On the Road with Tony Clifton
A Filmmaker’s Life and Work with the Drunken, Racist, and Probably Fictitious Lounge Singer
Scroll to the bottom of this piece to watch the exclusive premiere of Tony Clifton’s music video for “Lonely Girl.” It’s safe for work… ish.
Before the flood, Jeremy Johnson and his wife were always in the process of starting or ending some new independent business venture. Nothing ever stuck. Before Hurricane Katrina filled their New Orleans home with poisonous water, they’d curated a personal museum of pop-culture knick-knacks that they eventually tried turning into a thrift shop. Looking back on it, the most important items in Jeremy’s collection included the official WWF Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler figurines, and a copy of Lynne Margulies’s Kaufman documentary I’m From Hollywood, which told the story of the aggressively strange, groundbreaking comedian and performer’s venture into the wrestling ring. “Andy Kaufman hit me hard at a young age,” Johnson explains. “In sixth grade, this male friend of mine would get these girls in the neighborhood to come over, we would watch videotapes of Andy Kaufman wrestling women, and we would wrestle the girls in his parents’ living room while watching the videos.”
Katrina also flooded the school where Jeremy had been teaching moderately disabled high school kids, so in 2007, at the age of 27, Johnson began working at a coffee shop, while rebuilding his home. As an emotional booby prize, Johnson finally had the time to indulge his amateur filmmaking urges. “For a long time I’d been denying my creative side,” Johnson says. He slung coffee to a number of New Orleans layabouts, including an old gray-haired hippie type who began coming in every day to chat up Jeremy about pop culture, especially film. Not until the ponytailed fellow asked Jeremy to help him film a commercial for insult comic and “singer” Tony Clifton’s big comeback tour did Johnson recognize him as Andy Kaufman’s former writing partner, Bob Zmuda.
(Source: Vice Magazine)
Gregory Scarpa, Sr. was an enforcer for the Colombo crime family, specifically for the boss Carmine Persico. He was responsible for at least three murders in 1991. In addition to being a murderer, Scarpa was also racist. He despised African Americans. In fact, in 1986, he underwent emergency ulcer surgery at Victory Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn. He refused blood donations from the local blood bank because he feared that the blood may have been donated by African Americans.
Instead, he took blood donations from several family members and associates. One associate was mobster Paul Mele, who was a body builder and steroid user. Mele had contracted HIV from a dirty needle and ended up passing it on to Scarpa. It eventually progressed into AIDS which caused the death of the mobster. So Scarpa died from being a racist.
In this week’s issue, Paul Bloom examines the latest empathy research and its role in policymaking: http://nyr.kr/135ouGr Here, he looks at how attractiveness influences empathy, particularly in the case of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: http://nyr.kr/13p9LX2
Photograph by Robin Young