Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey and Jesus: Finding True Identity in a World that is a Stage

When I was 17 I remember taking my high school girlfriend to see “Man on the Moon” starring Jim Carrey.  This was back when Jim Carrey had a big movie coming out basically every year, and I had seen “Ace Ventura,” “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber” so I was sure that this movie would be just as hilarious as those had been. Plus, this movie was Jim Carrey portraying another comedian, Andy Kaufman, so it had to be great.  In the end, my 17-year-old self was very disappointed. I went in expecting Ace Ventura and what I got was a very serious and strange drama about identity.  I remember walking out of the movie that night – I had never walked out of a movie before – and I’m sure at least half of my motivation to walk out was to impress my girlfriend, acting like I was some film critic or something.  It turns out the joke was really on me. 

I recently watched a new Netflix documentary called “Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond.”  It is about the behavior of Jim Carrey during the filming of “Man on the Moon,” and basically for the entire time that “Man on the Moon” was being shot Carrey didn’t break character. He was Andy Kaufman.  He behaved as Andy Kaufman behaved, he tried to think as Andy Kaufman thought.

Kaufman was a famous actor and comedian in the 1970s and early 1980s.  He was most famous for his role on the TV show “Taxi,” but also for a variety of entertainment stunts.  He wrestled women, appeared as a rude lounge singer, Tony Clifton, and in general tried to keep people guessing with his public appearances and performances until he died of lung cancer in 1984.

In the winter of 1998 during the filming of “Man on the Moon,” Jim Carrey did everything that Kaufman had once done.  The documentary shows that Carrey’s depiction of Kaufman was so spot on that even Kaufman’s family was moved by it.  Kaufman’s old friends came to hang out with “Andy,” and Kaufman’s parents were once brought to tears in a moment that they had together.  At one point, even an illegitimate daughter who had never met her father, Andy Kaufman, came to meet with Carrey or “Andy.” 

The most interesting thing about the documentary, however, is present-day Jim Carrey’s commentary on what he was trying to do and how it affected him.  He said that after the filming of “Man on the Moon” he kind of forgot who Jim was, and he realized he had gotten so lost in his new identity that he wasn’t sure of his identity.  At one point Carrey said, “America gave me everything — fame, wealth, respect — in exchange for my identity.” He talked about his 1998 film, “The Truman Show” (that did do well at the box office), as a prophecy for his own life.  In this movie Carrey played a man, Truman Burbank, who was unknowingly the star of a TV show.  The whole show was being filmed around him with hidden cameras from the time of his birth.  Eventually Truman realizes what is going on and he tries to escape but no one in the show wanted to let him.  People did everything they could to keep him “playing the part.”  Carrey said in a very mystical kind of way that “The Truman Show” ended up being a prophecy for his own life, where everyone wanted him to play certain characters and did not let him be who he really was.  The documentary is, in so many ways, an expose on identity, and it’s clear that Carrey is still confused as to who he really is.

It’s easy to look at Jim Carrey, an actor who plays different characters, and see his conflict of identity, but if we have to be honest, isn’t the same thing happening with each of us?  We may not be in movies, but we live in a world that wants us to play a part.  We live in a world that wants you us to be someone they like, someone who is going to please them, someone who is going to do what they want.  We live in a world of expectations, where people are trying to get you to play a part.  Don’t you see that our work places are doing this to us?  They are telling us that if we really want to get ahead we have to act a certain way and believe in certain things.  Our parents do this to us, and even our spouses have a part that they want us to play.  It may not be with ill intention but there are expectations all around.  The media puts expectations on us, our neighborhoods put expectations on us and our cities do, too.  Don’t you see? If we’re not careful we can become just like Jim Carrey, someone who doesn’t know who he is because he’s been playing Andy Kaufman for so long. We live in a world where people are just like actors. They are doing whatever the guy with the megaphone tells them to do and thinking about whatever the script tells them to think.   

You see, unless you have an anchor, unless you are building your life on something that is real and unless you really have conviction in a lasting truth, you can never really have an identity, and you can never really be you.  I talk to people all the time who are just following the next cue, the next thing that seems acceptable, and there is no freedom in that.  A lot of people think that Christianity is bondage.  A lot of people think that becoming a Christian means conforming your life to a bunch of pointless rules and expectations, but Christianity is the opposite of that.   Religion may mean bondage to a part that the world is telling you to play, but Christianity is about knowing the God who designed you.  Christianity is about rising above the noise and clutter of the world and becoming the man or the woman that God made you to be from the very beginning.  Far from conforming your identity to something that it isn’t, Christianity is about becoming the very person that God designed you to be before you were distorted and brainwashed and influenced by this world.  You see, you can’t trust most of the outside voices – they all want you to play a part – and you can’t really even trust the voice inside your head – your heart will deceive you.  What we need so desperately is revelation.  We need the voice of God.  We need for God to be revealed.  We need the one who created us, who truly knows us, to speak to us and tell us who we are, how we are to live and what we are to do.  And that’s exactly what God has done through his word, but most precisely, that is exactly what God has done through his own son Jesus.

You may look at Christianity as giving up, as something that people do out of fear or as something that people do to be a part of a strong community and to feel better about themselves.  I don’t know how you have viewed Christianity in the past, but it’s ultimately about finding yourself, finding the true you, finding the you that God designed from the beginning of time and finding the you that God was aware of before you even had a thought, before you opened your eyes and before you were conceived.  I look out my office window at one of Atlanta’s many busy streets full of people trying to find something, trying to find significance, trying to find their identity, trying to find life. But Jesus said there is only one way to life and that is to lose your life in him.  He is the anchor that you need. He is the one who can lead you away from the deception of this world and toward the true you.  He said in Matthew 16:25, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Don’t you see? As long as you count on yourself and on the voices around you, you will always end up playing a part, you will always be in bondage to the expectations of others. It is only when you lose yourself in the only one who really knows you, the only one who has known you from the beginning and who ultimately designed you to be great, that you really ever find yourself.  Only then will you really ever know the true you and find your true identity.  Without this kind of revelation, the true and lasting revelation that God has given us in Jesus, we will all just be another Man on the Moon.

ArticlesJason Dees