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Film / Man on the Moon

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Man on the Moon is a 1999 postmodernist Biopic of Andy Kaufman, directed by Miloš Forman, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and Titled After the Song by R.E.M., who also provided the score and a new song for the movie: "The Great Beyond".note  The film is the third and final installment of Alexander and Karaszewksi's "anti-great man" trilogy, following Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt, the latter of which was also directed by Forman.

The bulk of the film chronicles Andy's rise to stardom via the comedy club circuit and Taxi in The '70s, and the fall he suffers in The '80s as his eccentric acts become harder for those who care about him — much less audiences — to understand, much less embrace. Acknowledging its use of Artistic License upfront, the film features many people who knew and worked with Kaufman both before the camera and/or behind the scenes, but it pivots upon Jim Carrey's performance as Andy and his many alter-egos.


In 2017, the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond was released on Netflix. Confirming long-standing claims about the movie's production, it showcases behind-the-scenes footage of Carrey staying in character(s) all through the production of this film — even to the point of getting into a real scrap with Jerry Lawler.

Not to be confused with the film The Man in the Moon. If you're looking for the similarly-named trope in which the moon is depicted as having a face, look here.


"Hello, my name is Andy and these are my tropes."

  • Actually Pretty Funny: In a Gallows Humor moment, Andy starts laughing during Psychic Surgery, realizing that it's as fake as his Kayfabe acts. For bonus points, Andy told George during their first meal together that "I don't tell jokes — I don't even know what's funny." He does now...
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Jim Carrey is a lot more conventionally attractive than the Real Life Andy Kaufman, even with a few warts.
    • Paul Giamatti as well. No offense to Bob Zmuda but he's not an attractive man in the least.
  • Age Cut: 8-year-old Andy performs his Call-and-Response Song "The Cow Goes Moo" with his little sister doing the responses. On "And the lion goes —" "Roar!", her voice is replaced with that of a bored, middle-aged comedy club patron — cue the match cut revealing him, the setting, and from there the reveal that Andy, now in his mid-twenties, is performing the song for adults.
  • Anachronism Stew: A Ms. Pac-Man machine in the late 1970s. (The published early draft of the script specified Space Invaders, which would have been more accurate.)
  • As Himself: Jerry Lawler, Jim Ross, Budd Friedman, David Letterman, Lorne Michaels, Richard Belzer, Randall Carver, Jeff Conaway, Marilu Henner, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd, Carol Kane, and J. Alan Thomas all play the late 1970s/early 1980s versions of themselves.
  • Artistic License: Freely used and blatantly acknowledged. As Andy-as-Foreign-Man explains to the viewer in the prologue, "All of the most important things in my life have been changed around and mixed up for dramatic purposes."
    • The biggest use of it is moving his legendary Carnegie Hall show to shortly before his death in 1984 — in Real Life it was in 1979, at the peak of his mainstream success.
    • Also, using Jim Ross as the announcer in Memphis, when he was working for "Cowboy" Bill Watts's Mid-South Wrestling in Louisiana/Oklahoma at the time, because Ross and Jerry Lawler were the main announce team for WWE at the time the movie was produced. Similarly, using a "Global Wrestling Federation" banner. The Lawler-Kaufman match was held by the Continental Wrestling Federation in Memphis, TN in 1982. The Global Wrestling Federation was a Dallas, TX promotion that existed from 1991-1994.
    • When the Saturday Night Live call-in segment aired to vote Kaufman to stay or leave, the film showed it presented by Lorne Michaels. In reality, Lorne had left SNL years earlier, and the segment was hosted by Gary Kroeger. As well, the vote was Kaufman's idea, though he came to regret it.
    • Andy's first attempt at a television special was shot and shelved by the network in 1977 before Taxi premiered, but is moved up to take place afterward.
    • The Tony Clifton on Taxi incident happened during the first year before Christopher Lloyd became a regular (see Celebrity Paradox for a partial explanation).
    • Andy and Lynne did not meet in the wrestling ring (see Composite Character below) — although their actual meeting on the set of My Breakfast with Blassie, which appears in that film, was antagonistic in its own way with her turning down his initial advances.
    • The film shows his Fridays stunt as staged, as it actually was (though who all was in on it is up for debate; here, Kaufman and the producer deliberately throw off those not in the know with a staged confrontation prior to air), though the scene as shown differs significantly from what the sketch, available on [YouTube], actually looked like. But once it cuts to commercial, the network executive tells the audience it was staged, only for Kaufman to claim to everyone once it cuts back that it isn't. This part is a fiction serving as a way of condensing the "consequences" of the disruption that unfolded over several months, which started with an "apology" on the following week's broadcast that had Andy claiming it was real. Earlier drafts of the script presented things much closer to reality.
    • In a 2013 podcast with Marc Maron, Sam Simon, who was an executive producer on Taxi, said the film's depiction of Kaufman being disruptive on the set was "a complete fiction" and that he conducted himself professionally. He mused that his antics were an embellishment of Bob Zmuda, but noted that the real Kaufman wouldn't have minded.
    • Kaufman's short-lived film career (most infamously Heartbeeps) is skipped over. There's Lampshade Hanging here for those in the know as George notes to Andy during their first meal together that "your act doesn't exactly translate itself to film."
    • Downplayed: Kaufman's The Great Gatsby routine is specifically presented here as a way to punish a college audience that just wants Latka, but as the bit with the record suggests, it turned up on several occasions as a preplanned bit. (Kaufman would do other things like eat a salad on stage when he was angry with the audience.)
    • The film portrays his infamous 1982 wrestling match with Lawler as being his final one as he's then told to stop engaging in that activity. In reality, he still participated in wrestling for at least another year and a half after, and even had seven more matches involving Lawler, though mostly handicaps aside from one.
  • Audience Surrogate: George Shapiro, Andy's perpetually frustrated agent. He is able to see things from both sides of the limelight: aware that Andy has a rare, amazing spirit and talent and doesn't mean his audiences ill, but also that those audiences usually don't see how gifted he is because he refuses to play by traditional showbusiness conventions most of the time.
  • Bait-and-Switch Character Intro: The prologue has the main character insisting the film is terrible and that he's cut it to the point that it's already over, and to convince the audience to leave the theater proceeds to run the end credit cast list. But he stops after two or so minutes and then reveals (in a different voice) that he thinks the movie is great and just did that to shoo out people who aren't willing to put up with what he does (i.e. Trolling others).
  • Beneath the Mask: Played with. Feeling depressed after being rejected by the higher-ups at the Transcendental Meditation facility, Andy has this exchange with a sympathetic Lynne, who by this time has become used to his eccentricity:
    Andy: I'm a bad person...
    Lynne: You're not a bad person. You are a complicated person.
    Andy: You don't know the real me.
    Lynne: (playfully) There isn't a real you!
    Andy: (ruefully) Oh yeah...I forgot.
    • This exchange was inspired by a conversation the screenwriters had with the actual Lynne Marguiles. They were ready to give up on the project because after all the research they'd done, there were too many conflicting versions of Andy that people told them about for them to determine which was the "real" one the film should be about. Lynne explained to them, "Guys, there was no real Andy." This became their Central Theme: Andy's life and art as one and the same, a long process of donning and discarding masks reflecting, hiding, and/or exaggerating different aspects of himself.
    • On a meta level, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is about how Jim Carrey explored this concept in the process of playing Andy Kaufman. Via method acting as someone who lived for creating and discarding masks, he freed himself from having to be "Jim Carrey" (the public persona he'd shaped in his career up to that point) — an experience that was mentally exhausting to the point he felt like an Empty Shell once the shoot was over. In the end, he felt he grew as a person for the experience, better able to express himself and risk rejection than before. In a 2017 podcast interview, he also pointed out that Kaufman playing with masks had the effect of forcing the masks off everyone around him.
  • Biopic: Sort of. Even with its three-act rise-and-fall structure, Milos Forman joked that with this one the viewer comes out knowing less about the subject than they did going in. (See Beneath the Mask above.) Cineaste critic David Sterritt argued that "It doesn't fail to show the 'real' Andy Kaufman and reveal 'what made him tick'. It takes virtually no interest in those tasks, focusing instead on the substance of his trailblazing work" — and this was a compliment! Trope-wise, it could be counted as a subversion of the genre as it's traditionally understood.
  • Breakout Character: Discussed in-universe. George, when he reveals to Andy that the Taxi producers want him to play a modified version of Foreign Man, tries to explain how Latka Gravas is being positioned as the character whom kids will do impressions of at school; who will appear on merchandise and the like, comparing him to The Fonz on Happy Days. Andy is appalled by the whole idea, but when George convinces him that turning down an opportunity like this will be detrimental to what he really wants to do, he reluctantly agrees — but promptly starts writing up some very specific, demanding terms for his contract, telling George that if they're going to exploit his character, they're going to have to give him license to do what he wants.
  • Brown Bag Mask: When Tony Clifton reemerges a year after Andy's death, he is wearing one of these as he is escorted into The Comedy Store for his performance.
    • Out-of-universe, Tony insisted on wearing one of these one day on the set, even when he was driving a car on the backlot. This resulted in a minor accident when, being unable to see clearly through the holes in the mask, he bumped the car into a wall while he trying to park (the footage of this appears in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond).
  • The Cameo:
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Andy incorporates this idea into his initial Foreign Man act by having him parrot the old line "Take my wife — please!" (which he had previously mentioned as an example of hackwork) as "But...take my wife. Please, take her."
  • Casting Gag:
    • One of Kaufman's agents, George Shapiro, plays Mr. Besserman, the New York City club owner who fires Andy when his "The Cow Goes Moo" act bombs.
    • Danny DeVito, Andy's costar on Taxi, plays George Shapiro himself.
    • Richard Belzer appears as the Saturday Night Live emcee as a Shout-Out to his being one of the inspirations for Andy's Tony Clifton persona.
    • The gray-haired extra sitting behind Andy's family during the Saturday Night Live performance, who gets a reaction shot closeup at one point, is...Andy's father Stanley Kaufman.
    • Vincent Schiavelli, who appeared on several Taxi episodes as the priest of Latka's church, plays ABC executive Maynard Smith.
    • The actual Bob Zmuda plays Jack Burns, the producer of Fridays. Notably, Burns and Andy appear to be at odds at first, but both are actually in on the disruption of the sketch.
    • One of the extras in the funeral scene is the actual Lynne Marguiles.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • Danny DeVito was fascinated by Andy's relationship with his agent George Shapiro and wanted to play that role from the beginning — not realizing that this would come up where Taxi was concerned. Once the dilemma was recognized, the solution was not to include Louie De Palma (and thus, DeVito) in the recreations of the show. To help make up for this and Tony Danza's unavailability, Christopher Lloyd and Carol Kane appear in these scenes despite not joining the series as regulars until after the Tony Clifton incident that the Taxi-related stretch of the film ends on.
    • Jim Ross plays Lance Russell during the Memphis wrestling scenes. While never showing up in the film, Ross at that time had already begun his career as an announcer, working in the Mid-South promotion in Lousiana/Oklahoma.
    • Played for Laughs in-universe as Andy Trolls a Lake Tahoe audience for thinking they were watching him playing Tony Clifton by having Bob Zmuda go out as Clifton, and Andy subsequently interrupting the act. The audience isn't amused, though they technically get what they paid for: Tony Clifton's act and to see Andy Kaufman!
  • Character as Himself: Tony Clifton and Howdy Doody.
  • Cheerful Funeral: At Andy's funeral, a black-and-white film of him is run in which he leads the audience in the singalong "This Friendly World", complete with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics. And the mourners range from his family to Taxi costars to Elvis impersonators in full costume to several hookers he was acquainted with.
  • Composite Character:
    • Lynne Margulies (played by Courtney Love) was Andy's late-in-life girlfriend — they met in 1983. Here she becomes a composite of his many girlfriends over the years, meeting Andy at the turn of The '80s when she volunteers to wrestle him.
    • Andy Kaufman was represented by two agents, George Shapiro and Howard West, but to simplify the narrative and reflect that Shapiro was much closer to Kaufman as a person, Shapiro is the only one depicted.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: After a college crowd ticks him off by demanding he do his Latka routine, Kaufman uses up his entire set by reading The Great Gatsby from beginning to end.
  • Credits Gag: A rare opening credits one, with Andy coming out and acknowledging that the film is terrible and because it took so many artistic liberties with his life story, he just decided to cut "all the baloney" (read: the whole movie) and starts to roll the end credits. After fooling around with the credits, he then states that it was just to shoo out anyone who wouldn't understand him and then starts the movie proper. As mentioned above, Howdy Doody and Tony Clifton are also listed As Himself.
    • As the film's title appears in the closing credits, Andy leans into the frame one more time.
  • Crying Wolf: Andy faces the consequences of this in the final act. Even The National Enquirer refuses to run with the rumor about his having cancer, as they'd been burned too many times before.
  • Dead Air: Exact words used by an anxious technician as the audience waits for Andy to do something during his first Saturday Night Live appearance.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Played with in the prologue in that Andy and his props are in black-and-white but the credit roll is yellow.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: One of the biggest invocations of Artistic License in the film is taking Andy's legendary Carnegie Hall performance from April 1979 — the one that ended with him having the entire audience transported via school buses to a milk-and-cookies rendezvous — and having him instead stage it after his cancer diagnosis as a way of not giving into despair and the "negative energy" he's inadvertently surrounded himself with due to his more off-putting antics. Even after he accomplishes that, he is still brainstorming ideas for new work as he grows frailer and looks into every possible way of treating/curing his illness, which is true to life.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: For biopic time-compression purposes Andy gets this three times, each time accompanied by the Leitmotif:
    • After Bob tells him that if he sticks with Taxi and "make(s) the audience love [him] now" he will be free to do whatever he wants — leading into the eccentric staging of his ABC special.
    • During his tryst with two hookers at the Mustang Ranch, he impulsively asks them "If I gave you both $300, would you, um...come to Hollywood and help me destroy a TV show?"
    • After Bob tells him that he could never go toe to toe with professional wrestlers because he's comparatively small, Andy decides to take on more "suitable" opponents — women.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe and double subverted. Andy gets, at his insistence, creative control for his ABC special, reluctantly agreeing with the head of the network to dial back the length of a Painting the Medium gag in which the image's vertical hold goes awry but nothing more. But the result is a special so strange that the network refuses to air it at all.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Subverted. George is shocked to find that Andy has taken a second regular job as a busboy at an L.A. deli even as he's doing the lucrative Taxi, but Andy tells George he's actually happier there than dealing with the network.
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball:
    • In Andy's film for the Cheerful Funeral, the bridge and ending of "This Friendly World" are presented in this manner so the mourners can sing along.
    • Out-of-universe, one of the television ads for this film did this with the lyrics for "Man on the Moon" itself.
  • Food Slap: Tony Clifton's idea of "funny" is taking someone's glass of water and dumping it on their head (as he does to "Bob Gorsky") or throwing it in their face (as he does to Andy in Lake Tahoe). Later, Andy throws water in Michael Richards' face as part of the Fridays stunt, and lukewarm coffee at Jerry Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman (with Letterman, as in the real incident, lampshading it: "I believe you can say some of those words on television, but what you can't do is throw coffee..."). This even happened at the movie's Worked Shoot press conference, with Jim Carrey dumping water on Tony Clifton's head after an attempted Hostile Show Takeover. The screenwriters' commentary track on the 2022 Blu-Ray explains the guiding principle behind the real Andy Kaufman's use of this trope: While it is humiliating and startling for a person to have water dumped/splashed on them, and makes the audience sympathetic to them rather than the assailant, it doesn't actually hurt them.
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: Andy himself: The film begins with him addressing the audience as Foreign Man as he attempts to shoo out the more easily bored, and then shifts into his Excited Kids' Show Host persona to introduce the action proper. This is further played with via the subtle suggestion that the film screened at Andy's funeral is the conclusion of what the audience has been watching up to this point, with him now addressing the mourners as well as the viewers, before continuing to the epilogue of Tony Clifton's comeback. ( On the other hand, going by the second Credits Gag the audience never really left Andy's world.)
  • Foreshadowing: Several times with regard to the ending.
    • As George complains to him about the Bait-and-Switch pulled in Lake Tahoe, Andy argues that he is expected to shock the audience all the time now and is short on ideas, briefly mentioning faking his own death as one of his only remaining options.
    • When George asks Andy who will pay for the lavish Carnegie Hall concert, Andy suggests Tony Clifton. "I know him a lot better than you do, and even if he has to work for ten years to pay it off, he'll do it."
    • As Andy's health rapidly worsens post-Carnegie Hall, he assumes the Tony Clifton persona to tease Lynne about the health food she's preparing for Andy. When Lynne addresses him as Andy, Tony replies "I am not Andy. Andy is a sick man [...] whereas I am getting stronger and stronger!"
    • These three events foreshadow Tony managing to make a comeback performance at The Comedy Store one year after Andy dies. BUT it is left unrevealed who is playing Tony this time — Bob Zmuda is just watching the show. Did Andy manage to fake his death, or is the triumph just that Tony — and Andy's memory — will live on via others who love and admire him?
  • Freudian Trio: Possibly unintentional, but the three most significant secondary characters — George, Bob, and Lynne — make up one in relation to Andy. George is the Superego (desperately trying to keep Andy within the strictures of industry/audience expectations), Bob is the Id (openly assisting and encouraging Andy's wilder hijinks), and Lynne is the Ego (willing to play along with Andy so long as he keeps her in on the joke).
  • Friends All Along: Turns up at two key junctures.
    • When George attends Tony Clifton's restaurant performance, he watches aghast as Tony harasses, and even dumps water on, a woebegone diner named Bob Gorsky. Backstage afterward, as Tony reveals he is actually Andy and argues "Everyone loves a villain", George asks "Well, what about that poor schlub you humiliated?" Bang on cue, "that poor schlub" joins them at the table, complimenting Andy on the great show they just did — he's actually Bob Zmuda, Andy's closest colleague and friend.
    • After Andy's feud with Jerry Lawler costs the former his Saturday Night Live appearances, it's revealed that the feud was pure Kayfabe as George tells the two of them that they shouldn't be working together anymore.
  • Fully Automatic Clip Show: Andy is adamant about not becoming a sitcom actor who simply parrots expected lines. At the end of the Taxi montage, this trope is applied to the many times he says "Tank you veddy much" on the show as Latka.
  • Gallows Humor: Andy tries to face his impending death with some of this. When Bob is puzzled as to how he can have lung cancer in the first place (Shown Their Work: even as Tony Clifton, Andy was very careful about not breathing in cigarette smoke), he explains "I've got some freaky rare kind [...] Yaaaay! I'm a lucky guy!" This culminates in his starting to laugh during his "psychic surgery" upon realizing the doctors are frauds - the same kind of performer he's always been.
  • Granola Guy: What Andy actually was, but since he's almost always "in character" even during his personal life, it's not made clear until later in the film. It bites him in the ass when he's no longer allowed to practice meditation in the Transcendental Meditation temple because they think he makes them look bad — and an unspoken reason is that they think he doesn't take it seriously, either.
  • Heartbreak and Ice Cream: Discussed. After Andy is pushed out of the Transcendental Meditation practice, he's lying in bed when Lynne arrives with some ice cream for him (Shown Their Work: Andy, despite being a Granola Guy, also had a serious Sweet Tooth). He guiltily declares "I don't deserve Haagen-Dazs..."
  • Hostile Show Takeover: Beyond an incident of this in the film itself, this trope was invoked twice with Tony Clifton due to the Alter-Ego Acting / Character as Himself nature of the character.
    • In-universe, Andy surprises the audience in Lake Tahoe by sneaking on to the stage behind Tony and then going into his "Caspiar harvest song" conga routine. In this case, the crisis is less the interruption (which is a Worked Shoot) and more that everyone assumed Andy was playing Tony up to this point.
    • The soundtrack album version of "This Friendly World" is a cover performed by R.E.M. and "Andy", which gets interrupted midway through by "Tony": "I'm just as big a part of the movie as these guys are! And I-I will not sit back while this sawed-off Colonel Kurtz wannabe has his day in the sun! I think he's enough boring! I think Michael [Stipe] here should sit this one out! At least for the next verse or so!" After Andy gets Michael's permission ("I don't think you have a choice!") Tony sings the next few lines before handing it back to them.
    • The press conference that featured Jim Carrey among the interviewees was a Worked Shoot briefly crashed by Tony (played by the real Bob Zmuda in this case).
  • Hypocritical Humor: Tony Clifton's performance at Mama Rivoli's restaurant is preceded by an announcement that he will not go on until the audience extinguishes all cigarettes and cigars (remember, this is The '70s). The audience obliges him, so OF COURSE the first thing Tony does after coming on stage is take a drag off of a cigarette and blow smoke rings at the crowd. (And unlike most examples of this trope, he's perfectly aware of what he's doing and how it makes him look.)
  • Image Song / "I Want" Song: In a non-musical example for the second trope, the theme song "The Great Beyond" serves both functions for Andy.
    In all this talk of time
    Talk is fine
    But I don't want to stay around
    Why can't we pantomime
    Just close our eyes
    And sleep sweet dreams
    Me and you with wings on our feet
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Justified. Twice, Andy has trouble talking due to having a cough. It's not acknowledged by anyone in-story and is easily missed... but it foreshadows his lung cancer. What justifies this? The real Andy only learned he had cancer after his loved ones convinced him to see a doctor about his worsening cough.
  • Insistent Terminology: Andy hates being called a "comedian", since his act does not consist of telling jokes to get laughs but rather giving his audience an "experience" that may or may not please them. He prefers "song-and-dance man" or "entertainer" and tries to avoid being pigeonholed as a comedian, which leads to his reluctance to do Taxi.
  • Irony: The opening song at Tony Clifton's Lake Tahoe engagement is "I Gotta Be Me". That's rich enough given that Tony is an Alter-Ego Acting persona of Andy's, but then it turns out that Andy's not the person playing him!
  • Jerkass: Andy's Tony Clifton act, which basically consists of him pretending to be a terrible lounge singer who spends most of his stage time hurling abuse at the audience.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Andy; the problem is that for many of his ideas to work, he has to hide that heart securely...
    Lynne: So you just... pretend to be an asshole?
    Andy: (shrugs) It's what I'm good at.
    Lynne: Yeah... you are... really good at it.
  • Kayfabe: Andy Kaufman's entire style of humor. However, in a more direct variation of the trope, he was fascinated with wrestling and decided he wanted to be a Heel wrestling women. He and Jerry Lawler collaborated, and the two fooled everyone, and we mean everyone, with some hardcore Kayfabe. Even if you knew Andy was faking it, he was uncomfortably realistic in his sexist persona.
  • Laugh Track: Discussed. Andy brings it up as he angrily explains why he is not interested in doing a sitcom: "It's just stupid jokes and canned laughter! And you don't know why it's there, but it's there! And it's dead people laughing, did you know that? Those people are dead!" Interestingly, this rant may have been improvised by Jim Carrey since only the first line appeared in the script.
  • Leitmotif: An orchestral version of "Man on the Moon" is used for Andy in several scenes. In particular, his Eureka Moments are signified with the first few measures of the song.
  • Logo Joke: Instead of the traditional Universal Pictures fanfare, The Bobs' acapella piece "Fanfare for Andy" plays over the Universal and Mutual Film Company logos. Suffice it to say, it's....less dignified.
  • Lost in Character: On two different levels.
    • In-universe: While Andy's setup for the Jerry Lawler feud is a huge "success" by his standards, Lynne is stung by how he manipulated her into it. When she confronts him with a What the Hell, Hero? speech he realizes he's hurt someone he genuinely loves, and as he apologizes confesses "Sometimes I just get lost..." (in this case, in a Heel persona).
    • Out-of-universe: As extensively discussed in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Jim Carrey more or less lost himself in Kaufman's personas in the process of making this film, to the point that he doesn't have memories of what he actually did during the shoot so much as what Andy or Tony did. However, after all was said and done and he reconstructed his own self, he was more himself than before because he'd been able to destroy the perpetually-sunshiny public persona of "Jim Carrey" he'd been maintaining for the previous few years as an A-list star, who was overly worried about what other people thought of him.
  • Metaphorically True: When a customer spots Andy as a busboy at his day job at a Los Angeles deli, he's asked if he is Andy Kaufman. Rather than confirm that he is or lie about not being him, Andy just says "I get that all the time!"
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The opening Credits Gag with the adult Andy ends as he presents some home movies of his family in The '50s that segue into the movie proper. Little Andy's showbiz ambitions and Cloud Cuckoolander nature are established as he performs for an unseen audience in his bedroom (he specifically believes there is a camera in the wall), and his father tells him he'll have to perform for actual people from now on...
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The Credits Gag is based upon the opening of Andy Kaufman's 1977 ABC special (the one that, as shown in this film, the network didn't want to air because it was too strange — it only ran two years after it was shot): Foreign Man tells the viewer the show didn't work out so he's just going to sit there for an hour. After about a minute, he tells anyone who hadn't already changed the channel that "Now that only my friends are here" the actual show will start.
    • The final shot revealing Bob is not playing the resurfaced Tony Clifton, thus leaving it a question who is, references the belief still held by some people (if not as many as when the film was made) that Andy Kafuman managed to fake his death. It also allows the action to end on one last question of what is real and what is staged, in the spirit of Andy's work.
  • No Sense of Humor: Played with in that Andy claims he's a case of this trope early on: "I'm not a comedian; I don't tell jokes — I don't even know what's funny." What he really means is that he doesn't have the sense of humor his prospective audiences have. This plays into his Actually Pretty Funny moment (see above). Nothing seems to make him happier than putting one over on others, so the realization that he has had the wool pulled over his eyes, with far higher stakes at play, for a change can only make him laugh.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-universe and played with. Andy loves getting publicity, good or bad, not because it will make him more successful but because it means he's getting a real response to his work. After Tony Clifton gets thrown off of Taxi and it makes the newspaper complete with a paparazzi photo (courtesy of Bob), Andy cheerfully notes "It's good for his career, George!" Later, it's subverted when public backlash to his wrestling antics gets him booted off Saturday Night Live via a viewer vote, and from there he's pushed out of the Transcendental Meditation practice he's devotedly followed for years.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: George figures out by the end of their first meal together that Andy is a downplayed case of this — he is eccentric, but the face(s) he shows to the public are even more so by his design, by way of provoking them for his own amusement. Or as George puts it: "You're insane!...But you might also be brilliant."
  • Off the Rails: Double subverted with the Fridays incident. The fight is actually prearranged by Andy, producer Jack Burns, and a few others, and crucially given the blessing of ABC executive Maynard Smith — on the condition that, after a commercial break, Andy will reveal to at-home viewers that it's fake. But to Smith's horror, Andy proceeds to say that the network is lying and that all this was real, and that this sort of thing actually happens all the time on TV, and they'll be cutting away from him in a moment — and as if on cue Smith desperately calls for another commercial. "You see?" (The studio audience loves this.)
  • Only in It for the Money: Andy takes the Taxi gig at the behest of Shapiro in order to gain money and recognition to launch future projects; Andy hates sitcoms in general, is wary of being labeled as a "comedian", makes no secret of his disdain for working on the show, works many special demands into his contract, and generally tries to act in a manner that will get him out of his deal. It never quite works; Tony Clifton getting fired from his guest spot is as close as he comes.
  • Oscar Bait: Not that it took. Besides failing at the box-office, the film wasn't nominated for any Oscars, which was actually something of a surprise at the time as Carrey had been expected to get a nomination, especially so soon after what was seen as a snub for The Truman Show. (Carrey took home a Best Actor Golden Globe for both Truman and Man on the Moon in consecutive years and got snubbed both times. Ouch.)
  • Overly Long Gag: The Credits Gag requires the entire cast list to be run, and this is not a Minimalist Cast movie! During the second go-round of the sentimental music beneath it, Andy discreetly checks his watch. Then when he has to start it a third time (the credits don't roll if there's no music), he initially hesitates to do so. Once he does, it proceeds again but as soon as all cast members have been listed he abruptly slams the record player shut, leading to a loud Record Needle Scratch, a black screen, and silence for a few moments.
  • Postmodernism: Although it's based on true events, the film qualifies as this. The prologue presents Andy as a Fourth-Wall Observer who can control the end credits and openly admits the heavy use of Artistic License, people who worked with Andy in real life play other people in his life while others simply appear as themselves or as extras, Tony Clifton is billed as being played by himself, etc. Given how many actual acquaintances and admirers of Andy appear in the film, in the funeral scene especially (which is a combination of the church service mostly attended by friends, family, and admirers, and a tribute in Los Angeles that was attended by more professional colleagues such as the bulk of the Taxi cast), the whole production can easily be read as them trying to give Andy the grand sendoff he never received in life.
  • Psychic Surgery: Andy travels to the Philippines to have his inoperable lung cancer treated by a man claiming this ability. He starts laughing hysterically when the "surgery" starts, upon seeing that it's just a sleight-of-hand trick. It doesn't work, clearly, as the next scene is of his funeral. Sadly Truth in Television — many people in the '70s and '80s, often, like Kaufman, with terminal diseases, were defrauded by such con men in the Philippines.
  • Real Footage Re-creation: The film recreates many of Andy Kaufman's most famous comedy routines, notably one of his wrestling matches and his work on Taxi.
  • Rebellious Spirit: Andy has this, specifically as applied to traditional showbusiness conventions and authorities. Following his own eccentric muse is more important to him than pandering to an audience's expectations.
  • Significant Birth Date: One TV ad pointed out that Andy Kaufman and Jim Carrey were both born on January 17.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Time-Compression Montage depicting Andy's intergender wrestling career is scored with...the tender ballad "Rose Marie"? (And as an in-joke, the version used is the real Andy Kaufman's performance of it on Late Night with David Letterman, in which he imitated the voice of Slim Whitman.)
  • That's All, Folks!: The final stretch of the closing credits is scored with "One More Song for You", the musical finale of Andy Kaufman's 1983 Soundstage special, meaning the movie gives the real Kaufman the last word. This song also closes out the soundtrack album.
  • Titled After the Song: The movie's title comes from the R.E.M. song of the same name. The documentary about Jim Carrey staying in character during this production is named after the REM song written for this movie, "The Great Beyond".
  • Trolling Creator: In-universe. Andy's entire "comedy" career is essentially a series of ridiculously elaborate practical jokes towards his audiences, which are sometimes merely studio execs who have to deal with his and/or Tony Clifton's shenanigans. Overlaps with...
    • Unreliable Narrator: Since the prologue posits that the main body of the film is Andy presenting his own life he puts it once he comes back from the Credits Gag (and is no longer using for the Foreign Man voice, but rather his Excited Kids' Show Host persona):
    Actually, the film is reeaaally great! It's just full of colorful characters, like the one I just did, and the one I'm doing now!
  • "Truman Show" Plot: Subverted in A Minor Kidroduction: Young Andy just believes there is a camera in the wall of his bedroom that he is playing to, and has to be talked into performing for actual people by his dad. This is inspired by actual claims Kaufman made about his childhood, making it all the wilder that the actor who plays the adult Andy starred in the Trope Namer the year before this film's release.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: After his decision to take Andy on as a client, George is surprised to get a phone call from one Tony Clifton, who angrily warns him that "You best stay away from Andy Kaufman if you know what's good for ya!" adding that "He is a psychopath!" Later, when Andy writes down his terms regarding joining the cast of Taxi George recognizes Tony's name and Andy explains that he's a Vegas lounge singer whom Andy used to do impersonations of before he complained; Andy wants to make things up to him by having him guest star on the show. After George finally sees Tony's alarmingly awful act and goes to visit him backstage, with a simple lift of sunglasses Tony reveals himself to be Andy in an elaborate disguise (both to George and anyone out-of-universe who wasn't aware of this Alter-Ego Acting persona going in).
  • The Unwitting Comedian: Subverted twice, then played straight (with the latter two instances back-to-back scenes).
    • When Fridays comes back from commercial, Andy derails his apology by frantically claiming that the fight was real. As the audience, catching on to what he's doing and loving it, starts laughing he tells them "I don't know why you're laughing..."
    • Much later, Andy poses as this with a late-night stint at the Improv in which he comes on stage disheveled and reveals Taxi's been cancelled (which is true) and his wife and kids have left him (which is very much not true). When the audience begins to catch on and laugh, Andy chides them for being insensitive to his plight. The rest of the "act" has him letting people touch a cyst on the back of his neck for a small fee.
    • Later, Andy brings George, Lynne, and Bob together for a late-night meal and reveals that he has cancer. Because this is Andy Kaufman saying this, none of them initially believe this — George thinks the "bit" is in bad taste, Lynne is so upset that she ultimately leaves, and Bob...thinks the idea of Andy faking terminal illness is hilarious, though he's also the first to change his tune when Andy goes into more detail on what's happening.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A great deal of Artistic License is taken with events and people for the sake of a smoothly-told story, to the point that this trope is Lampshaded with the Credits Gag at the beginning.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: "The Great Beyond" received one. Notably, it lampshades this trope's promotional purpose by having all the movie clips (or, in the version that appeared on the compilation In View: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, actual footage of Andy Kaufman) presented as commercial breaks during the band's studio performance...which goes awry when they actually discover the Fourth Wall.
  • Wham Shot:
    • As George lightly berates Andy for the latter's antics on Late Night with David Letterman costing him his Saturday Night Live appearances, he then addresses another person sitting next to Andy that the audience is not yet privy to. Cut to a reverse angle revealing him to be Jerry Lawler, meaning the rivalry between him and Andy was Kayfabe all along. At the time of the film's release in 1999, much of the public still wasn't aware of that so this was a legitimately shocking moment for audiences.
    • In the epilogue, set one year after Andy's death, the final shot of the film tracks through the audience cheering Tony Clifton's comeback performance of "I Will Survive". Bob Zmuda is among them. So who's playing Tony?note 
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Andy tricks Lynne into coming to Memphis with him by saying that he will use one of his wrestling matches as his public proposal of marriage to her, but in fact he needs her to set up his "feud" with Jerry Lawler (who interrupts the show to reveal their relationship and that she's a plant, and challenging him to wrestle his protege instead). Afterward, she calls him out on using her as a prop and — for the first time in the story — Andy apologizes for tricking someone.
    • A deleted scene has Andy's father calling him out over tricking his family with regards to his fate in the Lawler/Kaufman match that supposedly left him in a neck-brace; again, Andy apologizes, but also warns his family that nothing he does in public is real. His unwillingness to stop his tricky ways leads to the Crying Wolf problem above.
  • Whole Plot Reference: According to Michael Stipe, the lyrics to the film's theme song, "The Great Beyond", were his attempt at rewriting David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes", albeit swapping out "Space Oddity" for the movie's namesake.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The entire gimmick of his wrestling career. Andy styles himself as the "intergender wrestling champion."

I will survive! I will survive! I will survive! I will survive! I WILL SURVI-I-I-I-I-VE!