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 Tribute to Andy Kaufman

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PostSubject: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:38 pm

Tribute to Andy Kaufman



The late Andy Kaufman is one of my very favorite comedians and entertainers of all time. He was in his time, and remains still, the most misunderstood and underappreciated comedic genius in history, and you may add to that the most eccentric and versatile. He is best remembered for his portrayal as Latka on the hit sitcom Taxi. The role was based on Kaufman’s Foreign Man Character, who had made a number of small TV appearances which had caught the attention of the ABC producers. But Kaufman never liked Taxi, in fact he hated it. Playing a comedic character, the same character, episode after episode with straight forward jokes bore no resemblance to what made Kaufman great. But articulating Kaufman’s talent is no easy chore, as even today many remain completely mistaken on what Kaufman’s comedy was about. It’s best told by telling his story, which is a timeless tale of creative struggle.

When Andy was a young boy he believed there was a TV camera watching him through a hole in the wall, and so he would stage his own TV shows right there in his bedroom. He incorporated a Howdie Doodie doll and other props. In time his sister took interest in his act, and her friends gathered around to watch him perform. He started performing for groups of kids for fun, developing his innovation and talent by always keeping them guessing. While taking a drama course in college he got into drugs and worried what path his life might lead, and so he managed to get grounded by working as a bus boy and found creative expression with his own show on a local television network – Uncle Andy’s Punhouse. It was essentially a children’s show for adults, where the adult audience wore bright colored Uncle Andy’s Punhouse t-shirts and were encouraged to laugh and cheer like children. He worked the show with Bob Zmuda, who like Andy enjoyed screwing with people’s heads and believed that we just shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously, and he would remain Andy’s producer and best friend until the end. For the show they introduced a loudmouth, washed up lounge singer named Tony Clifton. At this point Clifton was a puppet, operated by Bob Zmuda.

After college Kaufman got into standup comedy, with Zmuda helping him with his material. Unlike other stand-ups Kaufman had no interest in straight jokes about the hassles of life, and instead he wanted to lighten people up, stir people up and make fun of everything – including the very position of being an entertainer. He created the Foreign Man Character to suit this purpose. You see, Andy wouldn’t simply walk up on stage and say, “Hey, it’s good to be here. How you all doing? Enjoying the show? I was this place last week and enjoyed whatever club. You guys like that place? Now, I have a character for you…” That’s what an ordinary comedian would do, and it bored Kaufman. Instead, he would go up on stage as the very character he was portraying, and like a purist he would play the character out for real, nothing up his sleeve. When playing the Foreign Man Character he acted like he was an innocent, totally new to America and modern culture. He had no sense of humor – no structure or understanding that America had evolved past the “why did the chicken cross the road?” method of comedy – and he wanted with all his heart to be a star, despite his total lack of talent. When playing out Tony Clifton (with his body this time) he acted like a total ass, rude and obnoxious, and a terrible singer. But if he really harassed or abused anyone it was usually acted out with his friends, which usually included Bob Zmuda. But it fooled most the audiences into thinking that he was really what he seemed to be.

Kaufman once described playing his Foreign Man Character, telling terrible jokes, while one man among the few who got it would be holding his hand over his mouth as he tried to repress his laughter. Others would look at the man as to ask, ‘What is wrong with you, this foreign guy sucks!’ To which Kaufman, as the Foreign Man Character, would reply to the man, “Wait, wait, I have a better one,” as if the Foreign Man Character truly thought the man was laughing at his jokes. At this point the man would break out laughing uncontrollably. However, friends and family expressed concern to Kaufman that too few people were getting what he was doing, but even when Kaufman eventually accepted the fact that after a performance was over most the audience still didn’t realize how he had fooled them into being part of his comedy, part of his joke, by reacting to one of his characters or performances like it was as it seemed, he still believed that eventually people would catch on. In time he would all but verbally confess that it was all an act. His loyal fan base continued to grow and appreciate what he was doing, but still he had to always stay one step ahead of them; the moment the audience could predict or see through his antics his career would be over. So he had to continually find new ways to mess with their heads, to fool them until the end.

While starring in Taxi, Kaufman grew increasingly frustrated, feeling forced to perform in a way which felt unnatural to him. He also had serious artistic and social differences with the cast; sometimes to the point of hatred. The fame and money he earned from Taxi created many opportunities to entertain new and larger audiences, but as his fan base grew and they got more used to his antics Kaufman felt increasing pressure to out-think them. Kaufman and Zmuda came up with an idea to bring Tony Clifton to life; that is, that the loudmouth lounge singer Clifton was real all along, and they had merely been impersonating him. With their new connections they brought multiple talents and producers in on the scam, allowing Clifton to tour many nightclubs as an authentic entertainer. Of course the press began hounding Clifton which accusations that he was actually Kaufman in disguise (all a part of the plan), to which Clifton would reply that it’s all a lie, and that Kaufman and Zmuda had been falsely portraying him as an insult to him due to some prior disagreement they had had, and that he deeply resented them for doing it. Clifton even guest starred on an episode of Taxi in which Kaufman did not appear . He arrived drunk with two prostitutes, and turned out to be, surprise surprise, a terrible actor. Needless to say, the episode never aired. When the producers decided to fire him Clifton had a fit, trashing the set. They had photographs of the incident which they managed to ‘leak’ to the press. Thus Tony Clifton had taken on a life of his own. The Kaufman/Clifton controversy was the main drive to keep the character alive (although Clifton was often portrayed by Zmuda.)



Of course this gag could only last so long, and Kaufman began letting up the truth. What next? While watching wrestling on TV Kaufman came up with the idea of turning himself onto a villain wrestler. But believing that he stood little chance against men, he decided to wrestle women. And so he would climb into a ring, and offer a monetary prize to any woman who could beat him. To get tempers flailing he would make trite sexist remarks, like how women belonged in the kitchen. Women would get pretty pissed off at him, and they would wrestle, for real, while Zmuda played the referee. During this time he met and wrestled his future girlfriend, Len. Kaufman would eventually defeat over 400 women, never losing a single match, all the while building up his persona as a sexist villain. Even his biggest fans weren’t sure what to think. As time went on his friends and family urged him to put an end to it. But it wasn’t over yet. He worked out an arrangement with pro wrestling champion Jerry Lawler, “The King of Memphis Tennessee.” Lawler began speaking out against Kaufman for making fun of pro wrestling, while Kaufman began making fun of Lawler and the ‘southern hicks’ of his home town. It was a huge media event which had the public absolutely hating Kaufman (and of course Kaufman loved every minute of it.) They wrestled in the ring and Kaufman was taken out hard with a concussion (supposedly), and afterwards Kaufman swore to never wrestle again, much to wrestling fans’ (and to many southern peoples’ at this point) delight.

But Kaufman was in trouble. He had finally fooled even his hardcore fans, but this time even they weren’t getting the joke in the end. Kaufman and Lawler guest starred together on David Letterman, during which they had a dispute and Lawler hit Kaufman, knocking him to the floor. To this day Letterman and his produces say they aren’t sure whether it was a stunt or not. After some angry letters Kaufman decided to do a pole on Saturday Night Live to test his popularity, the show which had partially began his stardom, but the fans voted that he be kicked off the show. This hit Kaufman hard, and he began wondering if he really was the bad person that people believed he was by this point. The meditation group of which Kaufman was a loyal member decided to disallow him from attending due to his bad image in the public eye, and for abandoning Kaufman when he needed them the most, his family never forgave them. While continuing to appeal to the people that the whole wrestling thing was truly an act – while still, confusingly enough, continuing to be Andy Kaufman, the mind-toying comedian – he discovered that he had cancer. This time, no one believed it. The public had finally stopped believing anything he did or said, as did the press.

But it was real. And on May 16th, 1984, Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer. He was only 33. Suddenly the truth hit the public – he was telling the truth, now he’s gone. Even the cast of Taxi was heartbroken and attended his funeral, in which Kaufman spoke to them on a big screen and sang to them. The experience was surreal to everyone who attended; an event which, much like Kaufman’s life, was shrouded in feelings of disbelief. But before Kaufman had left he had lived out his childhood dream of performing in Carnegie Hall; a performance which the crowd loved and many still cherish as something special. He finished the performance like he had on his old TV show; by taking the entire audience out for milk and cookies. As always, with Kaufman he never wanted you to know where the show ended and reality began. One year after his death fans, friends and family were treated to an Andy Kaufman tribute show starring Tony Clifton. Some fans actually cheered for Andy, expecting Kaufman to appear and admit to having staged his own death. But unfortunately that wasn’t the case.



In their 1992 album, “Automatic for the People”, the alternative rock band R.E.M. based their song “Man on the Moon” on Andy Kaufman. It was a hit song, and was included in the 2001 soundtrack to a film by the same name, based, of course, on the life of Andy Kaufman. It should be noted that Kaufman is still considered to be the greatest Elvis impersonator of all time (and he was Elvis’ favorite as he portrayed him in his younger years), and famous musicians had remarked that he was one of the best percussionists of his time. His talents were as great as they were multiple, yet Kaufman never placed them out as something important; he mocked them like he mocked everything. Performers today stand on stage, speak line-through-line, and stand and smile for applause for the most meager displays of talent, or even without doing anything other than appearing with a smile. This could never be said of Andy Kaufman; a comedian who always fought to be original, mysterious, innovative and above all else, unpredictable.

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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:50 pm

And so, in keeping with my admiration for the great Andy Kaufman, and in respect for his talent through the haze of confusion which audiences still hold for a comedian so ahead of his time – and still, ahead of our time – I present this video library, courtesy of Yahoo Video. I am doing this for you, for Andy, but most of all for me; hey, it’s a quick reference. In this first collection of five videos you can catch a glimpse at his incredible diversity and the scope of his sensational acting talent. The Foreign Man Character gets to star in a game show, and even the host thinks he’s for real. A dynamic performance on David Letterman. His destroying of the live sitcom Fridays, in which some producers and crewmen were in on (but the actors, who include Michael Richards who later played Kramer on the hit TV sitcom Seinfeld, had no clue until afterwards.) And a look at Kaufman’s own TV show, “Uncle Andy’s Punhouse.”

Dating Game


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:51 pm

On Letterman Part 1


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:51 pm

On Letterman Part 2


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:52 pm

On FRIDAYS


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:52 pm

Uncle Andy's Punhouse


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:53 pm

In this second video selection we get a further look at Kaufman’s diversity as a comedian/entertainer. Tony Clifton … Andy or not Andy? An HBO special where Kaufman lets loose with his multiple talents. One of Kaufman’s performances as the King of Rock ‘n Roll (he had been a big fan of Elvis’ since he was a boy (but then he also admired Mighty Mouse.) And watch this stunning marionette performance which just broke … well I’m overstating, but it’s a great example of the true Andy Kaufman.

Tony Clifton at Harrah's


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:54 pm

On HBO pt. 1


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:56 pm

On HBO pt. 2


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:57 pm

Elvis Imitation


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:57 pm

Ventriloquist Act


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:59 pm

Now a look at Andy Kaufman’s wrestling career, if you’d call it that. Many people still hold grudges against him for this stuff, and even on Google and Yahoo video I see occasional remarks made against Kaufman for hating women and southern people. It’s funny, because all these years later people still don’t get it. To Kaufman all the world was a stage, a stage full of people who seriously needed to lighten up on themselves. He set out to make that point and have fun doing it. But they got mighty pissed off at him the process, as you’ll see. The videos: A look at his time wrestling only women. A hateful speech made to Jerry Lawler and all southern folks. Andy finally wrestles Jerry “The King” Lawler – just watch the audience cheer! And finally the two adversaries confronting each other months later on Letterman, and the famous slap.

Wrestling Women


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:00 am

I'm From Hollywood


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:00 am

Andy Wrestles Jerry Lawler


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:01 am

Kaufman and Lawyer on Letterman


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:03 am

A few carefully selected videos to end off the series, where I tried to show the real Andy Kaufman (the comedian that is, not the person), instead of the negative persona he had played for a time. Here we have Kaufman singing with his friend Cathy Sullivan, convincing the crowd and the media that not only has Kaufman found the error of his ways but also that they are madly in love. Andy’s adopted children. The ‘real’ Andy Kaufman. Really. For sure. Really… And we finish with a little clip from the end of his TV show, bowing out to his fans. Naturally.

Andy and Cathy Sullivan


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:04 am

Andy's Adopted Kids


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:04 am

The ‘Real’ Andy Kaufman


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:06 am

The End


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PostSubject: Re: Tribute to Andy Kaufman   Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:06 am

You didn’t really believe all that did you? Andy Kaufman didn’t exist at all. The actor’s name was Carl Freeman, a half-Italian cultural terrorist who worked for a Neo-Fascist group to exploit the American media. None of it was real, none of it! Except for Tony Clifton, he was real. A good friend of mine. Anyway, my time’s running out … I have to say, it was all a lie! ALL OF IT! Oh God they’re coming for me … please, listen! Andy Kaufman never existed, it was all a lie! A BIG LIE! Ask Tony Clifton! ASK HIM! No, wait, WAIT!

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