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Lost in Cyberspace

Dead Comics Online
1999 by H.B. Koplowitz
It's tough to be a comedian, but not so tough to be a dead comedian, who gets to live fast, die eerily, and leave a nice biopic. Take Andy Kaufman, please. That Hollywood's hottest living comedian, Jim Carrey, is in line to play its hottest dead one, Andy Kaufman, points up one of those comic ironies: Comedic genius is often measured in inverse proportion to material success -- the more misunderstood, persecuted or prosecuted, the better.

Kaufman is most remembered for playing the inalienable Latka on the 1980s sitcom "Taxi." But he also did one of the first Elvis impersonations, spent too many years as an "intergender wrestler," and lipsynched the theme song to "Mighty Mouse" on the first "Saturday Night Live." Long before there was a Jerry Springer, Kaufman provoked fights on TV shows, including "Fridays" and "David Letterman."

Slapstick comedian Jim Carrey portrays Kaufman in the upcoming "Man on the Moon," which is being directed by Milos Forman, who won an Oscar for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and produced by Danny DeVito, who worked with Kaufman in "Taxi" and Forman in "Cuckoo's Nest." In addition to Carrey as Kaufman, DeVito plays Kaufman's manager, George Shapiro, and Courtney Love plays his love interest, Lynne Margulies. Paul Giamatti plays Kaufman's best friend and writer, Bob Zmuda, while according to the credits, at least, archetypal Las Vegas lounge singer Tony Clifton plays himself.

"Andy Kaufman Home Page" is a clearinghouse of information on all things Kaufman. In addition to news about the movie, you can order copies of "Lost in the Funhouse," biographer Bill Zehme's book on Kaufman, and another book by Kaufman's friend Bob Zmuda titled "Andy Kaufman Revealed -- Best Friend Tells All."
A section of the Web site called "The Kaufman Chronicles" has Kaufmanesque movie buzz such as that Tony Clifton was allegedly snubbed at this year's Emmy Awards, and actress Melanie Vesey, who plays Kaufman's sister in the movie, was accidentally shot in the leg by an off-duty New York City cop.

Kaufman may be the only dead comedian in production, but he's hardly the only one on the Web. The archetypal comedic genius is Lenny Bruce, and one of the better archives of Lenny materials online is at "Lenny Bruce" <member.aol.com/dcspohr/lenny/lenny1.htm>. In addition to sound clips and links to Lenny Bruce books, records and tapes, the site has collected some great essays and thoughts on Bruce by the likes of Ralph J. Gleason, Paul Krassner, Bob Dylan, Mort Sahl, Steve Allen, George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Eric Bogosain and Frank Zappa.

There's also a section on "The Trials of Lenny Bruce" about his arrests for alleged obscenity in his nightclub act that came to obsess him at the end of his truncated life. In 1966, Bruce died at age 42 in his home in the Hollywood Hills, from, as Phil Spector put it, "an overdose of police."

The poster boy for comic overdosing is John Belushi, and the "Ultimate John Belushi Tribute" is at <www.belushi.com>. The site is heavy on toga pictures from "Animal House" and audio and video of Belushi's "SNL" appearances and other movies, especially the "Blues Brothers," and pictures of Belushi's grave at Martha's Vineyard, where he was buried in 1982 at age 33, after a heroin overdose in Hollywood.

Belushi fits into a sub-genre of dead comedians, that being dead fat comedians. Web sites for these include "John Candy's Sound Gallery" <journey.simplenet.com/candy>; "Chris Farley Memorial Page" <www.employees.org/~blevine>; and "Official Sam Kinison Site" <www.samkinison.org>.

Kaufman, Belushi and most of the aforementioned comedians also belong to another sub-genre of dead comedians, which is dead "Saturday Night Live" alums. "The Dead Comedians Society" <www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Studio/2487> has tribute pages to many of them, including Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, and Phil Hartman, shot to death last year by his wife, who then killed herself.

Of course, not all comedians die young, and while some comedic geniuses break the mold, others make them. Take Henny Youngman. The Friar's Club borscht belter died last year at age 91. He was the undisputed King of the One-Liner, and a bunch of his lines are online at "Henny Youngman Jokes." 

Categorized into such subjects as airline jokes, doctor jokes, drunk jokes, Jewish jokes and of course Polish jokes, the dated gags point up another comic irony: Comedy once considered offensive and vulgar is now accepted, while comedy that was once accepted is now considered offensive and vulgar. Take this Henny Youngman joke: "A bomb fell on Italy. It slid off."

Please.

copyright 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.


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