By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“And he said, ‘Got it.’ And that was it.”
I understand the theory behind the Atkins Diet, but Zmuda’s 3-inch stack of pastrami still doesn’t look healthy. We’re at Jerry’s Deli in Studio City, where Andy elected to work part time as a busboy while Foreign Man was enjoying the height of his popularity as Latka on Taxi. Zmuda’s telling me about interviews he’d been conducting for Ribs, a book/screenplay he’s writing about the discovery of 339 backlogged bodies at the Marsh family’s Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia, in 2002.Strutting his gut: Tony Clifton prepares to get Talia Shire wet.
Zmuda’s an animated fellow, certainly, but so far he hasn’t revealed any signs of any other characters living inside of him. It’s difficult to picture him as Tony Clifton, whom he first portrayed in 1980 at Harrah’s in Reno — he and Andy did ye olde switcheroo to mess around with the hotel management, who’d hired Tony thinking they’d get Andy; it was so much fun, they did the same on Letterman and Merv Griffin. So it freaks me out considerably when, without fair warning, Zmuda disappears entirely, and in his place appears the howling backwoods cracker son of an unburned, unburied mother, face scrunched up as if wrapped around a hundred-year-old wad of chewing tobacco, shrieking, to the dismay of adjacent lox-gobblers, “SOMEONE’S GOTTA STOP THEM NEGGERS!! THEM NEGGERS DESECRATED MAMA!! THEY’S VAH-LATED MAMA’S BODY!!”
(Yep — definitely room in there for Tony.)
“Yeah,” says Lynne. “We used to discuss the proper — you know, I thought he was just kidding — but what would be the ‘proper’ amount of time to go away for, after he ‘died.’ And at first it was 10 years, but then he decided, No, 10 years wasn’t enough. Twenty years would be good. Ten years — he could see someone going away for that long. But 20 years . . .”
“I think 10 years would be pretty amazing,” I admit.
“Or even a year,” says Lynne. “But who would even think of doing it in the first place?”
“Did he ever talk about what he’d do during these 20 years of artificial afterlife?”
“No. He always said just ‘go away.’”
“Yeah. He’d just . . . disappear.”
“Did he ever say where he’d go?”
“He was always talking about . . . what was that place . . . we never went . . . it’s not that far away . . . not the Bahamas . . .”
“But somewhere in the Caribbean?”
“I think so. Sorry, I’m blanking.”
John Moffitt was a producer on ABC’s Fridays, an SNL-style sketch show. He was one of the people in on the Andy-gets-out-of-character-in-the-middle-of-a-sketch-and-gets-in-a-fight-with-the-crew-and-ruins-everything-for-everyone project of 1981. Andy made a number of appearances on the show, and after each one there were parties.
“We’d always have a party, at somebody’s place,” Moffitt recalls. “Either downstairs in the Writers’ Cave, or at someone’s house. So this time, Jack [Burns, the show’s other producer, also of Burns & Schreiber notoriety] and his girlfriend were renting a house, with a rec room in the basement. Sometime during the party, Andy said, ‘Come downstairs. I want to talk to you.’ So Jack and I went down there with him. And Andy closed the door and said, ‘Okay. I have another idea, something I really want to do.’ And he started telling us that he was going to fake his own death. And it seemed very logical to us. We just thought, you know, Okay — that’s Andy, that’s the next thing he’s gonna do. You know, we’d faked the fight on the set of Fridays. And then he’d done this whole evangelical thing, where he wanted this evangelist to marry him to this woman, and he was gonna come on and pretend he’d Seen the Light and was Born Again . . . Andy was always into those things.
“And so when he said he was gonna fake his death, we thought, Great! And, of course, I thought, If you’re gonna come back again, do it on our show. Because . . . Andy was really like a lightning rod. He could do things that everybody would pay attention to. So we thought, Yeah, that’s a great idea.
“So after talking it through, we went upstairs, and that was the end of that.
“And then the show got canceled.
“And then, all of a sudden I heard Andy was sick.
“And I’m thinking, Okay — here we go! He’s doing it!
“And then someone said, ‘No, really. We saw Andy, and he’s really, really sick. He’s lost his hair, he’s thin as a rail, he’s really sick.’ And I again thought, you know, Andy would go to any kind of extreme to fake this, to do his prank. He would starve himself, he’d tear out his hair, he would undernourish himself. He would do it. That’s what Andy would do. He was always testing how far he could go, testing the limits of comedy and beyond.
“I mean, it was just the perfect next prank. Where would he go next? He’d done the whole wrestling thing and all of that, so what would he do to make a huge splash, get a lot of press, a lot of attention? It’d have to be something really big, and what could be bigger than that?”