Zmuda, Bob 1949-
ZMUDA, Bob 1949-
PERSONAL: Born 1949, in Chicago, IL.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Comedian; television and film producer; Comic Relief, HBO, creator; Man on the Moon (film), co-executive producer, 1999.
AWARDS, HONORS: Emmy Award; Cable ACE Award.
(With Matthew Scott Hansen) Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Though television and film producer Bob Zmuda has numerous credits to his name, most notably as creator of the popular Comic Relief shows for HBO, the work he did with innovative comedian Andy Kaufman is arguably his greatest claim to fame. Zmuda, who had grown up in a working-class Polish-American family in Chicago, moved to New York City to pursue a career in comedy after developing a taste for the type of political street theater the Yuppie group used to satirize Chicago politics at the 1968 democratic convention. Zmuda met Kaufman in New York in 1972, befriending the influential comic and becoming his writer and collaborator through a career that included Kaufman's role as Latka in the popular sit com Taxi, several appearances on Saturday Night Live, and contests in which the comedian wrestled attractive young women. Zmuda helped Kaufman develop the controversial character of Tony Clifton, an offensive lounge singer, and even played Clifton in an elaborate hoax that Kaufman hoped to pull on the media. Privy to many of Kaufman's most notorious pranks, Zmuda was considered well qualified to pen his friend's biography, Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All.
The book, which Zmuda coauthored with Matthew Scott Hansen, fulfills part of a promise Zmuda made Kaufman as the comedian lay dying of lung cancer in 1984. As Zmuda explained to Betsy Sherman in a Boston Globe interview, Kaufman feared that he would be remembered only as the sweet and silly Latka and not as a comedian who took considerable creative risks. Zmuda's book, the publication of which coincided with the release of the biographical film Man on the Moon, for which Zmuda served as co-executive producer and which was also part of Kaufman's dying wish, was intended to set the record straight. "There's an Andy Kaufman mystique that I'm concerned about perpetuating" in the book and the film, the author told Sherman. "Yet at the same time, I realize that this is the record now. . . . I want [these works] to show the real guy."
Critics appreciated the book's timeliness, and generally enjoyed its portrayal of the innovative comic, who fooled his friends into thinking that his death may have been another of his trademark hoaxes—a prank to which Zmuda alludes, which reads "Kaufman, if you're still alive, I'll kill you." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book a "highly absorbing memoir" that reveals some interesting secrets about its eccentric subject. Booklist's Mike Tribby heaped similar praise on the book, calling it "thoroughly entertaining [and] illuminating." Though New York Times Book Review writer Lance Gould felt that the book fails to reveal much that was new about its subject, he pointed out that it is nevertheless an "often hilarious tribute" to Kaufman.
As creator of HBO's Comic Relief specials, Zmuda helped the network raise over $50 million for America's homeless. The popularity of Comic Relief led to the 1995 NBC tribute, Comic Salute to Andy Kaufman, which in turn helped convince producers that an audience existed for the biographical film that followed. Having fulfilled his dual obligation to his friend, Zmuda feels he has revealed the man behind the elaborate act. As he said in the Boston Globe interview, "I think there's a greater appreciation of Andy if you know the whole story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Zmuda, Bob, and Matthew Scott Hanson, Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.
Booklist, September 15, 1999, Mike Tribby, review of Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All, p. 214.
Boston Globe, December 19, 1999, Betsy Sherman, "Channeling Andy with 'Man on the Moon,'; Bob Zmuda Tries to Let the Real Kaufman Out," p. N7.
Esquire, March, 1998, Ronn Rosenbaum, "The Return of Andy Kaufman," p. N58.
New York Times Book Review, September 26, 1999, Lance Gould, review of Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1999, "It's Andy Time," p. 226; August 16, 1999, review of Andy Kaufman Revealed! Best Friend Tells All, p. 69.*