Wrestling is not a Game

Pop culture places a certain degree of spectacle on method acting. People seem to love and admire how Daniel Day Lewis built and lived in a long cabin for Lincoln or learned to sew dressed for the Phantom Thread. In that way, Jim and Andy plays upon a common trope of a certain type of actor getting too deeply intertwined with the role their playing. What specifically makes Jim and Andy interesting is the paralleling of Jim Carrey adopting the character of Andy Kaufman, a man who spent a great deal of his life likewise adopting a certain caricature of himself. In the documentary, Jim Carrey describes a great deal of bleed, Andy taking over his personality to form a separate identity from himself during the process. In the process of playing the character, Jim Carrey directly describes having to figure out “what the hell I am again,” after leaving the Andy Kaufman persona. (Jim & Andy, 1:25:00)

            Jim and Andy like Man on the Moon plays out as a series of Andy Kaufman’s greatest hits but performed again on the unsuspecting crew of the movie, rather than the extras in the film. The most interesting aspect of this is the encounter with Jerry Lawler, where Jim Carrey’s interpretation seems to override the historicity and bleed in to the pair’s relationship. Things planned in good fun between Jerry and Andy in the 80s were taken entirely seriously by Jim Carrey as he openly mocks Lawler, while claiming that “I’m not making choices based on what Jim does, that was Andy.” (1:02:00) Jim Carrey describes how Jerry Lawler came “from another world,” and Jim’s Andy “felt it was necessary to stay in character” of disliking Lawler, conceding the sort of inaccuracy of the portrayal. (39:00) Jim Carrey describes wrestling as “another world” to his acting as Kaufman, but the interesting thing is how Kaufman would likely say the opposite.

            There are two modes of discussing wrestling, shoot and kayfabe. Kayfabe is the presupposition that wrestling is real, and discussion under the idea that professional wrestling is in fact a legitimate sports competition. Until the 90s, kayfabe was maintained at all times, the bad wrestlers rode one bus, while the good guys rode another with no interaction, regardless of any personal relationships. Meanwhile, when things are discussed as a shoot, the backstage politics and real lives of wrestlers are discussed in the context of scripted and pre-determined sports entertainment. And in shoot interviews, Lawler describes Andy Kaufman as directly influenced and inspired by this mentality in his work. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKw7cV20NqM) Growing up in Long Island in the territory days, what influenced Kaufman’s foray into wrestling was an appreciation of the philosophy of the business. Additionally, unlike many of Kaufman’s jokes that remain veiled in mystery, the process behind Jerry Lawler and Kaufman’s feud has been documented in countless interviews and podcasts.

            Rather than randomly provoke and harass Jerry, like Carrey did in the documentary, Andy Kaufman contacted Jerry Lawler as a notable fan in order to arrange things, friends the whole time. Wrestling, before the curtain fully came down, presents an interesting parallel to ARG’s. Wrestlers appeared in public as their characters at all times, giving interviews in character at all times. Like an ARG, despite having scripts and story beats, a match can’t be planned to the second and wrestlers have to prepare for one another’s moves and crowd interactions. Rather than looking to the Jim Carrey idea of getting completely engrossed in a character to the point of blending with it in order to create a sense of reality. ARG developers might take a cue from Andy Kaufman and the world of professional wrestling, commit fully when visible and in front of the curtain, then maintain the spirit of collaboration when the audience isn’t around.

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