Man on the Moon

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Man on the Moon (1999) is a Biopic of Andy Kaufman, directed by Milos Forman, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and Titled After the Song by R.E.M. With regards to its writers, the film completes a sort of spiritual trilogy -- namely, biopics of eccentrics. Its predecessors are 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 Seventies, and the fall he suffers in The Eighties as his eccentric acts become harder for those who care about him -- much less audiences -- to understand, much less embrace. It's a tale of how much Doing It for the Art can cost an artist and how even Tricksters can be tricked...

Acknowledging its use of Artistic Licence upfront (and building a Credits Gag upon it), the film pivots upon Jim Carrey's performance as Andy and his many alter-egos.

  • 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.
  • Artistic Licence: 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.
  • 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 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).
  • Biopic
  • 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.
  • Character as Himself: Tony Clifton (also, Howdy Doody).
  • Composite Character: Lynne Marguiles (played by Courtney Love) was Andy's late-in-life girlfriend -- they met in 1983 -- and becomes a composite of his many girlfriends over the years here, meeting Andy at the turn of The Eighties when she volunteers to wrestle him.
  • Credits Gag: A rare opening credits one, with Andy coming out and acknowledging that the film is terrible and because it took so much 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 when he's diagnosed with cancer.
  • Description Cut: Andy is adamant about not becoming a sitcom actor who simply parrots expected lines. Cue a montage of Andy doing his signature "Thank you veddy much" in episode after episode of Taxi.
  • 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. It's the last time we see him alive.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Tony Clifton frustrates the cast and crew of Taxi, Ed Weinberger is forced to fire him. He and George Shapiro call Andy (Who was really in the dressing room in full Tony Clifton attire.), to ask his permission to fire him. What makes this specific variation of the trope hilarious is despite the dialogue below, the audience has no idea what Ed said to make Tony go off. But we do know Andy pre-planned said reaction as Tony because he knew ahead of time from the phone call.

Ed Weinberger: We have to do this, he's just a terrible actor.
Andy Kaufman: Ok, but please let him down gently.
Ed Weingerger: Trust us.
-Cuts to the actual firing-
Tony Clifton: FUCK YOU!!! I'M NOT GOING!!

  • Incurable Cough of Death: Twice, Andy has trouble talking due to having a cough. It's not acknowledged by anyone in-story and is easily missed...but as it did in real life, it foreshadows his lung cancer (making this a justified use of the trope).
  • Insistent Terminology: Andy hates being called a "comedian", since his act does not consist of telling jokes to get laughs. He prefers "entertainer" and tries to avoid being pigeon-holed as a comedian, which leads to his reluctance to do Taxi.
  • Jerkass: Andy's Tony Clifton act, which basically consisted of him pretending to be a terrible lounge singer who spent most of his 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...
  • Match 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.
  • Money, Dear Boy: 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 about his disdain of working on the show, works in demands in his contract (including a vaudeville show that fails miserably), and tries to act in a manner that will get him out of his deal.
  • 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.
  • Trickster Archetype: Andy.
  • Troll: Andy's entire comedy career was essentially a series of ridiculously elaborate practical jokes towards his audience (and the audience was sometimes merely the studio execs who had to deal with his and/or Tony Clifton's shenanigans).
  • 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.