What Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, John Coltrane and CS Lewis Have in Common

I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary about Andy Kaufman through the eyes of Jim Carrey, which shows behind the scenes footage filmed during the filming of Man on the Moon. As Carrey says in the documentary: the behind the scenes stuff is the actual movie, because the entire time they were filming the movie, he insisted to stay completely in character, even to the point of having tearful and heartfelt conversations with Andy Kaufman’s relatives, who truly acted and felt as if they were talking to Andy himself.

But I thought the best part of the documentary was whenever Jim Carrey would talk to the camera. He seemed very vulnerable, honest and melancholy. He talked about how his whole life he was playing a part: that “Jim Carrey” was a persona he created, and now he’s done trying to be that person, and he’s ready to just be himself. That is what he learned by “being” Andy Kaufman – because Andy Kaufman was a unique individual. He wasn’t a comedian – he rejected that label, pointing out that he never actually told a single joke. Instead, he considered himself…well: himself. He would just do whatever he wanted and thought would entertain people, whether that was singing a song or wrestling a woman, or staging a fight. He was completely out of the box, and totally comfortable in his own skin. Realizing this while playing this role, Carrey says, changed his life.

About half-way through the documentary, Jim Carrey says:

At some point when you create yourself to make it, you’re going to have to either let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are, or you’re going to have to kill who you really are, and fall into your grave grasping onto a character who you never were.

This reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis in Mere Christianity:

You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.

Jazz musician John Coltrane wrote about a similar experience he had in his life. He had spent his life, like many people, believing that if he could get really good and become successful, people would love and appreciate him and then he would have a sense of value, worth and meaning in his life. But in the notes of his album “A Love Supreme” he wrote about a change that had taken place in his life:

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music…to inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD. This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues.

John Coltrane had stopped making music out of a desire to be praised and accepted. Now he did it for the sake of music, for the benefit of the listener, and to unto God. And in doing so, he experienced freedom.

There is a wonderful freedom in self-forgetfulness, the act of taking our eyes off of ourselves. But if we stop there, we haven’t gone far enough. We need to take the final step, as John Coltrane did, of not only taking our eyes off of ourselves, but fixing our eyes on Jesus and what He has done for us. If you do, then His beauty, love, power and strength will be what motivates you in a labor of love and response.

10 thoughts on “What Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, John Coltrane and CS Lewis Have in Common

  1. Nick, well written and thoughtful piece. I have a question, though: How do we know that the persona presented by Jim Carrey in the documentary was real? Personally, I have always had problems with entertainers who cannot “get out of character”. Andy, Jim, and Robin Williams are examples. I can’t get over the feeling that these people are so self absorbed that it is impossible for them to connect with anyone as a “real” person. I love the quote by C.S. Lewis, however, and remember it well from his book. I agree with him that if we present a facade as being our true selves, we will never make a positive impression.

    1. I don’t know if we can know that, and I feel your angst towards these entertainers. Maybe they don’t even know who they are at the end of the day, or where the line is between their created persona and the real them. Then again, probably their created persona is a part of them, expressed in a hyperbolic way. By the way, in the documentary, Jim Carrey talks about his breakthrough moment being the point when he got on stage and opened with: “How’s everybody doing tonight-ALRIGHTY THEN!” (not waiting for a reply, but just saying alrighty then to show that he didn’t care about their response). In other words, for him it was all about not caring about what anybody thought or felt, but just doing whatever he wanted.
      For me the main point is how the gospel sets us free from the need to put on a mask or a persona to try to impress other people or win their applause or approval in order to give ourselves a sense of self-worth and value because we have found that in God through Christ. However, this way of thinking does not make a person less-concerned with other people, but free to serve them. Ultimately being so concerned about what other people think about you is just a form of self-absorption itself.

  2. Well said. I think your blog was on point, and I agree wholeheartedly with your main point. We watched the documentary last night, and I was impacted by many of the things Jim Carrey said, including the one you mentioned. I agree with what he said about how we all have personas that are part of who we are: the parent, the businessman, the good neighbor, etc. but as you said what ultimately matters is who we are in Christ. I suggest you watch the documentary “Amy” if you haven’t already. The subject is Amy Winehouse who laid her life out for everyone to see and was destroyed by the fame and fortune and expectations that come from a public life. Good stuff! Keep up the good writing, I truly enjoy it!

    1. Rosemary watched the one about Lady Gaga and said it was very enlightening because it shows this person who is a prisoner to what everyone thinks about her and is absolutely miserable because she is desperate for approval and applause and crushed by every negative comment. It drives her to do well, but she’s miserable. I read a review of it online the other day and it pointed out the same thing, but of course with no real solution, which I believe is only truly found in the gospel.
      Btw, I wrote another post today. You should read that one!

  3. Hello Pastor Nick. I just started following you today. I heard you on the radio and was intrigued. I listenend to your sermon on Amos and will follow that series. I also stumbled on this piece, which really got to me. I struggle with being myself, really myself with people. I loved this piece you did, and will cherish the quotes you picked and your message. Thank you so much.

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