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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 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: Andy tells George during their first meal together that "I don't tell jokes — I don't even know what's funny." As it turns out, he does see the humor in his terminal illness and impending death; he chuckles when Bob initially believes his news to be a gag they could spin into a lengthy con, and later starts laughing during Psychic Surgery, realizing that it's as fake as his Kayfabe acts.
  • 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 "Oh, 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, male 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.)
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Implied. After Andy derails his college performance by reading to the audience from The Great Gatsby instead, George asks him "Andy, you have to look inside and ask this question: Who are you trying to entertain — the audience or yourself?" Andy excuses himself and leaves the room. (The screenplay goes with the stage direction "He doesn't know the answer.")
  • Artistic License: Freely used and blatantly acknowledged! Andy-as-Foreign-Man explains to the viewers in the prologue, "All of the most important things in my life have been changed around and mixed up for dramatic purposes" — but once he's shooed fence-sitters out with the Credits Gag it turns out he's perfectly happy with the movie anyway, and happily presents it to the audience that remains.
    • 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 announcer team for WWE at the time the movie was produced. (The actual announcer at the time, Lance Russell, appears here as the emcee of the Lawler-Kaufman match.) 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 shooting script specified a "Smug Comic" for the scene, rather than Michaels, although Michaels is still depicted as the producer in all scenes.) 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 ABC in 1977 before Taxi premiered, but is moved up to take place afterward. (It is true that the special was a condition of his agreeing to sign on with the network.)
    • 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.
  • As Himself: Jerry Lawler, Jim Ross, Budd Friedman (founder of the Improvisation comedy club), 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. Even lesser-known longtime Kaufman friends like "Little Wendy" Polland and Gregg Sutton (the musician who, among other things, conducted the Carnegie Hall concert) appear.
  • Audience Participation Failure:
    • In-universe, downplayed with Andy's performance of "Oh, the Cow Goes Moo" at the nightclub. A few of the bored patrons respond to the Call-and-Response Song by making the requested animal noises, but there's no enthusiasm; they're clearly hoping it's enough to get him off the stage.
    • Out-of-universe, Miloš Forman had trouble directing some of the crowd scenes because the extras were laughing at and cheering on Jim Carrey when they were supposed to be doing the opposite!
  • 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).
    • Bob Zmuda first appears as "Bob Gorsky", a wobegone victim of Tony Clifton's heckling, leading to two reveals in a single scene when his true identity is revealed just after George and the out-of-universe audience learn Tony is actually Andy.
  • Baldness Means Sickness: Post-Carnegie Hall, Andy loses his hair as a result of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He plays with this when he assumes the Tony Clifton persona in private; as Tony is not Andy and thus not sick, he still has his hair (of course, it's always been a wig).
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Andy tells Bob "I wanna be a bad guy wrestler in the worst way" — and manages to get that wish down to the letter with a heel persona Gone Horribly Right.
  • Beneath the Mask: Played with to absurd levels, and best summed up by the following exchange as Andy, feeling depressed after being rejected by the higher-ups at the Transcendental Meditation facility, is talking 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 Kaufman that people told them about for them to determine which was the "real" one the film should focus on. Lynne explained to them, "Guys, there was no real Andy." This became their Central Theme: Kaufman's life and art as one and the same, a long process of donning and discarding masks, a default personality nonexistent.
    • 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 argued that Kaufman was absolutely himself in public rather than putting up a front for the sake of others. His real self happened to love to play with masks, and in the process, he revealed everyone else for who they really were because their masks dropped when he provoked them.
  • 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); the writers call it an "anti-biopic". 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!
  • Bittersweet Ending: Andy succumbs to his cancer after exhausting all possible options, but the turnout at his Cheerful Funeral makes it clear he was genuinely loved for the strange, often exasperating person he was. Moreover, Tony Clifton's comeback performance a year later confirms that he's left behind a legend that others will further in his spirit.
  • Blank Stare: When Andy comes out on stage at the University of Arizona, he's in sunshiny Excited Kids' Show Host mode as he promises the audiences songs, games, etc. — but immediately the audience wants him to just play Latka, to the point it becomes a chant. Realizing they don't care about what he wanted to share with them, he slips into this trope for a moment before excusing himself, heading backstage and demanding Bob give him that copy of The Great Gatsby he's kept on hand for just such an occasion...
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends in the black-and-white void, where credits roll. It's subtle because only those who notice the second Credits Gag will catch on to this.
  • 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.
  • Breather Episode: In-universe, George sees booking Andy on Fridays as this as the latter is ramping up his wrestling career in Memphis, telling him "you can get back to the business of making people laugh." But as Andy promptly asks him, "You say this is live?..."
  • Brown Bag Mask: When Tony Clifton reemerges a year after Andy's death, he wears one of these as he is escorted into The Comedy Store.
    • Out-of-universe, as shown in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Tony insisted on wearing these on the set (specifically when Jim Carrey was not yet in prosthetic makeup) even when he was driving a car on the backlot one day. 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 trying to park. When the above Comedy Store sequence — as it was both the film's last scene and the last to be shot — was prepared, the entire crew and cast wore brown bag masks to surprise Tony when he came out onto the stage.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: Inverted with Tony Clifton, who hates Andy Kaufman with a passion. Well before they meet, Tony calls George to warn him against taking Andy on as a client; later, when he learns Andy authorized his firing from Taxi he throws a tantrum so spectacular that he has to be dragged off the Paramount lot (literally kicking and screaming) by security. It's a pity — Andy always speaks so well of Tony and is dearly concerned for his welfare, even claiming that Tony just "talks tough" and doesn't actually hate him.
    • Out-of-universe, as seen in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Andy and Tony were asked their thoughts on Jim Carrey. Andy's understanding of Carrey was that the latter was insecure about letting go of the anger he'd accumulated in life because he was scared of losing his creative spark too. Tony saw Carrey as a coward so desperate to be liked by everyone that he couldn't be his true self in public.
  • The Cameo:
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Andy incorporates this idea into his initial Foreign Man act by having him parrot the old Henny Youngman 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: Tons!
    • One of Kaufman's agents, George Shapiro, plays Mr. Besserman, the New York City club owner who fires Andy when his "Oh, 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 being both the warmup comic for the show back then and one of the inspirations for the 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.
    • Andy Kaufman's other agent, Howard West, plays another ABC executive — specifically the one who is fooled by Andy's Painting the Medium vertical hold gag when his TV special is screened for them.
    • 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.
    • The guru helping Andy with visualization exercises to handle his cancer is played by Johnny Legend, a musician and wrestling manager who co-directed Kaufman in 1983's My Breakfast with Blassie; the shoot was where Kaufman first met Legend's sister Lynne Marguiles.
    • One of the extras in the funeral scene is the actual Lynne Marguiles.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Invoked and lampshaded with Foreign Man/Latka Gravas' signature line "Tank you veddy much", which gets a Fully Automatic Clip Show at one point reflecting how (as far as Andy's concerned) it and the persona are being played out.
    • The distinctly loopy, musical way Andy himself says "Okay" may count as this, seeing as it extends to Emmanuel Curtil's performance in the French dub.
  • 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 that 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 takes Lance Russell's place as the ringside announcer 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. Russell appears as the emcee of the Lawler-Kaufman match instead.
    • 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. Clifton would even be billed as an executive producer of Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond 18 years later, which might be why the full onscreen title of that film is Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton.
  • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: George finds himself trying to be this as Andy's agent, with extremely mixed results. He is able to convince Andy to do Taxi (albeit on his own terms), but his attempts to keep him happy and in line by booking him at college campuses and on Fridays just lead to more hijinks. By the time Andy's challenging Jerry Lawler, he's pretty much accepted that he can't talk Andy out of anything he wants to do, and ruefully notes:
    First you piss off women, then you piss off the South, then you get killed! And I did the booking!
  • Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Out-of-universe, the first television ad for this film — a one-off that aired during the Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary special in September 1999 — was a condensed version of the "Mighty Mouse" sequence presented in two parts, with an unrelated commercial aired in-between to draw out the Dead Air the routine intentionally evokes. Can be seen (albeit with music muted) here (starting at 14:35).
  • Composite Character:
    • Lynne (played by Courtney Love) is a composite of Andy Kaufman's many girlfriends over the years — that she meets him at the turn of The '80s when she volunteers to wrestle him on The Merv Griffin Show reflects that Kaufman really did date many of his opponents — but is primarily based upon and named after Lynne Margulies, his last and dearest love, whom he met in 1982 during the My Breakfast with Blassie shoot.
    • 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.
    • Variation: In real life, Andy Kaufman and Bob Zmuda's respective versions of Tony Clifton had distinct differences. Kaufman's wasn't concerned with putting on a decent performance and his setlist consisted of standards like "Carolina in the Morning" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"; Zmuda's was more of a showman who sang mostly contemporary numbers like "I Will Survive" and his speaking voice was deeper. Zmuda also introduced a rhyming tic to the character. The Clifton presented here combines the Zmuda version's setlists and tic with the Kaufman version's nasal voice and more aggressive manner.
  • Confetti Drop: The Carnegie Hall show ends with one as "Santa Claus" arrives.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: Played with at Tony Clifton's Lake Tahoe appearance when Andy crashes the performance, making the audience realize that they weren't actually watching him all along as they assumed and instead are watching...well, doesn't matter who, just that it isn't Andy, which allows him to maintain the fiction that they really are separate people and allows an element of surprise to remain in the act.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: After a college crowd ticks him off by demanding he do his Latka routine, Kaufman uses up his entire set (and then some!) by reading The Great Gatsby from beginning to end.
  • Covers Always Lie: Averted by the original U.S. ad campaign (which if anything was so honest about the divisive subject manner that it may have turned potential audiences off). Downplayed by the Japanese poster and souvenir program, which played up the romantic subplot between Andy and Lynne that only kicks in at the halfway mark; probably justified as Japanese audiences would be going into the film cold regarding Kaufman and his career and focusing on the subplot was a sort of emotional hook. (The program goes into great detail explaining who Kaufman was, complete with 59 short footnotes explaining cultural references, cameos, etc. that wouldn't be obvious to a foreign audience.)
  • 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, struggling to convince everyone around him that he is terminally ill. Even The National Enquirer refuses to run with the rumor about his having cancer, as they'd been burned too many times before (Shown Their Work: The only story they ran about him that he hadn't tipped them off on was shortly before his death, when his physical deterioration was obvious).
  • 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; Andy and his props are in black-and-white but the credit roll is yellow.
  • Detrimental Determination: Played with. Andy says early on he wants to be "the biggest star in the world", but at the same time what he wants to do is not cater to audience expectations but evoke gut reactions from people. It soon becomes clear he will have to compromise himself (by doing a sitcom) to obtain the means to do what he wants. And because those compromises and simple repetition take the element of surprise out of his initial acts, he must compensate by defying what audiences, executives, his agent, etc. want and come up with even more audacious concepts and put twists on older material (i.e., when the public starts suspecting he is Tony Clifton, he has his friend Bob take over the part). The result is that he does get the honest responses he wants, which brings him genuine happiness, but — especially with his wrestling Heel act — said responses are almost all negative, which threatens his career prospects and even his relationships with family members (who simply cannot understand his way of thinking) and higher-ups in Transcendental Meditation. However, being a Jerk with a Heart of Gold he does end up with a small circle of people who understand and love him warts and all, and support him when fate strikes him with a fatal illness (which he ends up fighting with a similar, if doomed, determination). His bittersweet triumph is that he dies not as someone universally famous and beloved but as someone who will be remembered, for good and for ill, for what mattered to him the most.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The biggest invocation of Artistic License in the film is taking Andy's legendary Carnegie Hall performance from April 1979 (the height of his mainstream fame) — and its epilogue in which he had the audience transported via school buses to a milk-and-cookies rendezvous — and having him instead stage it after his cancer diagnosis (which was at the end of 1983) 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; this is true to life.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Andy holds himself to this at all costs, much to George's frustration when the former starts wrestling women on television. George would rather he explain that his Heel persona is a parody, but Andy's confident that viewers will figure it out on their own.
  • Double Subversion: Of the trope Faking the Dead if The Ending Changes Everything for the viewer.
  • Dramedy: Being a biopic about a pioneer of Anti-Humor, there's naturally a lot of comedy in both the recreations of Andy Kaufman's work and his offscreen interactions with others, but it's shot through with seriousness as the tide of public opinion gradually turns against him, culminating in everyone in his life (never mind the public) believing he's Crying Wolf when he reveals he's terminally ill. Even then, there's Gallows Humor and hope.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Ostensibly the reason Andy does not want to perform the restaurant sketch on Fridays (which involves him playing stoned) and disrupts it.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Played with wickedly — if the viewer interprets the final shot to mean Andy faked his death, boy does that change what came before it! However, the shot can just as easily be interpreted, as The Movie Spoiler did, as Tony now being played by "an admirer". On top of that, the second Credits Gag can be read as supporting either interpretation.
  • "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.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Invoked. Andy is soft-spoken and gentle, but when he plays Tony Clifton and the Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World, he is ridiculously over-the-top to accentuate their belligerence. (Interestingly, when Andy himself is angry, it's expressed in a petulant, childlike manner, but it goes to show how he is using the Tony persona as a release valve.)
  • 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, escalating the trope to an in-universe Executive Veto.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • Discussed and subverted: Andy notes during Tony Clifton's Lake Tahoe stint that because his audiences now expect to always be surprised, it's hard to come up with ways to do so, "and short of faking my own death, or setting the theater on fire, I don't know what else to do..." A deleted scene (after his match with Jerry Lawler in Memphis makes the news) has him further wondering if he should try it, with Bob noting it's working for Elvis. Later Bob's initial reaction to Andy revealing his cancer diagnosis has the former believing that he's actually going to try it, while dialogue that made it to the script but not filming stage suggests that even after the funeral there are still doubts.
    • During the Carnegie Hall performance, the elderly showgirl Andy has recreate her "Jingle Jangle Jingle" dance suddenly suffers a heart attack and collapses. Bob calls for a doctor, who diagnoses her as dead...but the "doctor" is actually Andy's brother Michael, and Andy (who slipped offstage during this) returns in a mock Native American headdress and performs a "ritual" that "revives" her, to the audience's relief and joy.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job:
    • Subverted when 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; Andy tells him he's actually happier there than dealing with the network.
    • After Taxi is cancelled (which doesn't bother him), Andy plays with this in his stage act. Telling the audience that he's out of a job but still a "quasi-celebrity", he offers to let them touch a cyst on the back of his neck if they pay him a small fee...and he gets a few takers.
  • 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 use 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.
  • 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 Tony 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 fake his death, or is the triumph just that Tony — and Andy's memory — will live on via others?
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: Andy himself: The film begins with him addressing the audience as Foreign Man as he attempts to shoo out the easily bored, and then shifts into his Excited Kids' Show Host persona to introduce the action proper. This is further played with via the suggestion in the screenplay that the film screened at Andy's funeral is actually 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.)
  • Framing Device: It's suggested in the screenplay that the whole film up to a point is Andy presenting his life story to, as it turns out, the mourners at his funeral, hence the Deliberately Monochrome prologue. However, going by the second credits gag even the funeral and epilogue are part of Andy's show, and the real audience he's playing to is out-of-universe.
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • Downplayed at the Mustang Ranch. Andy is awkward as he chooses two women for a tryst (adopting a mock German accent to allay his nerves); once they're out of earshot Bob explains to the nonplussed madam that Andy's never done anything like this before. She reveals that "Andy comes here every weekend" (so her disdain is a "Here we go again" attitude) and when Bob expresses surprise notes "He doesn't always call himself [Andy]; sometimes he's Tony and he wears a tux."
    • 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 terminal illness with 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 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Andy's foray into "intergender", then proper professional wrestling evokes honest reactions out of his audiences, which he wants more than anything else, better than even Tony Clifton does...only for him to realize too late that said audiences don't realize what he's doing is Kayfabe and think he really is a heartless, sexist, stuck-up jerk, threatening his entire career.
  • "Good Luck" Gesture: Bob gives Andy a thumbs up gesture as the latter is laid down for Psychic Surgery.
  • 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.
  • Hate Sink: Andy's Tony Clifton and Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World personae both serve as this trope by his design. He wants to evoke "real gut reactions" from his audiences, so he creates personae they can absolutely despise without guilt. It goes badly wrong with the wrestling persona, however, because too many people believe it's who Andy actually is rather than realizing it's Kayfabe.
  • Headlock of Dominance: During their match, Jerry Lawler convinces Andy to get back into the ring by offering him a chance to put him in a headlock. Naturally Andy cannot refuse this opportunity to show superiority to the crowd's hero and takes it, but just as he's gloating, Lawler makes his move...
  • 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..."
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Andy is a gentle, dreamy, loving person who loves to perform and wants his audiences to have "experiences" they will honestly respond to. The problem is that he sees any honest response as valid, even if it's negative, so he often adopts off-putting personae to elicit them, and much of the public comes to see him as an actual jerk and rejects him for that.
  • Hope Spot: Andy regards the prospect of Psychic Surgery as the "miracle" that will finally cure his cancer...only to learn just as he's being laid down for the treatment that it's a con when he makes the mistake of turning his head and sees what the doctor's really doing. At least it's Actually Pretty Funny...
  • Horrible Hollywood: Downplayed. On the one hand, Andy's Rebellious Spirit and imagination make him a headache for his agent, TV executives, coworkers — even friends, lovers, and family. On the other hand, their lack of imagination is deeply frustrating to Andy, who hates having to compromise his art for the sake of commerce even when he is convinced that he has no choice but to do so for the sake of what he really wants.
  • 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).
  • 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 (this being 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.
    • Shortly after this, as he interrogates "Bob Gorsky" Tony notes his Polish surname and accuses him of trying to make Polish jokes, which he is offended by...while still referring to Polish people as stupid.
  • Identity Impersonator: For Tony Clifton's Lake Tahoe engagement, Andy has Bob play the role instead to maintain the fiction that Andy and Tony are not one and the same.
    • Out-of-universe, as shown in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Jim Carrey actually did this during the shoot. He received an invitation to the Playboy Mansion, and knowing that everyone would assume it was him-as-Kaufman if he were to go as Tony Clifton, sent the real Bob Zmuda in his stead as Tony — and then showed up at the party later, leading to Tony being escorted out for not being Carrey!
  • 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
    • One reason Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is Titled After the Song is that Jim Carrey identified heavily with its lyrics; in his interpretation "the great beyond" refers to Andy Kaufman himself.
  • Incredibly Long Note: Tony Clifton has a habit of attempting these when he sings. He can hold them, just not well. One he manages on the Taxi set may last upwards of ten seconds, but the producer in the sound booth turns down the volume by way of prepping to talk to George about firing him so the audience shall never know.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Justified. Twice, Andy has trouble talking due to having a cough. It's not acknowledged by anyone and is easily missed... but it foreshadows his lung cancer. What justifies this? The real Andy Kaufman 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!
    • Andy's brother Michael, along with their sister Carol, doubts that the doctor explaining Andy's cancer to them is an actual physician (both figuring Andy is Crying Wolf and has hired actors). He ends up posing as a doctor during the Carnegie Hall performance!
  • 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 decides to parlay his fascination with wrestling into his stage act — as a Heel wrestling women. Later, he and Jerry Lawler collaborate, and the two fool everyone with some hardcore Kayfabe. Even if you know Andy is faking it, he is uncomfortably realistic in his sexist persona.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: After a fashion. When George is called to arrange a booking for Tony Clifton at Harrah's Lake Tahoe resort and asks the owner his reasoning, he responds that younger tourists like Andy Kaufman, as word is getting out that Tony is actually Alter-Ego Acting. George warns him "If you book Tony do not expect Andy Kaufman", but the owner is unperturbed. As it turns out, Andy is no longer playing Tony (Bob is) and the audience, which includes George, is shocked and upset when Andy crashes Tony's act because they're only willing to put up with Tony's antics under the assumption it's Andy all along.
  • 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!" (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" (originally from the documentary Andy Kaufman: I'm from Hollywood, a retrospective of the Kaufman-Lawler feud) 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 did on set 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 destroyed the sunshiny public persona of "Jim Carrey" he maintained for the previous few years as an A-list star, who was overly worried about what other people thought of him.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Virtually all the major and minor players attend Andy's funeral, even those antagonized by his antics, representing all the different aspects of his art. They also put their arms around those sitting next to them ("Even if you don't like that person!") to sing along with "This Friendly World" at his behest via a film he prepared for the occasion. Notably, the French dub presents a fully-translated version of the song for this sequence, as opposed to most of Andy's other songs. (The sequence is a combination of the church service attended by friends, family, and admirers in Great Neck, and a memorial service in Los Angeles that was attended primarily by professional colleagues such as the bulk of the Taxi cast.)
  • 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...
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Several examples — all of which, unusually for this trope, are intentionally invoked.
    • In the prologue, during the third go-round of the sentimental music under the cast list Andy suddenly slams the record player shut (crossing this with Record Needle Scratch) and on top of that, the screen goes black.
    • Tony Clifton's performance of "I've Got to Be Me" in Lake Tahoe is interrupted by...another musical number when Andy goes into his "Caspiar harvest song" rountine.
    • At Carnegie Hall, the orchestra's increasingly (thanks to Andy) frantic performance of "Jingle Jangle Jingle" is interrupted by the elderly showgirl dancing to it suddenly collapsing from a (fake) heart attack.
  • 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 in 1999) that Andy Kafuman managed to fake his death. It allows the action to end on one last question of what is real and what is staged, in the spirit of his work.
  • Nap-Inducing Speak: Andy's Great Gatsby reading qualifies — by the time he's done some of the few college students who stuck around for it have dozed off.
  • 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 moments — in the face of the world not believing he is terminally ill, or realizing that his last hope for a cure is a fraud, he can only 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." In a deleted scene, in the wake of the match with Jerry Lawler that appears to end with Andy being badly injured, Andy's overjoyed to be described in a newspaper article as mentally unsound!
  • 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.)
  • One for the Money; One for the Art: In-universe, Andy agrees to the Taxi contract but one condition of his participation is being allowed a TV special where he can do what he wants. To his heartbreak, he does get to make the special but the network decides not to air it because it's too weird; leaving him stuck in a five-year contract. His stage act begins getting more experimental and alienating as a way of compensating for this, and it's heavily suggested that the contract negotiated for Tony Clifton to do Taxi guest appearances is another release valve for his frustrations.
  • 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.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Downplayed because it comes so early on that it's easy to miss, but when George visits Andy backstage immediately after seeing his Foreign Man set at the Improv, Andy is still in character, telling George that he's from "a very small island in the Caspian Sea. Eet sunk" and acting standoffish. But he does accept George's business card and upon realizing he's a powerful agent, immediately shouts "Mr. Shapiro!" in his own voice to stop him from leaving.
  • Oscar Bait: Not that it took. Besides failing at the box-office, the film wasn't nominated for any Oscars, which was actually 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.
  • Painting the Medium: On multiple levels. For example, Andy does this with the vertical hold gag in his variety special, but also with rolling the end credits in the Framing Device. Oh, and one TV commercial for the film excerpted the vertical hold scene and made it appear the viewer's TV's vertical hold was malfunctioning! The Video Full of Film Clips for "The Great Beyond" had fun with this too (when the band accidentally knocks one TV on its side, the image on the viewer's screen is turned on its side for a few shots).
  • Paparazzi: Variation: Bob is planted on the Taxi set to take pictures of Tony's response to being fired; although the producer realizes what's going on and sends security after him to confiscate the camera, he successfully passes it off to George and a photo of the incident manages to get printed in newspapers.
  • Posthumous Narration: Played with and downplayed with the prologue having the dead protagonist introduce his life story, and later suggesting that all this was actually prepped in advance as a Video Will.
  • Postmodernism: Although it's based on true events, this film qualifies. 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. And, depending on interpretation, The Ending Changes Everything!
  • 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...and with that, 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.
  • Record Needle Scratch: A loud one when Andy slams the record player's lid shut during the prologue, accentuating the screen cutting to black.
  • The Reveal: Much of the first two acts of the movie are based on reveals made to the in-universe and/or out-of-universe audiences about what Andy is actually doing at any given moment. The biggest one for the latter is that until Andy is voted off of Saturday Night Live, there's no indication that he and Jerry Lawler have been Friends All Along and that Andy never really needed the neckbrace he wore to the Late Night with David Letterman appearance. (As scripted and shot, the latter was revealed right after the match backstage, but the filmmakers didn't want to spoil the former too soon so the scene was cut.)
  • Rule of Three: Pointing to Andy's real life Neat Freak tendencies, in the early going he's seen using moist towelettes (aka hand wipes) three times: First during dinner with George, second as they begin their meeting to discuss the prospect of Andy doing Taxi and third...after he's shaken the hand of ABC executive Maynard Smith over agreeing to pull back on the Painting the Medium static gag in his special.
    • This is revisited when Tony is thrown off of the Paramount Pictures lot and makes some requests from the guards that go unfulfilled: "Drink of water? ...Aspirin?...Moist towelette?"
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Inverted with Andy and Lynne's relationship, as Andy is the energetic one and Lynne the savvy one.
  • Significant Birth Date: One TV ad pointed out that Andy Kaufman and Jim Carrey were both born on January 17.
  • Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: George Shapiro subverts the trope. He is good at convincing executives to take a chance on Andy and, in turn, convincing Andy to make compromises to get his career off and running; he also desperately tries to keep the latter's wilder impulses in check as it becomes clear that Andy's career prospects are endangered. But he cares about Andy as a person, not merely a client. 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.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Time-Compression Montage depicting Andy's intergender wrestling career is scored with...the tender ballad "Rose Marie"? (The version used is the real Andy Kaufman's performance of it on Late Night with David Letterman; since he was imitating the voice of Slim Whitman, only those familiar with his work would recognize this in-joke.)
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Downplayed and played for laughs (after a fashion) with Tony Clifton, whose appearances tend to come in the wake of Andy being frustrated by the constrictions of the showbusiness establishment and audience expectations. His last appearance prior to the epilogue comes as Andy is withering away from cancer, with Tony insisting that he is not sick but "getting stronger and stronger!"
  • Tantrum Throwing: When Tony learns that he's been fired from Taxi, he pitches a vicious tantrum that includes him throwing a wooden chair, which smashes a light in the set.
  • Thanking the Viewer: The film screened at Andy's Cheerful Funeral ends with him doing this, though its staging means it's addressed as much to the out-of-universe audience as the in-universe one: "Thank you...and goodbye."
  • 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.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: George holds out hope when he goes to Mama Rivoli's restaurant to actually see Tony Clifton for the first time, but when Tony forgets the lyrics of "Volare" and starts improvising absurd rhyming couplets he groans "Oh my God..."
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Andy has this as he lies in bed after being effectively excommunicated by the Transcendental Meditation officials (this being a crushing loss for him on top of being banned from Saturday Night Live).
  • Time-Compression Montage: Two.
    • Andy's rise to mainstream stardom as Latka Gravas on Taxi is condensed into a montage that recreates scenes from many actual episodes, especially A Day in the Limelight appearances, from the first four seasons (likely leaving out Season Five because by that point he was showing up less frequently)note .
    • Andy's career as the Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World is turned into this as — per his cheeky promise to George — he publicly wrestles women "again, and again, and again, and again..."
  • Titled After the Song:
    • The movie's title comes from the R.E.M. song of the same name. According to the screenwriters, Miloš Forman thought it was a perfect title for the film despite not being aware of the song at the time he read the script — because it suggested someone set apart from the rest of humanity.
    • The documentary about Jim Carrey staying in character during this production is named after the R.E.M. 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 on 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 not true; he and Lynne have just started co-habiting). 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 it — 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.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Andy convinces Lynne to agree to wrestle him in Memphis by way of staging a public proposal of marriage to her, only for Jerry Lawler to interrupt and reveal the deception — setting up a whole new one with the start of the Kaufman-Lawler feud. Downplayed in that Lynne is savvy enough to ask Andy "Was this for real?" when he first suggests the con but ends up learning just how unreal things are too late. When she calls him out on it, however, his response does reveal that he sincerely loves her. Later, George initially fears he's being used as this trope when Andy reveals his terminal illness.
  • 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.
  • Video Will: Before his death, Andy prepares a film of himself performing "This Friendly World" as an Audience Participation Song, which ends with him Thanking the Viewer, to run at his Cheerful Funeral. The screenplay suggests that the entire movie up to this point is this, which is why the prologue and this sequence are Deliberately Monochrome.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: In-universe, Andy seems to have this mindset. He believes making his audiences feel things honestly and deeply, often through the element of surprise, is better than just giving them what they want and/or expect, even if he risks being abhorred on a mass scale. He believes that he doesn't have to explain the joke because people will realize what he's doing and understand him if they're patient. Very, very few people in his inner circle understand this, much less those out of the loop, and he ends up heartbroken first by Saturday Night Live viewers voting him off of the show, and second by being in effect excommunicated from the Transcendental Meditation movement because too many people believe he's an uncaring jerk.
  • Wag the Director: In-universe, Tony attempts this when he makes his guest appearance on Taxi, starting with a claim that after reading the script the previous night he and his two molls made some changes to it, but his behavior is so obnoxious and time-wasting that (with Andy's blessing) he gets fired instead.
  • 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 
    • Arguably the second Credits Gag, since it suggests everything in the film, including the epilogue, is Andy's version of events.
  • 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.
    • Played with when the Fridays restaurant sketch goes off the rails: Andy justifies his breaking character by saying he feels stupid playing stoned, and Melanie asks him "You feel stupid? What about us?" However, the whole business is actually a Worked Shoot.
    • 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.
  • Worth It: Andy's entire approach to performing, if not life, is that if he gets an honest reaction out of his audience/observers then anything else that happens to him is just the price he has to pay for it. The attitude wavers a bit once his career and personal life are badly affected by the fallout from the confrontation with Jerry Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman, but he never completely gives it up.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The key gimmick of his wrestling career at first as 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!