The Best Bits of Andy Kaufman
Andy Kaufman, the comedian who constantly asserted he never told a joke in his life, was posthumously back in the news this week. Though for many years much has been made of his rumored death hoax, Kaufman’s brother added fuel to the gossipy fire when he invited a woman he believed to be his brother’s 24-year-old daughter on stage to report the comic is alive and well. In the days that followed, it was revealed to have been an elaborate ploy—but also, in a way, a fitting tribute to the late performance artist. Kaufman was not your traditional comic: He built his legacy on a series of public stunts that put him somewhere between Yoko Ono and Jerry Springer. The enigmatic performer left behind a long list of intricate gags that still dazzle us to this day.
Here, to remind you of his artistic, self-aware comedic brilliance, DYR has put together a look back at his best non-jokes.
Kaufman vs. Michael Richards on Fridays
Fridays was an ABC knockoff of SNL, and though it was largely unsuccessful despite a talented cast of actors and writers, it did provide guffaw-inducing moments such as these. The scene is perfect: Kaufman forgets his lines, Michael Richards (of Seinfeld fame) becomes apoplectic, and they get into a huge on-camera brawl. Unbeknownst to the viewing audience, cast and crew, it was all pre-planned between Richards and Kaufman.
Kaufman vs. Lawler on Letterman
One of Kaufman’s greatest recurring bits was his incessant need to fight or wrestle anyone he came across. For the out-of-shape comedian that usually meant women. No, seriously, he was responsible for sponsoring an event called the “Inter-Gender Wrestling Championship of the World.”
When he wasn’t busy getting the living daylights beaten out of him by women half his size, he got together with professional wrestler Jerry “the King” Lawler for what is perhaps the most drawn-out fake fight in television history. Both Lawler and Kaufman made several appearances on various platforms, each time becoming increasingly ornery. After one physical altercation, Kaufman was seen wearing a neck brace to play up the whole affair.
Kaufman Interviews Elayne Boosler
Elayne Boosler was a stand-up comedienne who briefly dated Kaufman a couple of years before she made an appearance on his short-lived late-night talk show. Having an ex come on your program could be deeply distressing, so to give himself a much needed confidence boost he installed his host desk on a six-foot platform. Apart from the numerous artistic tropes and performance cues this postmodern take on an interview addresses, it’s just plain funny.
Kaufman Eating Ice Cream On-Stage
Though he was an avid consumer of health foods, Kaufman loved nostalgia-triggering sugary treats from childhood. During the run of his critically acclaimed Carnegie Hall show he even took the whole audience out for warm milk and cookies in a fleet of 24 buses after the show.
This same carefree and childlike whimsy defined Kaufman’s comedy. Watch him order and eat ice cream and, through masterfully executed physical comedy, transform a quotidian slice of life into comic brilliance.