Andy Kaufman’s first album is an appropriate representation of the man’s work, for better and worse.
Drag City, 2013
6.9 / 10
That the worth of Andy Kaufman’s body of work remains in question almost thirty years after his passing is strangely appropriate. Judge him by the standards set by other stand-up comics and comedic actors and Kaufman’s work can’t be considered up to snuff, but Kaufman preferred to be called anything but a comedian. If anything, he was a performance artist with a soft spot for anti-humor, and that he became a public figure is still baffling given his chosen niche. Had he been around thirty years later, his antics would have been deemed “trolling”.
This makes the prospect of an Andy Kaufman album all the more puzzling, and an explanation of Andy and His Grandmother might do more to turn people off to it than a blind recommendation. This album is a compilation of the best bits from Kaufman’s private collection of recordings, which range from slice of life recordings (“Slice of Life”, “Kick In the Pants”) to experimental noise (“Sleep Comedy”). Andy and His Grandmother is laid out to limit the distance between Kaufman and the audience, placing similar bits in close proximity and having Bill Hader narrate necessary context, and it is easy to imagine that this is the best configuration of this material. That said, if you aren’t into Kaufman’s brand of entertainment, this will do nothing to change your mind; if anything, this might help you dislike him even more. Kaufman comes across as a performer even in private conversation, and stuff like “Andy Goes to the Movies”, in which Kaufman’s version of an incident with an officer getting mad at him for watching a film’s credits are juxtaposed with audio from the incident (“You don’t talk to me that way until the picture’s over, baby!”), might represent his funniest or his worst material, depending on the audience.
As a historical document, this probably deserves a much higher score—if nothing else, it serves as confirmation that Kaufman was just as out-there as his peers claim he was. As a piece of entertainment, though, I don’t know that I can whole-heartedly recommend Andy and His Grandmother. It isn’t revelatory enough to be mandatory listening, and it isn’t amusing enough in its own right to quite work as a comedy album. Your appreciation of this album will depend on your opinion of Kaufman, and if you aren’t familiar with Andy Kaufman, this album doesn’t serve as a good introduction to his work.