition. I really truly don’t…
that’s fascinating to me now, the disappearing.”Jim Carrey
Mic drop much?
Many of these quotes are now taped over my desk.
Jim on what led to his transition from being super ambitious to not being interested in achieving anymore:
“Somewhere in the middle of absolute confusion…
Absolute disappointment and absolute…
the fruition of all of my dreams. And with everything anyone else ever dreamed of…
and being unhappy.”Jim Carrey
While not many of us can relate to that kind of status and fame, we’ve all had those moments.
You know, the ones when we question… everything.
When asked if being Andy changed who he was to become:
“The choices make you and I’m not a big believer in free will”Jim Carrey
We will revisit Free Will later.
Lets see what else we can learn about identity…
Jim on his decision to leave Andy and Tony in the past when approached by R.E.M. to do a music video as Andy near the release of the movie:
“I want to say that I feel bad that I wasn’t in the R.E.M. video (The Great Beyond). At that time, I just didn’t want to be Andy anymore. And they wanted me to be Andy in the video and I just didn’t want to go back once I left Andy.
I tried to figure out what the hell I am again.
I just didn’t what to be Andy anymore”Jim Carrey
Jim on what the song “The Great Beyond” means:
“… I’m sure it means something different to Michael Stipe (R.E.M’s lead singer). To me, Andy was the great beyond.
I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t remember what my politics were, I couldn’t remember what I was about.”Jim Carrey (emphasis mine)
Reflecting on the transition from being Andy / Tony back to being Jim again:
“Suddenly I was so unhappy I realized I was back in my problems. Back in my heartbreak. Suddenly, I thought… because you were free from yourself.
You were taking a break from Jim Carrey. So you stepped through the door not knowing what was on the other side and what’s on the other side is everything.
Jim on being human:
“There’s this feeling of relief from this vehicle travelling through space.
Trying to grasp onto stuff, like fucking countries and religions… I find it all abstract.
Why am I an American? Why am I a Canadian? What is that? What does that mean? Somebody put a line down and said “this is that”. You know… we’re so much more.”Jim Carrey
Just look at how free this man is as an artist. He had the intuition to see these inherited traits socieity percieves as real — and see them for what they really are.
Abstract social concepts. Cookie cutter explanations of something too important to address so arbitrarily.
It reminds me of what Carl Sagan said in Pale Blue Dot…
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”Carl Sagan, PALE BLUE DOT
Or this video that beautifully captures another passage of the same book.
This… is what it means to be a citizen of the cosmos friend.
So what does Jim’s story mean to you?
I’ll be writing about more surreal aspects to the Jim and Andy story soon.
A lot of people would be tempted to write off his insights as crazy.
I think his story shows us a lot of what we need to know about intuition. And what it illustrates most is the kind of bravery possible for all of us.
What would be possible in your life if you could be THAT bold.
What could you create then?
What would it be like to leave the “monkey suit” in your closet before you went out into the world?
I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Tony Clifton. On the last day of shooting, the crew threw a party for Tony Clifton.
Tony Clifton may have been an asshole (hes bitter and angry as a comedic trait) but he was an asshole everyone on set loved…
“I want to thank everybody. I want to thank everybody for this. I just want to say that although I never liked him, Andy Kaufman was a brilliant man. And… And he changed a lot of things and opened a lot of doors for a lot of people in their lives.
And I’m honored… (voice starts breaking) to be a part of this. And we should all thank our lucky stars that Andy Kaufman walked this earth.”Jim Carrey as Tony Clifton
[STANDING OVATION CHEERS FROM THE CROWD — MANY WEARING BROWN PAPER BAGS OVER THEIR HEADS IN TRIBUTE]