the strange comedy of andy kaufman -- 10/10/19

Today's encore selection -- from I'm Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder. Andy Kaufman was one of the strangest and most controversial of American comedians, with routines composed of lip-syncing to the "Mighty Mouse" theme song or posing as a professional wrestler or lounge singer:

"Andy Kaufman was twenty-three and living with his parents in Great Neck, Long Island, when a local music club owner called [Improv comedy club owner Bud] Friedman and said, 'You really should see this guy.' Kaufman showed up at the Improv in his 'foreign man' character and introduced himself to Friedman in badly broken English.

" 'Where you from, kid?' Friedman asked.

" 'An island in the Caspian Sea,' Kaufman replied in the voice of a five-year-old. Friedman didn't get the joke because he didn't know there are no islands in the Caspian Sea, but he put Kauf­man on anyway and watched as he stumbled through a series of egregious celebrity impressions while members of the audience either giggled nervously or stared in slack-jawed silence. After what seemed like an eternity, Kaufman announced, 'Now I would like to do the Elvis Presley,' and ripped into a dead-on im­personation of the King singing 'Treat Me Nice.' The crowd went wild over the extended put-on and Kaufman became an instant Improv regular....

[Kaufman went on to headline in comedy clubs and was soon picked up by television producers to co-star as the endearing-but-goofy car mechanic Latka Gravas in the soon-to-be hit sitcom Taxi.]

"Some weeknights [Kaufman's comedian friends would go] to the Posh Bagel on Santa Mon­ica Boulevard in West Hollywood to see Andy Kaufman perform, not as a comic but as a busboy. One or two nights a week, the breakout star of a hit network sitcom worked for minimum wage and went unrecognized for the most part, which is why he did it and why his comedian friends would show up to participate in his peculiar brand of performance art. They'd sit at a table like normal patrons, pretending not to know him. He'd ignore them and go about his busboy business. Then, something would happen: He'd drop or spill something, or they would. An argument would break out; shouting would ensue. Chairs might be knocked over, bagels thrown. Kaufman's friends would bolt for the parking lot before dissolving into laughter, and he'd resume bussing tables for the stunned customers without ever breaking character."


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author:

William Knoedelseder

title:

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era

publisher:

Public Affairs

date:

Copyright 2009 by William Knoedelseder

pages:

21-22, 125-126
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