Tag Archives: elvis impersonators

Van Heffer: Elvis, Ozzy and the Brazilian Bus Plunge

2318534Why aren’t there more films about effeminate Elvis impersonators doing Ozzy Osbourne songs with a crack bluegrass band? Co-writer/director/producer (and Nashville music producer) Scott Rouse set out to remedy this omission with his short film, Van Heffer.

The Comedy Central pilot traces the life, career and mysterious death of Sherman Van Heffer (Shane Caldwell) told in the style of the mockumentary pioneered by Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer with 1984’s This is Spinal Tap.

Van Heffer is peppered with a virtual who’s who of bluegrass legends playing themselves (Del McCoury, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill) as well as Nashville notables such as Station Inn owner J.T. Gray and Wichita Rutherford, which lend the film its sharp, sarcastic authenticity.

To the best of my knowledge nothing further came of the project with Comedy Central, but the pilot has become a cult classic, and was a hit at the 2006 Nashville Film Festival.

Look for yours truly (with a transitory southern accent) as the record store clerk. The running time is a mere 26 minutes, so there is very little commitment. Much like my acting.

Shrewd and Knavish Sprite: Will the Real Andy Kaufman Please Stand Up?

What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is “art.” – Orson Welles

Art is a lie. – Pablo Picasso

andy-kaufman

The 1973 Orson Welles film F For Fake strings together several stories, including controversial author Clifford Irving’s biography of noted art forger Elmyr de Hory (whose works were a hoax) as well as his “authorized” biography of the reclusive Howard Hughes (itself a hoax). Welles reminds us that he himself burst into the public consciousness via a hoax – his 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds. The broadcast was presented as a live news report detailing an alien invasion in New Jersey. It was so convincing people reportedly committed suicide in the face of the news that little green men from Mars were overtaking the planet.

F For Fake is not really a documentary or a narrative; nor is it really fact or fiction. The film is one big magic trick. Its genius lies in its relentless deception and refusal to be categorized.

By his own admission, Andy Kaufman was not a comedian. He was a performer. (Or performance artist, if you will, although Kaufman preferred the term “song and dance man.”)

From the very beginning, music played a key role in Andy Kaufman’s act and work. Whether he was accompanying himself with his guitar or bongos, or playing a record on stage from a portable turntable, music permeated almost every bit. Music and comedy are both utterly dependent on timing and setup, and Kaufman understood both devices instinctively. His entire oeuvre was based on trying the audiences’ collective patience. A few boos or walk-outs were almost necessary for the bits to work. But there comes a tipping point any time a performer intentionally manipulates an audience. Kaufman’s years toiling in the comedy clubs honed his instincts to perfection, allowing him to gauge just when an audience had had enough and required a payoff for their patience. Sometimes he let that moment pass altogether, allowing the palpable awkwardness to become the joke itself.

Kaufman first gained notoriety with his “Foreign Man” character, which later served as the basis for the Latka Gravas character on the sitcom Taxi. Foreign Man was a naïve, soft-spoken immigrant from the fictional island of Caspiar. Kaufman first developed the character, or so he claims, to ward off toughs on the streets of New York City. Incidentally, this was the very same reason Chico Marx developed his Italian immigrant persona; the difference being one went tough to blend in while the other went soft, to be seen as different and therefore pitiable.

One of his earliest and simplest bits utilizing Foreign Man remains perhaps his most endearing. The premise Continue reading →