I decided to choose one of Andy Kaufman’s characters to analyse. He was born in 1949 and became popular in the 70’s. He never considered himself as a comedian. If given the choice he would rather to be introduced as a song-and-dance man. As he performed many acts I thought I would concentrate on one, and explore the voce attributes of that character.
Andy Kaufman is known to transform into many acts, some make believe and some impersonations of famous people such as his invisible twin brother, a wrestler, Elvis Presley, fictional characters and many more. One of the well known acts of Andy Kaufman I have chosen to analyse is Tony Clifton, he is an abusive lounge singer who began opening for Kaufman at comedy clubs and eventually even performed concerts on his own around the country. For a brief time, it was unclear to some that Clifton was not a real person. News programs interviewed Tony Clifton as Andy Kaufman’s opening act, the mood would often turn ugly at this point from Tony Clifton, as whenever Andy Kaufman’s name came up in his presence he got stroppy. Although Tony Clifton was played by Andy Kaufman they had a strange relationship as Clifton was convinced that Andy Kaufman was attempting to ruin Clifton’s “good name” in order to make money and get famous, this was another way for Andy Kaufman to create his own surreal world and create real reactions and emotions from his audience.
I used many clips to analyse Tony Clifton’s vocal performances and in the appendix are the two scripted versions used from the presentations. Also included are stressed points where he uses common voice attributes.
The character Tony Clifton has an american accent with a hint of italian making it sometimes difficult to transcribe what he is saying. His accent is an imitation and never goes off course when performing. The character tries to come across as being a ‘wise guy’ and this also mirrors his accent with a gangster tone to it. The character often uses schwa in the pronunciation of many words. The final vowel in a word is often dropped, such as the word “mozzarella” would be said “mozzarell”. Andy Kaufman also does not pronounce the double consonants in words, and just pronounces one, for example ‘bella’ in Italy is pronounced ‘bel-la’ but imitating an American/Italian he pronounces one ‘l’. These are common attributes in an American/Italian accent and Andy Kaufman has done his research on trying to achieve it.
Time Rhythm and Stress
The characters timing is purposely not always appropriate, with speaking over interviewees and sometimes having long pauses in acts. Although the long pauses are deliberately there, they are often only in-between acts and not during. The rhythm of his speech and song has no correlation, with him speeding up and slowing down at no particular mile stones. His rhythm in song is not coordinated very well with the melody, but he wants it to be rough and to create reactions from the audience to laugh at how bad the act is, or to cause other emotions such as anger.
For the character Tony Cifton the time taken to say a phrase does not depend on the number of syllables but on how many stressed syllables it contains, however most of his are not stressed, so when he does make an effort to stress all syllables in a word it stands out from the rest. Stressd words often come into place when singing and speaking, these words are often the main words of a joke or song, he stresses them by pronouncing them fully and raising or exaggerating his voice.
Acts performed by lounge singers are meant to be packaged, organised and structured however Tony Clifton wants the audience to see his act as chaotic, spontaneous and unplanned which he achieves by being structured, organised and having a packaged act, he just does it in a different way.
Andy Kaufmans’s character uses pitch syntactically, to convey surprise, irony and to change a statement to a question. He uses all intonaions for his act, but he has two main intonations that he uses often. Firstly in speech the Rising Intonation is used where the voice increases over a period of time, for example when he gets to the end of a joke he gets louder and louder and starts to shout, such as the joke below which is also in the appendix.
‘Woah somebody’s is wearing a lot of perfume round here
must be that time of the month – huh?’
(Andy Kaufman, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)
On both lines the pitch rises towards the end and the bold words are where he shouts the words. He uses this as it makes the joke clearer and the punch lines are towards the end which they are then neatly structured to make it obvious which is the part to listen to.
When singing uses both Dipping Intonation where his voice falls and then rises and Peaking Intonation where his voice rises and then falls. Which he uses strongly in the beginning of song ‘I will survive’. This is shown in the lines below, with the rising pitch in blue and the falling pitch in red:
‘First I was afraid
I was petrified
Kept thinkin I could never live
Without you by my side’
(Andy Kaufman, I Will Survive)
He uses intonation to keep the song entertaining as if it was just one pitch used throughout the song it would make it sound drowning and boring.
The quality of his voice is not the best, which is what Andy Kaufman is trying to achieve as he wants it to be amusing not an every day voice the audience would come across. The voise has three main qualities that stand out, firstly it is very naisily which is a reflection of his accent, he is always speaking from the nose and never from the chest which gives a higher pitched voice leaning towards attribuses of a female voice. Secondly his voice is rough with a hoarseness effect which is “more coman in male speech and singing” this attribute may be put on because it reflects the smokey surroundings the character performs in and he is also known to be a heavy smoker and drinker himself. Thirdly his voiceis very vibrato, it is very ‘grainy’ with regular wavering especially in his singing in the such repeated word ‘surviver’ at the end of the song where the vibrato is very exaggerated.
The voice is made up of many more attributes which are less obvious but equally important of creating this fictional characters voice, including the tencing of the throat muscles to give “an ambulances shrieking siren…which the sound is used, to become ‘aggression’, ‘represion’, ‘excitement’ and a hoast of other meanings which can be said to include the idea of ‘tension'”.
(Theo Van Leeuwen (1999) Pg 131)
Ths can also be seen by using the ‘key table’ in the appendix’. Andy Kaufman sings certain words breathy which he does purposely for an comedic effect, he takes a noticable breath before he sings a word and sings it in seperate syllables. At the beginning of the song he sings the first few lines while breathing outwards giving that part of the song a calmer effect than the rest, although he does not use any of these breathy attributs in his speech. He also differes from being loud to quiet especially when singing which is also partly connected to his breathing. He likes being spontanious with soft and loud in speech and song, it keeps the audience alert and it is all part of the act to surprise the audience.
Characteristics of Andy Kaufman
Andy Kaufaman’s acts are all based around realisim. He liked to be introduced as a song-and-dance-man as he felt being classed as a comedian put pressure on his audience to laugh. Besides, sometimes they didn’t laugh and he wanted it that way. Andy worked hard to create real reactions, he wanted people to laugh from the gut, get sad from the gut or get angry from the gut, and that’s what he was best at.
The character Tony Clifton mirrored on his looks, voice attributes and personality. He often wore a seventies-era gold lamï¿½ tux, he was overweight and the sort forever doomed to play tiny clubs and open mike nights however as he was a fictional character he ventured into other areas such as television where his acts where more scripted. The main part of his act was to sing and interact with his audience. His singing voice was concidered awful to many, and his humur in bad taste but that was the main part of his actand people grew to like him.
His act is inbertween spontaneous and prepared, where he knows what songs he will be singing, he knows what jokes he will be resiting but he also has small interaction with his audience; which is normally a relevantly small group. His character often asks the crowd questions but does not wait to listen for there answers and does not often respond to them as shown in the transcription, when he does coraspont to the audiences answers it could be questioned if some members of the crowd are in on the act.
Andy Kaufman is trying to create this fictional character influenced by gangsters and wise guys but still having a uniqueness. He achieves this by playing around with creative language to create this character, some of these attributes include; impersonations of other characters, repeated sentances and words giving the act a more real and genuine effect. Contributing to this point are his stuttuers, thinking pauses and umm’s throughout his acts this can be seen using the ‘Key’ and transcription in appendix One and Two. He uses jokes and brings the audiences into them by using them as his punch lines by also used marked vocabulary which is often inappropriate and and unexpected, this is shown below:
‘I think you sat in some cottage cheese
Oh pardon me, that’s your ass’
(Andy Kaufman, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)
As shown his jokes also use such attributes as sarcasm and mockery.
Andy is well known for playing many characters and many people to this day are unsure who the real kaufman was.
Andy Kaufman (Year Unknown) Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Audio Clip
Full Transcription – Appendix Two
Andy Kaufman (Year Unknown) I will Survive, Audio Clip
Full Transcription – Appendix Three
Theo Van Leeuwen (1999) Speech, Sound, Music. London, Macmillan presses Ltd
Milroy, James; and Lesley Milroy (2005). Autobiography in Language: Investigating Standard English, 3rd Edition, London: Routledge
www.subcin.com/tony.html, THE TONY CLIFTON STORY, Author Unknown, 18/04/2007
William J. Hardcastle, John Laver (1999) The Handbook of Phonetic Sciences, Reprint edition, Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics