A show business legend who has performed alongside Rodney Dangerfield, The Muppets and Andy Kaufman, Tony Clifton has been making people scratch their heads for almost 40 years. While Clifton has been immortalized through the hit bio-pic Man On The Moon, the globe-trotting singer still feels that he has plenty to prove, as stated during our phone conversation. In turn, Tony Clifton will be headlining the intimate New York City venue known as The Iridium on October 31 and November 1, bringing a full band with him from Los Angeles.
The legacy of Tony Clifton will soon be getting attention from a new generation, thanks to Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Recently sold to Netflix, the premiere of Jim & Andy is set for November 17. As mentioned by Clifton, it is hoped that the success of Jim & Andy will finally lead to Universal Pictures greenlighting The Tony Clifton Story — as penned by Kaufman and Clifton — more than three decades after it was first submitted to Universal.
Trademark dirty jokes aside, Mr. Clifton was on his best behavior when talking to me for the Inquisitr. More on Tony Clifton can be found online at www.tonyclifton.net.
I had the pleasure of seeing you live at The Comedy Store four or five years ago. Has your live show evolved since that residency in Los Angeles?
Tony Clifton: Actually we shut the show down for a few years. This is kind of a strange booking that just came together for Halloween. I don’t like to turn gigs down, so we got this booking a couple of months ago. I said yes because I celebrate Halloween more than any other night. More than Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday combined. I said, “Oh that sounds like fun.” One thing led to another and we put this band together. I’ve got a big thing coming out, do you know about this with Netflix?
The documentary with Jim Carrey?
Tony Clifton: Correct. That is on November 17, I believe. I was just with Jim, we just premiered it at the Toronto Film Festival. It stars me and Jim Carrey. With that in mind, because I knew that was coming out, we decided it’s time to throw a band back together again. Interest is going to start, especially because of this doc. We did a show in Iowa maybe two months ago, so this is the second time the band is getting together. We’ve got some good surprises, then oddly enough, other band members that weren’t in this band heard about it and they said, “Tony, we’ve gotta be there. I’ll do anything. I’ll run security for you.” A guy I’m taking is Adrian Crutchfield. Do you know Adrian?
No, tell me more about Adrian.
Tony Clifton: Adrian was one of my horn players, the sax player. He was with me for a number of years, including the shows at The Comedy Store that you saw. One night some mysterious figure came in through the back of the room, sat in the back with sunglasses on. Nobody recognized him. The next day Adrian said to me, “Tony, I need quit the band, I got an offer I can’t refuse.” You know who that was?
— Tony Clifton (@TheTonyClifton) September 20, 2017
Who was that?
Tony Clifton: Prince. Then he was Prince’s sax player for five years. With Prince’s death, he called me and said, “Clifton, I’m back for you, man.” So this just shows the audience, people who are coming on Halloween and on the Day Of The Dead, the talent we are going to have onstage. Our bass player played with The Rolling Stones. I always play with top guys.
Then the main reason people come and see me, they know I’m going to be politically incorrect. As you know, I tell you, Darren, things are getting really out of line now. The freedom of speech, the political correctness, it’s just strangling everybody. I was really saddened a couple of months ago when Bill Maher made a comment, a joke… then he was forced to apologize. His show was called Politically Incorrect and he was forced to apologize!
This is what we do, this is what comics do, and I’m a big believer in freedom of speech. You should be able to say anything and everything you want to. That’s what this country is all about, and that’s why I do what I do… I’m the last remnant of Sinatra and The Rat Pack. Those guys would be rolling in their graves if they saw what was going down, the control… I’m a neanderthal, I’m back to the caveman times.
Going back to celebrities, at the show at The Comedy Store of yours that I saw, Eddie Izzard was sitting at the next table. You have obviously been very influential, but do you ever feel that people are ripping off your act and that you have been too influential?
Tony Clifton: You can’t help that. What are you going to do? All the way down the line, a lot of the stuff me and Kaufman did over the years, many people thought that Borat was a total lift from a lot of the stuff that Kaufman did. But if anything, what we hope is our work influences other artists. I don’t have a problem with it at all. Sometimes we’ll get a call that somebody’s going onstage as Tony Clifton and we have to stop it for quality control… What Kaufman tried to do is show that are different connections to this wacky world called show business. As a matter of fact, I looked at Kaufman as more of a behavioral scientist than as a performer, you know? He wanted to stir up an audience and people need to be stirred up. The thing that Kaufman would always say is, “I don’t care if people love me or hate me, I want to get some reaction out of them. Something in the moment”…
When you’re in a room seeing a Tony Clifton show, you never know what is going to happen. I’ll tell you something is going to happen and you are there in the moment. I’m alive, the band is alive, you’re alive, the hot chicks I bring with me are alive, so that’s what we have to offer… I’m really excited, I haven’t been out there a couple of months. And as I said, I’ve got the movie out on November 17 on Netflix, that’s going to change a lot of things… There’s a good chance these people, if they’re able to get a ticket for Halloween or the Day Of The Dead, you know that theater?
Absolutely, it’s next to the Stardust Diner.
Tony Clifton: It’s a tiny little place. It’s going to be intimate. There’s no telling what is going to go down. I’ll tell you one thing: People are going to be talking about it the next day.
— Tony Clifton (@TheTonyClifton) July 20, 2015
So if this series goes well, do you plan on doing even more on the road?
Tony Clifton: Of course. This might even be the kick-off of that. Like I said, the documentary on Netflix starring me and Jim Carrey is going to be a game-changer. Netflix is huge. By the way, it’s called Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. It’s the longest title of any movie that’s ever been made. And my lawyer fought long and hard to get my name in that title.
That’s a great lawyer.
Tony Clifton: Yeah, let’s just hope they don’t call it Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. We’ll see what we can do.
Is there anything that Tony Clifton hasn’t yet accomplished but is still working towards?
Tony Clifton: That’s a good question, Darren. Me and Andy Kaufman, back in 1982, we wrote a movie called The Tony Clifton Story. It was for Universal, that’s still sitting [on the shelf] and Universal still owns it. I swore to Andy Kaufman on his deathbed that we would get it made, so hopefully my star rises, people get excited about me, and this big endorsement from Netflix and Carrey about my work and my participation might get this movie made.
Have you ever thought about crowdfunding that movie?
Tony Clifton: Yeah, but I don’t do any of that computer stuff. People have mentioned that to me. I think there may be a legit way to go, but if not, I would need someone to do that for me because I’m not doing that s**t. Any free time I have, I’m at the Bunny Ranch. That’s my retirement plan.
So finally, Tony, any last words for the kids?
Tony Clifton: Well, I don’t want any kids in there at all, because then I can’t do my thing. But I tell the kids, don’t listen to your parents. Don’t listen to any adult, they screwed everything up for you. The poor kids now, they’re paying 40 or 50 thousand a year for college, in debt for the rest of their lives. There’s nothing that anybody’s going to teach you there. Just find your own voice inside yourself and follow that. That’s my advice.
[Featured Image by Ryan Chavez]