Saturday, August 12, 2006

Seth Schultz, A telephone interview with J. Brook on 12/5/01


January 23, 2002

Seth Schultz is the director of The Real Andy Kaufman, a documentary capturing a performance by Andy Kaufman at a Catskills resort in late 1979. The performance itself is highly entertaining and includes Andy's hilarious version of the song "My Way" and ernest offerings from various members of Andy Kaufman's very own family! The film is also sprinkled with candid remembrances of other comedians that worked with Andy Kaufman. And if that weren't enough, the Real Andy Kaufman ends with a rare, unguarded interview with the real Andy Kaufman.

What is your affiliation with Andy?

I first heard about Andy in '74 or '75. My dad ran a comedy club called Pips and, because of the club being there as sort of a historic landmark in Brooklyn and knowing I was the son of the owner, my high school buddies would tell me who was in the air in stand-up comedy, what was new and funny. And friends of mine at school told me they had seen a guy...I'm not sure what show Andy had done...maybe the Dean Martin summer replacements. Or whatever one of the first airings was. He had done Mighty Mouse, and a day or two later, my father had gotten wind of it and told me that this guy named Andy Kaufman booked next week. And I told my father that all the kids at school were buzzing about him saying it was magic. So, Andy finally walked into Pips, his first weekend booking. I hadn't seen him, and I know right away that this was almost a visitor from another planet, his walk and his posture, almost like a Venusian. This man is definitely from Venus walking around as an earthling. So, I immediately introduced myself...I was 16 1/2 and chubby...and Andy was a very accepting guy and sweet. So, I started helping him with the props from the car into Pips.

Just like Bob Zmuda got to do?

Yeah, well, you saw Andy, and you wanted to sort of be like the Man of La Mancha's Sancho? The one who would help him with his horse and his pack. In a way it was like serving a lord when you saw him. It was great.

Well, what I meant was that Andy met Bob Zmuda in character. The story was that Andy got him to help him load stage props into his car while playing Foreign Man, and then, as Andy drove away, he broke character saying "Sucker!!" or something like that. On first meeting, Andy was playing it up in character to Bob, and I wonder if he did the same thing to you?

Well, Andy was just a very gentle Long Island guy. But then I remember, once he was set up, he was fascinated that Pips had a hot fudge sundae machine at the ice cream counter. They served espresso and all these types of desserts, and he just loved sugar. And immediately, that first night he came off he said [innocent kid Andy voice], "Could I try a hot fudge sundae, please?" Like a little boy at a counter. I just couldn't believe there was like this six foot three adult, and he had more of the vibration of a four year old that I use to play with. Like a little prince. And then, when he finally did Mighty Mouse and the full act, my father exploded into tears. I never saw my father laugh so hard. And my father had come up with comedians. My father, George Schultz, was a comic in the 40s. He had done stand-up with Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield, Buddy Hackett, Alan King. He was a very tough audience for any comic, because he was a comedic consultant and a comic himself. And for him to scream at Andy's Mighty Mouse and everything else he did, penetrated me even more that this was a rare, special soul, and one of the rarest to ever come through the doors of Pips. Pips had already been open 13 years. It had booked the likes of Rodney and Joan Rivers, and so many talented performers. And so each weekend that Andy was there, I started just bonding more and more and wanting to go along. At Pips, he also let me be one of his stooges in the show. And it was great, because I had this chubby little 16 year old face. So, one day I had to bring water up to him, and he rehearsed me off stage [soft-spoken Andy voice]"Now, Seth, when you bring the water up, I'm going to dump it on your head." Like a great director, he'd set up the role play, and then I would come out on cue, bring him the water, and the crowd would just give a....trememdous hussshhh. I stayed in character. I almost had tears in my eyes, but it was just incredible. This girl, Liz Wolenski, a friend of Andy's and also in The Real Andy Kaufman, said that Andy had the power of dialing the emotional dial...he had his hands on it. He could [manipulate the audience to] go from laughter to anger at will. And so, those little setups that he would do, from bunny hopping out of the club with 25 people behind him to the amazing Elvis and the crying and then into the bongo routine was just mind blowing.

So, he knew exactly what he was doing the whole time? He was not a "nutty person"?

That's what I was saying, I thought he was from another planet. He was able to monitor everything going on...and then beyond that. And carry it all in his head...perfect cue me, a perfect actor. Such full commitment that people would lean over and go "Is he serious? What's wrong with him? I can't believe it." Such drama that to take it all seriously shows a rather low IQ when people say "How could he wrestle women"? Well, you fools, this is a five year old, playful child kidding around. It was all setups. It was always setups. From the Fridays appearance when Larry David used to be on Fridays, when he caused that commotion, all set up. With [Andy] and Michael Richards. Everything . Including the other flipouts he did. The full commitment of wearing a neck brace for months. Car accident victims don't wear a neck brace for months!! But to leave the house everyday and wear the brace. To me, he was every comedic actor I ever a Jack Lemmon, a Peter Sellers. And the round-eyed innocence of those big blue eyes were absolutely hypnotizing. Anyone who had a heart was just hypnotized by him.

So, you couldn't hurt him....

There was no soul I had ever been in the presence of who was that much a joyful child. And he loved and adored people every moment.

I wonder what would have become of him over time.

A greater and greater actor and more complexities in films where he would have full creative control.

Do you think his behavior would have changed? Do you think he would have grown up in a way? Becoming less innocent?

There's always a chance of that, but Andy came from such a loving, loving family...if you ever met his brother Michael, his sister Carol, his mom or his father, every relative, the same...just blazing, loving, smiling, healthy, from such a straight loving family. It's amazing that such a magical comedic prince came out of it. But his hunger to just perform was so powerful. It truly was. As I said in The Real Andy Kaufman, you really had to be in the room with him to feel his magical vibration. Because, when you see tapes, films, their just electronic impulses or don't carry the vibration. And that was his major power. I mean, when you were in the room with him, it was like a hypnotist. You could not help getting sucked into that innocent perfect posture, uncomfortableness that he would show, that wonderfully acted nervous performer. He loved playing the talentless guy, that's what he loved doing.

The doofus guy...

That's why at Kutsher's [Catskills resort where much of The Real Andy Kaufman was shot], he sang "Oklahoma" so out of key, and so out of beat. And jumping up and down, which is the biggest no-no for a singer. You don't jump up and down and ruin your breath control. He did everything he could to destroy the song, and yet, people adored that they were screaming at it. But he didn't screw around when it came to Elvis. With Elvis, it was like a recording, a movie of Elvis. Full commitment.

How was it decided that you would get to film this performance? How did it happen?

Well from meeting him back in '74 or '75, I'd been with him countless times. Plus, going to the Improv, going to Coney Island late at night to ride the rollercoaster, he knew I loved him, and he knew that at 20 years old, we had that understanding. He just knew that I was adoring every moment of what he did. Plus, he knew I was the son of a hipster and had seen it all, so he always got a kick out of my face, growing wide-eyed each time he did something. I had a little bit of savings, and I had taken a film production course at this new school. I just wanted to run some sort of a documentary on the guys who were around me at the time. There was a young Jerry Seinfeld, he had started at Pips basically for his first paid gigs, and Andy was there. It was a funny thing...I rolled the most film on Andy. ...

[Interrupted for another call....]

I wanted to make a documentary of my dad, a big club owner, but it was really more about Pips than my father in the beginning. I just rolled these four magazines of film on Andy that night, like 44 minutes. The most film I had for anyone else was like 5 or 8 minutes of footage. I just knew that no one else was shooting him, and when I called, he said why don't you come up, I'm going to be performing at the Catskills...and it just happened. And we were there shooting and then we went backstage...and that's where the real gem came, because Andy knew I was just a student. And when you're rolling on the guy [and Andy] knows your not shooting for any specific station, you're just rolling for the sake of rolling. He was so relaxed when I was doing a playful interview with him that I think it was really the only time on earth when someone really caught him off guard as Andy Kaufman from the Kaufman family...not Andy Kaufman, the comedian.

Well, you would know that because you saw him off were friends with him. So you would know better when he was goofing and when he was...

Oh, sure...from eating out at the diner after Pips was over or going out following him around with his New York clique from the Improv, and then doing something nutty like going to Coney Island, to an amusement park ride for an hour at 2 in the morning. But what he talked about in that [The Real Andy Kaufman] interview was really his gentleness. That's it exactly. Here's the gentle soul actually speaking. Again, because when a loving friend is shooting you, you're a different guy than when a cold producer from so and so has come in. I was rolling out of love and with my own money, and he knew I wasn't a rich. Basically, it was just a comedy club, family business, very small. Not like the Comedy Store. You know, Pips was always like a 110 seat room. And we were really only busy on the weekends. So, we basically made a living and never got really rich from it.

At that time were there thoughts of releasing this film?

I was going to try to put it on PBS or somewhere. It did end up on Showtime in 1981. Not Andy...just about 7 minutes of Andy within that first documentary on Pips. But then once with the explosion happening with Man on the Moon and other people, I figured, I have the 44 minutes, let's put it all together and really show people this is him. Why rent Jim Carry when you can see the actual dude in all of his beauty! Technically, a lot of the footage is not great, but it was in 16 mm, in focus....there was sound. It was enough to capture.

And you were a young person too...

Yeah, I was about 20. First time I had ever rolled 16 mm camera and sound.

And this was before we had camcorders...

Yeah, no camcorders then.

Can you imagine if we had camcorders then...

Oh, there would have been so much delightful footage of him playing.

And from what I read, he did so many things impromptu that we'll never see.

He always did with his friends. He would perform on the spot. Once you see the documenary, you'll hear some great stories from other people as well, like Liz Wolenski, who spent some good time with him. Liz is a comedian and a writer.

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