November 16, 2013


Andy Kaufman's Best Lies : This week's hoax over his supposedly continued existence pales in comparison to what the comic accomplished at the height of his powers. (KEMBREW MCLEODNOV 15 2013, Atlantic)

I myself got suckered by Andy Kaufman back in 1982. I vividly remember watching a professional wrestling show as a kid when the Taxi star appeared at the Mid-Atlantic Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee. "I'm from Hollywood," he sneered, pointing at his cranium as he mouthed off about his higher intelligence and how southerners were stupid. After he went too far with his shtick, I cheered when wrestler Jerry Lawler stepped in and shoved him to the ground.

"Lawler, you think you're really being smart," Kaufman ranted. "Look, I'm from Hollywood. That's where we make movies and TV shows. ... I'm not from down here in men-fus ten-uh-see, okay?" What a total jerk, I thought. Kaufman kept needling the crowd about how his matches with women were real and that professional wrestlers were phonies. I seethed. Andy Kaufman is such a jerk, and I really, really hate him. I even stopped watching Taxi because of it.

Eventually, this ugly display overflowed into another favorite show of mine. "On April 5th, 1982, in Memphis, Tennessee," David Letterman said, introducing the Late Night segment, "Andy Kaufman--the actor-comedian and Intergender Wrestling Champion--had his first wrestling match with a member of his own sex." In true Kaufman form, the segment descended in chaos. Lawler eventually slapped him across the face, which unleashed a torrent of expletives and coffee thrown in the direction of the wrestler. 

I had never seen anything like that on television, and my adolescent mind was blown wide open. In my defense, I only knew Kaufman as the affable Latka Gravas character on Taxi and had no clue about his previous history of trickery. I was too young to have seen his offbeat Saturday Night Live performances in the 1970s, nor did I witness his other surreal televised acts.

It took me years to catch on, and only then did I realize Kaufman's hijinks had body-slammed my consciousness. It all came into focus long after his death, when his friend and collaborator Bob Zmuda finally confirmed that Lawler had conspired with them. "Jerry is quite the gentleman," Zmuda wrote in his 1999 book Andy Kaufman Revealed!, "and a helluva good sport." [...]

Catch a Rising Star comedy club owner Rick Newman told the New York Times, "I really didn't know he was putting me on. ... He did Foreign Man until the audiences were booing and walking out. Then, suddenly, he broke into his incredible Elvis imitation and caught us so completely by surprise that we ended up crying, we were laughing so hard." Audiences returned for the act--not so much to watch Kaufman as to see the crowd trying to process what was happening.

Posted by at November 16, 2013 8:22 AM

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