CHICKENHEAD PAST: BOB ZMUDA
interview by darby o'gill

DURING OUR FIRST YEAR, FROM SEPTEMBER 1999 TO AUGUST 2000, WE WERE KNOWN UNDER THE MONIKER CHICKENHEAD. DURING THAT FIRST YEAR, WE INTERVIEWED A LOT OF PEOPLE. NOT ALL OF THEM WERE GREAT INTERVIEWS. YOU CAN TELL THAT WE WERE JUST STARTING TO FIGURE OUT OUR STYLE. BUT WE'VE PICKED TWELVE INTERVIEWS OUT FROM THAT FIRST YEAR THAT EPITOMIZED WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO. DURING JUNE, JULY, AND AUGUST WE WILL BE PLACING THESE OLD INTERVIEWS ONLINE FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE. THERE WILL BE FOUR NEW INTERVIEWS EACH MONTH. ENJOY THIS BLAST FROM TASTES LIKE CHICKEN'S PAST!

INTERVIEW: BOB ZMUDA

ORIGINAL PRINT DATE: FEBRUARY 2000


BOB ZMUDA HAS BEEN LAUGHED AT ALL HIS LIFE. THEN AGAIN, HE'S ALSO BEEN GETTING PAID FOR IT. ZMUDA MADE A NAME FOR HIMSELF AS A PROFESSIONAL WRITER AND PRANKSTER EXTRAORDINAIRE, CHALLENGING ENTERTAINMENT STANDARDS AND AUDIENCES WITH GOOD FRIEND AND FELLOW PRANKSTER, THE LATE ANDY KAUFMAN. HIS BEST-SELLING NOVEL, ANDY KAUFMAN REVEALED!, HELPED BRING KAUFMAN'S LIFE STORY TO THE SILVER SCREEN IN THE MILOS FORMAN-HELMED TRIBUTE MAN ON THE MOON. SO WHAT COMES NEXT IN THE CAREER OF A MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR SUCH A NOTEWORTHY CHAPTER OF AMERICAN COMEDIC HISTORY? AN INTERVIEW WITH CHICKENHEAD, OF COURSE. MR. ZMUDA GRACIOUSLY SPENT TIME WITH THE VERY WELL-HUNG DARBY O'GILL TO CHAT ABOUT COMIC RELIEF, TONY CLIFTON, AND HIS OWN FUNKY CHICKEN.

Darby: You wrote a great book. I couldn't stop reading it.

Bob: It's the first time I ever wrote anything like that, and I'm quite tickled with the reception.

D: In your book you wrote about the inspiration behind Andy's Tony Clifton character, a person only referred to in the book as "Mr. X". The question on everyone's mind is who was "Mr. X"?

B: That's so funny! No, I can't answer it. But you had to ask. It's everyone's number one question. He was quite something, let me tell ya.

D: That wasn't something you just made up for the book?

B: No, no. That was a real guy. As a matter of fact, my next book might be about him, called Mr. X Revealed! I'm considering doing that next, because that was just the tip of the iceberg.

D: There was a press conference with Jim Carrey for Man On The Moon, where Tony Clifton entered and started yelling at Carrey. Was that you in the Clifton outfit?

B: Yeah. That was me.

D: Was it strange putting on the Clifton outfit after all these years?

B: Well, actually, I've kept up with Tony Clifton over the years. I've done many different appearances as Tony, at charity events and whatnot. I worked closely with Jim on the film, teaching him Tony Clifton. I'll tell you a funny story about that. When Jim started to do Tony for the film, he really threw himself into the role. And it's all true: he really lost his mind. The reason he did that was because he felt he had studied Andy so much, and realized what lengths Andy went to when he was playing Tony. Andy had a car that he kept in his garage and only drove when he was Tony. So Jim looks at this and says, "Ah ha! I see how Andy did it when he played Tony." Jim made the acting choice not only to play Tony, but to also play Andy. We shot for five days. Half the time, he was Andy. The other half, he was Tony. He drove two separate cars, and you could only refer to him as Tony when he was Tony. It was a marvelous way to keep him in character throughout, and that is why his performance was so perfect. He really got into Tony. He just loved it. Jim wanted to take Tony to the street, as opposed to just doing him in the confines of the sound stage.

D: Did he ever?

B: Well, Jim's secretary got an invitation to a party at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion. It's one of these big bash things, you know? Well, Jim didn't care much about going to Hefner's party, but he figured it would be perfect for Tony Clifton. So he called up Hefner and said, "Thank you for the invitation. Here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to come as Tony Clifton, but you have to promise me one thing. You can't tell anyone that it's me underneath Tony Clifton." Hefner promised Jim that he wouldn't tell anyone. So we're at Jim's house getting ready. I checked my phone machine, and there was a message from a friend of mine saying, "Hey, Zmuda. I hear Jim's going to be Tony Clifton at Hef's tonight." Once I told Carrey that, he got pissed. He said, "Fuck Hugh Hefner. I'm not going." Then he said, "Wait a second. Everybody thinks that Tony is really Andy Kaufman. Zmuda, you go as Tony." So I went as Tony Clifton to Hefner's party. Now, Hefner thinks that I'm Jim Carrey. The deal was that Carrey would show up later, and we'd pull one on Hefner. So, Tony is the life of the party. He's hitting on all these dingbats. He's telling them to suck his cock in the jacuzzi at midnight, you know, all this stuff. And these girls are gladly willing to do it, 'cause they think it's Jim Carrey's cock they'll be sucking. Finally, Jim Carrey walks in. Hefner just about had a stroke. He goes up to Jim and says, "Who's doing Tony?" Jim says, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Why is Tony Clifton here?" Hef says, "You talked to me over the phone about it." Jim says, "Mr. Hefner, I never spoke to you on the phone." We played a Kaufmanism on Hefner. He went nuts and had Tony physically removed from the party.

D: Have you ever thought about writing a book or script about the life of Tony?

B: One exists. Andy and I wrote a script for Universal Studios called The Tony Clifton Story. Universal never made it because Andy passed away. Matter of fact, one of the most bizarre things in the world is in that script. You know the controversy of Andy Kaufman faking his death and all that shit, right? Believe me, I was the first to admit that Andy was dead. But this is weird. On page 112 of that script, Andy himself wrote that Tony Clifton dies of lung cancer at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Eight years later, Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer at that same hospital.

D: When you see things like The Blair Witch Project, does it remind you of Kaufmanism, and how it might be picking up again?

B: It's interesting that you mention that, because The Blair Witch Project pissed me off. I think what they should have done is let no one know about it. The actors opened their damn mouths. If we would have done the film, we would have taken that damn cast and gotten them tickets to Timbuktu. Just go into hiding for a few months, you know? But there were too many loose lips out there. That's why when Andy and I did this stuff, we kept quiet. I kept quite for almost 15 years that I was Tony Clifton. I would go on Merv Griffin and David Letterman as Tony, and nobody knew.

D: With the dawn of a new year and a new millennium, is there any talk of a Comic Relief this year?

B: Yes. We're going to be doing Comic Relief in the spring. It will be Comic Relief IX. I'm just so proud of it. We've raised over $55 million in healthcare for homeless families.

D: Is there a favorite story about Andy you could share with us?

B: Well, lets see. Out of all the Andy stories, which is the best? There's two, actually. One of them was when we went to Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. One of the people working there recognized Andy, and they let us go upstairs to the second floor. They showed us Elvis' video collection, and there were all these Andy Kaufman tapes. Andy was just thrilled, 'cause Elvis meant the world to him. Elvis was dead by then, but it was just so touching to Andy to have seen that. Second, Carnegie Hall. After the performance, we told the audience to go get some sleep, and that we'd meet them at the Staten Island Ferry the next day. And the fact that there was over 300 people there from the night before was just magical to Andy. His stuff was so interactive with the audience. He really let the audience write the synopsis. That's what was so amazing about this guy. He really did reverse the roles between the audience and performer. He'd cast himself as the audience, and cast us as the performer, you know? He just sat back, got us crazy, and watched us. It was just so original.

D: In your own words, who was the real Andy Kaufman?

B: The real Andy Kaufman was a dear friend; a big brother; a very honest, supportive, and down-to-earth guy. Very, very different from who he was on stage. In a way, he was very shy, very quiet, very spiritual, and boring. When he was doing his thing, he was a mild-tempered soul; a very sweet guy. He asked me on his deathbed to do three things: write a book about him, make a movie about him, and keep Tony Clifton alive. And I'm so happy that I've been able to fulfill those three assignments.

D: That's great. Well, Bob, it's time for The Lightning Round.

B: Fire away.

D: Favorite food?

B: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

D: Favorite curse word?

B: Let's see. I don't want to say the same old thing. How about, "Go fuck yourself." I've been saying that a lot lately.

D: Coke or Pepsi?

B: Coke, definitely. Actually, Diet Coke right now. I'm serious. I'm drinking it right now.

D: TV or film?

B: Film.

D: Betty or Wilma?

B: Wilma.

D: Favorite scene in a movie?

B: The opening to West Side Story. I just like the way it all comes together. It's really well done.

D: Finally, Bob, how funky is your chicken?

B: Oh, my chicken is very, very funky. Especially when I'm in the ring.

PURCHASE ITEMS BY BOB ZMUDA