Tony Clifton’s ‘Live on the Sunset Strip’: Punchline Magazine reviews the rough cut

By | April 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm | 2 comments | News, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tony CliftonFans and co-conspirators alike crammed into the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles last week for a sneak preview of an early cut of Tony Clifton: Live on the Sunset Strip.

The documentary captures the highs, lows, and on-stage vagina shavings of Tony Clifton’s four-night stand at the Comedy Store in May 2010, which commemorated the 25th anniversary of his first show after the death of his creator, Andy Kaufman.

And, what a document it is.

Whether or not it’s longtime Kaufman collaborator and Comic Relief founder Bob Zmuda in the Clifton role almost doesn’t matter, because the end product is so crazily its own thing. By the end, you’re not sure what’s real or what’s a bit, but be sure of this: Tony Clifton: Live on the Sunset Strip makes The Last Waltz look like a piece of shit.

Organizers did specify it was an early cut – there were no credits, of any kind, and audience members filled out surveys with questions that suggest that the filmmakers are still tinkering with the length and other editing choices – but as a representation of just what you’re in for if you go see Tony Clifton live, the film felt fairly complete.

Plenty of jokes that would need to be cleaned up to be off-color, singing that could generously be described as “horrendous,” and a whole lot of whiskey drinking. Also, Tony duets with a puppet version of himself, humiliates several audience members, and cranks out a performance of “Rhinestone Cowboy” that goes on for so long, it becomes an endurance match of ridiculousness.

In other words, it’s awesome, even if not everyone in his crowd agrees. Several of Tony’s routines or songs are punctuated by cutaways to people in the Comedy Store crowd, many of whom look like confused hostages, and who can blame them?

Tony Clifton: Live on the Sunset Strip is the fullest realization of the Clifton character, from sideshow oddity to a bizarrely irresistible flesh-and-blood figure, with his own needs, personality quirks, and explosive, racist temperament. With only a brief off-stage interlude to illustrate the madness of being a touring musician when your bandleader is a fictional character prone to whiskey-fueled rage rehearsals, the documentary keeps us on-stage and in the moment. And, though the film doesn’t nearly approach the three or four hour length of a real Clifton show, it is the best approximation of seeing Tony perform without the risk of getting a cigarette flicked at you or being yelled at for talking during an ear-piercingly off-key Rat Pack medley.

By the time Live on the Sunset Strip concludes, with a cover of “Man on the Moon,” a song REM wrote about Andy Kaufman that appears on the soundtrack of the Jim Carrey film of the same name in which Tony claims to have co-starred with Carrey, you’ll have long stopped thinking about Clifton in terms of Zmuda’s show-biz deconstruction or unthinkable character commitment. By then, he’s just a real person– one who you love, hate, fear, pity, and can’t help but think of whenever you hear forty-five reprises of “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

About the Author

Rob Turbovsky

  • http://www.RebeccaFoster.Co Rebecca F

    Congrats Tony and Andy!!! Glad it was a hit!

  • Mysticmaestro

    After looking into this for a few years, and following many of the theories about how Kaufman might have faked his death and got away with it later due to SOL I’m starting to actually think Andy made a quiet return in 2004…and has been doing increasingly ridiculous appearances as Clifton ever since, he shows up at irregular places now too and after 2004 Clifton starts to get all sorts of deals. That is to say he maybe made connection with Zmuda and the other Clifton impersonators and possibly family to let them in on the joke/apologize in the years leading up to 2008, and has now taken over Tony Clifton’s career permanently.  I think he’s gaining more popularit now, and becoming even edgier to push the envelope because Andy perhaps really is back and that’s his main hint to us.  However, I think he may go on to live the rest of his life out as Tony Clifton to keep people guessing, but I really hope this explains the new found commitment to the Tony Clifton character.