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L E’s Stories – “T’ank You Veddy Much.” – Tribute To Comedian Andy Kaufman

It was 1976 when we 1st started taping Andy Kaufman comedy footage at Bone Daddy’s bar and restaurant Madison Square Garden, The Sports Place at 302 E. 6th Street in downtown Austin….cuz we just knew that he had a very unique style of comedic genius….and since we pride ourselves in our extensive Comedy Section here at ImaSportsphile….whereby we have come to the conclusion that evidenced by the scope of our library of comedy, we gathered content that goes a long way in proving that said content covers the Golden Age of Comedy….. which displays so many legendary comedic geniuses….and Andy Kaufman certainly fills a unique spot…..as a comedian / entertainer who deserves his personal story to be showcased.                                                                                                                                

Comedy – 1999 – Special Film Documentary – “Remembering Andy Kaufman”   

                                                                                                                                                                                      Andy Kaufman (January 17, 1949 – May 16, 1984) was an American comedian, entertainer, actor, wrestler and performance artist…..who while often being called a comedian, Kaufman described himself instead as a “song and dance man”…..and sometimes has been called an “anti-comedian”….but any way you cut the pie….he made people laugh….as evidenced by the videos contained in this story.  He disdained telling jokes and engaging in comedy as it was traditionally understood….after once saying in a rare introspective interview, “I am not a comic, I have never told a joke.”….as the comedian’s promise isn’t that he will go out there and make you laugh with him…“My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can.”                                                                                                                                                                          

Comedy – 1977 – Episode From “TAXI” – With Andy Kaufman + Danny Divito – “Latka’s Cookies” (sous-titres français)                                                                                                                                                                    

After working in small comedy clubs in the early 1970’s, Kaufman came to the attention of a wider audience in 1975, when he was invited to perform portions of his act on the first season of Saturday Night Live….when his Foreign Man character was the basis of his performance as Latka Gravas on the hit television show Taxi from 1978 until 1983…..when during this time, he continued to tour comedy clubs and theaters in a series of unique performance of art / comedy shows….while  sometimes appearing as himself….and sometimes as obnoxiously rude lounge singer Tony Clifton.  He was also a frequent guest on sketch comedy and late-night talk shows, particularly Late Night with David Letterman In 1982, Kaufman brought his professional wrestling villain act to Letterman’s show by way of a staged encounter with Jerry “The King” Lawler of the Continental Wrestling Association….albeit the fact that the altercation was planned was not publicly disclosed for over a decade.                                                                                          

Comedy – 1971 To 1984 – Special – The Best Of Andy Kaufman

Kaufman died of lung cancer in 1984, at the age of 35.  Because pranks and elaborate ruses were major elements of his career, persistent rumors have circulated that Kaufman faked his own death as a grand hoax.  He continues to be respected for the variety of his characters he brought to bear….and  his uniquely counter intuitive approach to comedy….as well as his willingness to provoke negative and confused reactions from audiences.  Kaufman first received major attention for his character Foreign Man….who spoke in a meek, high-pitched, heavy-accented voice….and claimed to be from “Caspiar”….which was a fictional island in the Caspian Sea.  It was as this character that Kaufman convinced the owner of the famed New York City comedy club The Improv, Budd Friedman, to allow him to perform on stage.  As Foreign Man, Kaufman would appear on the stage of comedy clubs….while play a recording of the theme from the Mighty Mouse cartoon show and standing perfectly still….then lip-sync only the line “Here I come to save the day” with great enthusiasm.  He would proceed to tell a few (purposely poor) jokes and conclude his act with a series of celebrity impersonations….with the comedy arising from the character’s obvious ineptitude at impersonation.  For example, in his fake accent Kaufman would say to the audience, “I would like to imitate Meester Carter, de president of de United States”….and then, in exactly the same voice, say “Hello, I am Meester Carter, de president of de United States. T’ank you veddy much.”  At some point in the performance, usually when the audience was conditioned to Foreign Man’s inability to perform a single convincing impression, Foreign Man would announce, “And now I would like to imitate the Elvis Presley”….then he would turn around, take off his jacket, slick his hair back and launch into a rousing, hip-shaking rendition of Presley singing one of his hit songs. Like Presley, he would take off his leather jacket during the song and throw it into the audience….but unlike Presley, Foreign Man would immediately ask for it to be returned. After the song’s finale, he would take a simple bow and say in his Foreign Man voice, “T’ank you veddy much.”                                                        

Comedy – 1977 – The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson – Featuring Andy Kaufman As Foreign Man

Portions of Kaufman’s Foreign Man act were broadcast in the first season of Saturday Night Live. The Mighty Mouse number was featured in the October 11, 1975, premiere, while the joke-telling and celebrity impressions (including Elvis) were included in the November 8 broadcast that same year.  Kaufman first used his Foreign Man character in nightclubs in the early 1970’s….while often telling jokes incorrectly….and doing weak imitations of famous people before bursting into his Elvis Presley imitation.  The character was then changed into Latka Gravas for ABC’s sitcom Taxi….while appearing in 79 of 114 episodes from 1978 thru 1983…..as Bob Zmuda confirms this: “They basically were buying Andy’s Foreign Man character for the Taxi character Latka.”  Kaufman’s longtime manager George Shapiro encouraged him to take the gig….but Kaufman disliked sitcoms and was not happy with the idea of being in one…. however, Shapiro convinced him that it would quickly lead to stardom….which would earn him money he could then put into his own act…..and that is when Kaufman agreed to appear in 14 episodes per season.  His character was given multiple personality disorders….which allowed Kaufman to randomly portray other characters.  In one episode of Taxi, Kaufman’s character came down with a condition that made him act like Alex Rieger….who was the main character played by Judd Hirsch…..whereas another such recurring character played by Kaufman was the womanizing Vic Ferrari.  Sam Simon, who early in his career was a writer and later show-runner for Taxi, stated in a 2013 interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that the story of Kaufman having been generally disruptive on the show was “a complete fiction” largely created by Zmuda…..as Simon maintained that Zmuda has a vested interest in promoting an out-of-control image of Kaufman.  In the interview Simon stated that Kaufman was “completely professional”….. and that he “told you Tony Clifton was him”….but he also conceded that Kaufman would have “loved” Zmuda’s version of events.  Kaufman was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television for  Taxi in 1979 and 1981.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Comedy & Music – Andy Kaufman Impersonating Elvis Pressley – “I’ll Be Sad And Blue” + “Blue Suede Shoes”                                                                                                                                                                            

Another well-known Kaufman character is Tony Clifton, an absurd, audience-abusing lounge singer….who began opening for Kaufman at comedy clubs….and eventually even performed concerts on his own around the country.  Sometimes it was Kaufman performing as Clifton, sometimes it was his brother Michael or Zmuda…..when for a brief time, it was unclear to some that Clifton was not a real person.  News programs interviewed Clifton as Kaufman’s opening act….with the mood turning ugly whenever Kaufman’s name came up.  Kaufman, Clifton insisted, was attempting to ruin Clifton’s “good name” in order to make money and become famous.  As a requirement for Kaufman’s accepting the offer to star on Taxi, he insisted that Clifton be hired for a guest role on the show….as if he were a real person, not a character…..when after throwing a tantrum on the set, Clifton was fired and escorted from the studio lot by security guards….and much to Kaufman’s delight, this incident was reported in the local newspapers.               

Music & Comedy – 1977 – The Midnight Special Show Presents – Andy Kaufman – “I Trusted You”                   

At the beginning of an April 1979 performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Kaufman invited his “grandmother” to watch the show from a chair he had placed at the side of the stage.  At the end of the show, she stood up, took her mask off and revealed to the audience that she was actually comedian Robin Williams in disguise.  Kaufman also had an elderly woman (Eleanor Cody Gould) pretend to have a heart attack and die on stage….at which point he reappeared on stage wearing a Native American headdress….while performing a dance over her body….and thus “reviving” her.  The performance is most famous for Kaufman’s ending the show by taking the entire audience, in 24 buses, out for milk and cookies….then he invited anyone interested to meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning….where the show continued.                                                                                                                        

Comedy – 1980 – Showtime Entertainment Presents – Andy Kaufman Live At Carnegie Hall

The Taxi deal with ABC included giving Kaufman a television special/pilot. He came up with Andy’s Funhouse, based on an old routine he had developed while in junior college. The special was taped in 1977….but did not air until August 1979….. when it featured most of Andy’s famous gags….which included  Foreign Man/Latka and his Elvis Presley impersonation….as well as a host of unique segments (including a special appearance by children’s television character Howdy Doody and the “Has-been Corner”).  There was also a segment that included fake television screen static as part of the gag…. which ABC executives were not comfortable with, fearing that viewers would mistake the static for broadcast problems and would change the channel….which was the comic element Kaufman wanted to present.  Andy’s Funhouse was written by Kaufman, Zmuda and Mel Sherer, with music by Kaufman.  In March 1980, Kaufman filmed a short segment for an ABC show called Buckshot. The segment was just over six minutes long ….and was called Uncle Andy’s Funhouse…..as it featured Kaufman as the host of a children’s show for adults, complete with a peanut gallery and Tony Clifton puppet.                                                            

Comedy – 1975 – Saturday Night Live – Andy Kaufman As “Foreign Man” + “Tony Clifton”                                       

In 1983, a show very similar to Andy’s Funhouse and Uncle Andy’s Funhouse was filmed for PBS’s SoundStage program, called The Andy Kaufman Show….as it too featured a peanut gallery….and opened in the middle of an interview Kaufman is doing in which he is laughing hysterically.  He then proceeds to thank the audience for watching and the credits roll.  So, after watching this, would you agree with me that Andy Kaufman brought  a very unique style of comic genius to his work…..and no matter what he does….he makes you laugh.                                                                                                                                                                              

Comedy – 1980 – Special – Uncle Andy’s Funhouse With Tony Clifton – Featuring Andy Kaufman

In 1981, Kaufman made three appearances on Fridays, a variety show on ABC that was similar to Saturday Night Live.  In his first appearance, during a sketch about four people out on a dinner date who excuse themselves to the restroom to smoke marijuana, Kaufman broke character and refused to say his lines.  In response, cast member Michael Richards walked off camera….and returned with a set of cue cards and dumped them on the table in front of Kaufman….who responded by splashing Richards with water. Co-producer Jack Burns  stormed onto the stage….which led to an on camera brawl before the show abruptly cut away to a commercial.  Richards has claimed that this incident was a staged practical joke that was known only to him, associate producer Burns and Kaufman….but Melanie Chartoff, who played Kaufman’s wife in the sketch, has stated that, just before airtime, Burns told her,  Maryedith Burrell and Richards that Kaufman was going to break the fourth wall.                                                                                         

Comedy – 1981 – Fridays TV Show – Featuring Andy Kaufman In “The Fight Incident”                                         

Kaufman appeared the following week in a videotaped apology to the home viewers. Later that year, Kaufman returned to host Fridays. At one point in the show, he invited a Lawrence Welk Show gospel and standards singer, Kathie Sullivan, on stage to sing a few gospel songs with him and announced that the two were engaged to be married….and then talked to the audience about his newfound faith in Jesus….as Kaufman was Jewish….and that was also a hoax.  Later, following a sketch about a drug-abusing pharmacist, Kaufman was supposed to introduce the band The Pretenders….but instead of introducing the band, he delivered a nervous speech about the harmfulness of drugs….while the band stood behind him ready to play…when after his speech, he informed the audience that he had talked for too long and had to go to a commercial.                                                                                                                                               

Comedy – 1981 – Fridays TV Show – Featuring “The Andy Kaufman Apology For The Fight Incident”                   

Inspired by the theatricality of kayfabe, the staged nature of the sport, and his own tendency to form elaborate hoaxes, Kaufman began wrestling women during his act and proclaimed himself the “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World”….while taking on an aggressive and ridiculous personality based on the characters invented by professional wrestlers….when he would offered a $1,000 prize to any woman who could pin him…..as he employed performance artist Laurie Anderson, a friend of his, in this act for a while.  Kaufman initially approached the head of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Vince McMahon Sr., about bringing his act to the New York wrestling territory.  McMahon dismissed Kaufman’s idea, as the elder McMahon was not about to bring “show business” into his Pro Wrestling society.  Kaufman had by then developed a friendship with wrestling reporter / photographer Bill Apter….and after many discussions about Kaufman’s desire to be in the pro wrestling business, Apter called Memphis wrestling icon Jerry “The King” Lawler and introduced him to Kaufman by telephone.  Kaufman finally stepped into the ring (in the Memphis wrestling circuit) with a man, Lawler himself…..when Kaufman began to taunt the residents of Memphis by playing “videos showing residents how to use soap” and proclaiming the city to be “the nation’s redneck capital” The ongoing Lawler-Kaufman feud, which often featured Jimmy Hart and other heels in Kaufman’s corner, included a number of staged “works”, such as a broken neck for Kaufman as a result of Lawler’s pile-driver and a famous on-air fight on a 1982 episode of Late Night with David Letterman.  For some time after that first match, Kaufman appeared wearing a neck brace….while insisting that his injuries were much worse than they really were.  Kaufman would continue to defend the Inter-Gender Championship in the Mid-South Coliseum….and offered an extra prize, other than the $1,000 that if he were pinned, the woman who pinned him would get to marry him….and that Kaufman would also shave his head.                                                 

Comedy – 1984 – Wrestling Special – Andy Kaufman Wrestles 327 lb Woman After Talking Smack To Pro Wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler

Wrestling – 1983 – Big Time Wrestling Match – Featuring Andy Kaufman Vs Jerry Lawler – With Kaufman Interview

Eventually it was revealed that the feud and wrestling matches were staged works…..and that Kaufman and Lawler were friends. This was not disclosed until more than 10 years after Kaufman’s death….when the Emmy-nominated documentary A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman aired on NBC in 1995.  Jim Carrey, who revealed the secret, later went on to play Kaufman in the 1999 film Man on the Moon.  In a 1997 interview with the Memphis Flyer, Lawler said he had improvised during their first match and the Letterman incident.                                                                                                                                                   

Comedy & Pro Wrestling – 1983 – Special – “The Truth About Andy Kaufman, Jerry Lawler And The Piledriver Heard Round The World”                                                                                                                              

Although officials at St. Francis Hospital stated that Kaufman’s neck injuries were real, in his 2002 biography It’s Good to Be the King … Sometimes, Lawler detailed how they came up with the angle and kept it quiet. Even though Kaufman’s injury was legitimate, the pair exaggerated it. He also said that Kaufman’s furious tirade and performance on Letterman was Kaufman’s own idea, including when Lawler slapped Kaufman out of his chair. Promoter Jerry Jarrett later recalled that for two years he would mail Kaufman payments comparable to what other main-event wrestlers were getting at the time, but Kaufman never deposited the checks.  Kaufman appeared in the 1983 film My Breakfast with Blassie with professional wrestling personality “Classy” Freddie Blassie…..as the film was a parody of the art film My Dinner with Andre.  Lynne Margulies, sister of the film’s director, Johnny Legend, appears in it….and became romantically involved with Kaufman.  In 2002, Kaufman became a playable character in the video game Legends of Wrestling II….and a standard character in 2004’s Showdown: Legends of Wrestling….then in 2008, Jakks Pacific produced for their WWE Classic Superstars toy line an action figure two-pack of Kaufman and Lawler….as well as a separate figures release for each of them.                     

Comedy – 1980 – Late Night With David Letterman – With Guest Andy Kaufman + Jerry “The King” Lawler

Although Kaufman made a name for himself as a guest on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, his first prime-time appearances were several guest spots as the Foreign Man on the Dick Van Dyke variety show Van Dyke and Company in 1976.  He appeared four times on The Tonight Show in 1976–78….and three times on The Midnight Special in 1972, 1977, and 1981.  Kaufman appeared on The Dating Game in 1978, in character as Foreign Man….and cried when the bachelorette chose Bachelor # 1….while protesting that he had answered all the questions correctly.                                                                                                                             

Comedy – 1979 – Live On Stage + Interview – The Real Andy Kaufman

His SNL appearances started with the first show, on October 11, 1975. He made 16 SNL appearances in all, doing routines from his comedy act such as the Mighty Mouse singalong, Foreign Man, and the Elvis impersonation. After he angered the audience with his female-wrestling routine, Kaufman in January 1983 made a pre-taped appearance (his 16th) asking the audience if he should ever appear on the show again….while saying he would honor their decision…..to which SNL ran a phone vote….and 195,544 people voted to “Dump Andy” while 169,186 people voted to “Keep Andy”.  During the SNL episode with the phone poll, many of the cast members stated their admiration for Kaufman’s work. After Eddie Murphy read both numbers, he said, “Now, Andy Kaufman is a friend of mine. Keep that in mind when you call. I don’t want to have to punch nobody in America in the face”….and Mary Gross read the Dump Andy phone number at a rate so fast that audiences were unable to catch it. The final tally was read by Gary Kroeger to a cheering audience. As the credits rolled, announcer Don Pardo said, “This is Don Pardo saying, ‘I voted for Andy Kaufman.'”                                                                                                                                  

News – 2019 – Ora TV Special – Larry King Interviews Actor Judd Hirsch On His Memories Of Andy Kaufman

Kaufman made a number of appearances on the daytime edition of The David Letterman Show in 1980….along with 11 appearances on Late Night with David Letterman in 1982–83.  He made numerous guest spots on other television programs hosted by or starring celebrities like Johnny Cash in his 1979 Christmas special, Dick Van Dyke, Dinah Shore, Rodney Dangerfield, Cher, Dean Martin, Redd Foxx, Mike Douglas, Dick Clark, and Joe Franklin.  He appeared in his first theatrical film, God Told Me To, in 1976….in which he portrayed a murderous policeman.   He appeared in two other theatrical films, including the 1980 film In God We Tru$t….in which he played a televangelist…. and the 1981 film Heartbeeps….in which he played a robot.

 

Comedy – 1978 Thru 1982 – TV Show “TAXI” Highlights – Featuring Andy Kaufman + Danny DeVito – “The Best Of Latka Gravas”                                                                                                                                                                    

Laurie Anderson worked alongside Kaufman for a time in the 1970’s….while acting as a sort of “straight man” in a number of his Manhattan and Coney Island performances. One of these performances included getting on a ride that people stand in and get spun around. After everyone was strapped in, Kaufman would start saying how he did not want to be on the ride in a panicked tone and eventually cry. Anderson later described these performances in her 1995 album, The Ugly One with the Jewels.  In 1983, Kaufman appeared on Broadway with Deborah Harry in the play Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap….which  closed after just two performances.                                                                                                                                             

Comedy – 1982 – David Letterman Show Highlights Special – Complete Collection Of Andy Kaufman On Letterman

Any way you cut the pie, Andy Kaufman brought a unique and uncommon approach to comedy and entertaining people….for there wasn’t any other comedian / entertainer who brought to the table what Kaufman did….and as we said….he made people laugh a lot….even when he wasn’t trying to be funny….and we here at ImaSportsphile are delighted to showcase his talents in the videos provided herewith….cuz Andy Kaufman could really play the part….extremely well I might add….evidenced by the number of folks and fans who believe he staged his own death….now that is playing the part. R.I.P Andy….and thank’s for the laughs.  Oh…..an after thought after having viewed each of the videos in this story herewith…..we agree with Andy Kaufman’s self description of being a “Song and Dance Man”.                                                                                                                                                                                              

Comedy & Pro Wrestling – 1982 – Big Time Wrestling Match – Andy Kaufman Sings To Jerry “The King” Lawler Prior To Match

Comedy – 1982 – Pro Wrestler Andy Kaufman Gives Hygiene Tips To Wrestling Fans After Match With Jerry Lawler

 

 

 

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