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Film / Man on the Moon

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Man on the Moon (1999) is a 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". The film's soundtrack album, released a month before the movie, is generally regarded as a part of the band's catalog despite featuring a variety of other artists. 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 (and building a Credits Gag upon it), the film 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 was as fake as his Kayfabe comedy act.
  • 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 Zmuda but he's not an attractive man in the least.
  • Age Cut/Time Skip: 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 late 1970s/early 1980s versions of themselves.
    • Notably subverted in that one regular character who didn't appear in the Taxi scenes was Louie DePalma, played by Danny DeVito; this is due to Celebrity Paradox (see below). Also missing is Tony Danza, who was working in A View from the Bridge on Broadway. Ditto Michael Richards, who was involved in the infamous Fridays incident and was subbed out for Norm MacDonald, as he was busy with Seinfeld during filming.
  • Artistic License / Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • 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.
    • The Tony Clifton incident happened during the first year before Christopher Lloyd became a regular.
    • Andy and Lynne did not meet in the wrestling ring (see Composite Character below).
    • The film shows his Fridays stunt as a real reaction by Kaufman who didn't want to do drug-related humor, even telling the audience that the sketch was not staged. According to multiple sources from the show, it actually was (though who all was in on it is up for debate), plus the scene as shown differs significantly from what the sketch, available on [YouTube], actually looked like.
    • 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.
    • This film ignores Kaufman's short-lived but infamous big screen career. It pretends Heart Beeps, among other films, never happened. Apparently he spent his entire 80's career being a wrestler and getting cancer.
    • Early on, Kaufman becomes angry at his audience and grabs a copy of The Great Gatsby to punish them. Reading The Great Gatsby in its entirety was part of his standard routine. 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.
  • Biopic
  • The Cameo:
    • Patton Oswalt, nearly unrecognizable in a long blonde wig and mustache, as one of the people Andy serves as a restaurant waiter.
    • Rather than Michael Richards appearing As Himself in the Fridays recreation, he's played by Norm MacDonald.
  • 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 choice not to participate, 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 he Trolls an audience for thinking they were watching him playing Tony Clifton. The audience isn't amused, though they technically got what they paid for: Tony Clifton's act and to see Andy Kaufman.
  • Character as Himself: Tony Clifton. (Also, Howdy Doody.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Crying Wolf: Andy faces the consequences of this in the final act. Even the tabloids refused to run the story about his having cancer, as they'd been burned too many times before.
  • Foreshadowing: At one point, Andy argues that he is expected to shock the audience and is short on ideas, briefly mentioning faking his own death as one.
  • 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 starts to laugh during his "psychic surgery" to cure his cancer, realizing they're frauds - the same kind of performer he'd always been.
  • Granola Guy: What Andy actually was, but since he's almost always "in character" even during his personal life, we don't learn of this til 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Kay Fabe: 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 the Heel wrestling women. He and Jerry Lawler collaborated, and the two fooled everyone, and we mean everyone, with some hardcore Kay Fabe. Even if you knew Andy was faking it, he was uncomfortably realistic in his sexist persona.
  • Metaphorically True: When a customer spots Andy Kaufman as a bus boy at his day job, he's asked if he is Andy Kauman. Rather than confirm that he is or lie about not being him, Andy just says he gets that a lot.
  • 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 (the baseball players on his wallpaper), and his father tells him he'll have to perform for actual people from now on...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, apparently realizing it's just a 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.
  • Significant Birth Date: One TV ad pointed out that Andy Kaufman and Jim Carrey were both born on January 17.
  • 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."
  • Troll: Andy's entire comedy career is essentially a series of ridiculously elaborate practical jokes towards his audience, and the audience is sometimes merely studio execs who have to deal with his and/or Tony Clifton's shenanigans.
  • Wham Shot: In the epilogue, the final shot of the film tracks through the audience cheering Tony Clifton's comeback performance one year after Andy's death. 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 Missing Trailer 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.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The entire gimmick of his wrestling career. Andy styles himself as the "inter-gender wrestling champion."


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