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Arts and Entertainment

Review: Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!

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Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts! Photo courtesy Process Media.

Long after his death, Andy Kaufman remains a polarizing man. Some folks (either at the time or now, out of a sense of bereaved duty) love the antics of Andy, while others steadfastly maintain his unfunny arrogance. Probably larger than any of these opposing camps, however, is the mass of folks who were, well... more confused than anything. For a lot of people, Andy Kaufman was (and remains) something that they just didn’t ‘get’, if for no other reason than they never felt like they were in on the joke. And that, at least, is clearly understandable.

In the intervening decades since his death, more and more information has become publicly available about Kaufman, ultimately culminating in the 1999 Jim Carrey biopic Man On The Moon. However, there’s always something sensationalist about a Hollywood produced biopic, isn’t there? It never really touches the person in the way one might hope, meaning something is always going to be left behind, floating in the unknown space between knowledge and nothingness. This is never more evident than with perhaps Kaufman’s most well-known stunt: the taunting of women on national television, alongside a call for normal women to try to beat him in a wrestling match. If successful, he would offer to pay the woman $1,000 and / or marry them. While this stunt garnered a large amount of press at the time, the ultimate ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the foolish fiasco has never really been brought to light. That is, until now.

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Titled Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!, this new compilation book by Lynne Margulies brings together dozens of letters from would-be female wrestling challengers during the height of Kaufman-wrestling-women mania. Alternating between typed and handwritten, lengthy and terse, and perhaps (but not necessarily) including photography, these letters have been immaculately preserved for just such an occasion as Dear Andy Kaufman. And while each dispatch covers the same topic (pick me to kick your ass, Andy Kaufman), the prose, style, and content of each is so different that the whole book starts to feel almost slice-of-life-y, but with the absurdist twist Kaufman couldn’t do without.

There is an interesting mix in these letters, between women who seem to ‘get it’, and those burlier broads who take a real offense to Kaufman’s tomfoolery and wouldn’t mind taking things too far. There are the few who absolutely just want the air time, and a surprising amount of voluptuous vixens who are looking for the opportunity to roll around with Andy for a while. But the backgrounds that are brought to the surface in these letters is ultimately the most telling. The signatures, the slurs, the addresses and the underlines all paint a more perfect picture than any of these women could hope to do on their own. And while their words do speak volumes about their own situations (and their dependence on television), it is only the compilation of these as a whole that allows the individual missives to stand out.

It is not just the letters that help to make Dear Andy Kaufman a complete success. The grainy graphics and often hilarious images ultimately tie the entire book together, making it something heftier than a coffee table book but no less engaging to thumb through. The photos themselves span the gamut, from gorgeous bikini-clad women to a handful of questionable ‘ladies’ with Anton Chigurh haircuts. Perhaps what makes these women so compelling is their absolute willingness to get into a ring, on national television, with a comedian, and see what happened. While many of them sincerely hint at the theatricality of it all, none of them (like none of us) ever really had any idea what Kaufman would do at any given time. And that’s just the way he liked it.

Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts! will be released early next month, with a special appearance by noted Kaufman character Tony Clifton on December 3rd at the Silent Movie Theater to help promote the release.