Mitchell Gerber/Corbis Images
Liane Bonin
December 07, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

Somewhere the spirit of Andy Kaufman was giggling when all hell broke loose at a press conference for ”Man on the Moon” star Jim Carrey last Saturday. As Carrey fielded questions about the movie (opening Dec. 22), a man dressed as Kaufman’s lounge-singing alter ego Tony Clifton stormed in, accusing ”that Drew Carey” of trying to steal away his expected Oscar nomination for the film. As insults flew, Clifton exposed a prosthetic penis and ”urinated” on a book (a Kaufman bio written by the comedian’s longtime cohort Bob Zmuda). Carrey then dumped a pitcher of iced tea over the impersonator’s head, and a brief tussle between the duo ensued. Carrey then stormed out of the room, refusing to return for 20 minutes.

Though most journalists in the room (including EW Online) agreed the goofy scuffle was just a stunt orchestrated by Carrey and Zmuda (who later admitted to playing Clifton), that didn’t stop some insiders from trying desperately to convince the cynics that Carrey’s reaction wasn’t as staged as it seemed. When the star returned to the press room, he feigned indignation with Zmuda, huffing, ”I was not approving of this. I think the press should be handled within the confines of the movie, and he seems to want to step out and be Andy. I think it’s time for him to move on.” Zmuda later attested that Carrey had no previous knowledge of the prank.

Producer Stacey Sher says Carrey had reason to be upset with Zmuda, who worked closely with the actor as a coexecutive producer on the film. ”What I think got to him was that Tony has showed up at the Emmys and a lot of places, and a lot of people think that he’s Jim.” Sher presents the bizarre conspiracy theory that not only do people mistakenly think Carrey is posing as Clifton, but that he’s also believed to be piling on the greasepaint as Fugly the Clown, an obnoxious gate crasher who interrupted Bob Zmuda at a book reading in West Hollywood to claim that Tony Clifton is his deadbeat dad.

Confused yet? There’s more. ”There’s this weird website that’s sprung up called andylives.org,” says Sher. ”We’re in a whole different zone here.” Savvy surfers will probably notice that the Kaufman site looks too film-studio-slick to be a fan site, and few bought Carrey’s less-than-Oscar-winning performance at the conference. But while director Milos Forman and producer/star Danny DeVito claimed ignorance of the stunt, only executive producer George Shapiro was willing to say what everyone else already suspected. ”I think Jim knew,” he shrugs. ”That’s my guess.”

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