Andy Kaufman



Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman (January 17, 1949 – May 16, 1984) was a New York-born American entertainer. Though many refer to him as a comedian, Kaufman did not self-identify as one. He disdained telling jokes and engaging in comedy as it was traditionally understood. He was one of the most famous practitioners of anti-humor or dada absurdism. He was also a composer. He graduated in 1971 from the now-defunct Grahm Junior College where he studied television, and completed projects that influenced his later work. He practiced transcendental meditation.

Kaufman was born in New York City on January 17, 1949, the first son of Stanley and Janice Kaufman. He grew up in Great Neck, New York, and began performing at the age of 7. He attended Boston's Grahm Junior College for one year, and then began performing stand-up comedy at various small clubs along the east coast.

Kaufman first caught major attention with a character named "Foreign Man". Foreign Man, who claimed to be from Caspiar (a fictional island in the Caspian Sea), would appear on the stage of comedy clubs and perform a number of bad impersonations (Archie Bunker, Richard Nixon, etc). For example, he might say in a phony accent, "I would like to imitate Meester Carter, de President of de United States." He would then say in the same voice, "Hello, I am Meester Carter, de President of de United States. Thenk you veddy much." The audience would be torn between outrage at seeing such a bad act, and sympathy for the hapless entertainer, who would cry on stage once heckled enough. At that point, Foreign Man would launch into an Elvis Presley impersonation good enough that Elvis Presley himself would later describe it as his favorite. The audience would realize they had been tricked, which became a trademark of Kaufman's comedy.

Kaufman also made a name for himself on NBC's Saturday Night Live, starting in 1975, as a guest on the show. He would often do odd things, such as lip synch to the Mighty Mouse theme or perform his Foreign Man character. He appeared in his first theatrical film God Told Me To in 1976, where he portrayed a murderous policeman.

Laurie Anderson worked alongside Andy Kaufman for a time in the 1970s, acting as a sort of straight woman in a number of his Manhattan and Coney Island performances. Possibly romantically linked with him as well (implied by the spoken word recording Ugly One With the Jewels in which she talks about him). 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.

Kaufman later reprised the Foreign Man character, renamed Latka Gravas, for the Taxi sitcom in 1978. Kaufman hated sitcoms and was not thrilled with the idea of being on one. In order to allow Kaufman to demonstrate some comedic range, his character was given multiple personality disorder, which allowed Kaufman to display other characters. In one episode, Kaufman's character came down with a condition which made him act like Alex Reiger, the main character played by Judd Hirsch.

On a few occasions, audiences would show up to one of Kaufman's performances requesting to see Latka. Kaufman would punish these audiences with the announcement that he was going to read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to them. The audience would laugh at this, not realizing that Kaufman was serious and would read extensive passages of the book to them.

"Latkas" are fried potato pancakes familiar to many Jewish households.

Another well-known Kaufman character is Tony Clifton, an abusive lounge singer. Clifton 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 his friend Bob Zmuda. For a brief time, it was unclear to some that Clifton was not a real person. News programs actually interviewed Clifton as Kaufman's opening act. The interviews would usually turn ugly whenever Kaufman's name came up, because Clifton would claim that Kaufman was using him to get rich.

Clifton was, at Kaufman's insistence, hired for a guest role on Taxi, but after throwing a tantrum on stage, had to be escorted off of the ABC studio's lot by security guards. Much to Kaufman's delight, this incident was reported in the local newspapers.

Kaufman grew up admiring professional wrestlers and the world that they perform in. For a brief time, Kaufman began wrestling women during his act and was the self-proclaimed "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World". He offered $1,000 reward to any woman who could pin him. Later, after a challenge from professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, Kaufman would step into the ring (in the Memphis, Tennessee wrestling circuit) with a man - Lawler himself. Lawler's ongoing feud included an apparent broken neck for Kaufman as a result of a piledriver by Lawler, and a famous on-air fight on the Late Night with David Letterman television show. Kaufman and Lawler's famous feud and wrestling matches were all later confirmed to be scripted (in wrestling parlance, a "work") and not real as many believed at the time. In reality, Kaufman was not injured while wrestling Lawler, and the two were actually friends. The truth about it being a work was kept secret for more than 10 years after Kaufman's death, until the Emmy nominated documentary A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman aired on NBC in 1995. Coincidentally, Jim Carrey is the one who reveals the secret, and would later go on to play Kaufman in the film Man on the Moon. 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 but did relate that Kaufman's explosion on Letterman was the comedian's own idea.

In 1981, Kaufman made a couple of memorable appearances on Fridays, a variety show on ABC that was similar to SNL. Kaufman's first appearance on the show proved to be the most memorable one. 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.

The other comedians were embarrassed by the position that Kaufman had put them in on a live television show. In response, Michael Richards walked off camera and returned with a set of cue cards and dumped them on the table in front of Kaufman. Andy responded by splashing Michael Richards with water. Show emcee, comedian Jack Burns stormed onto the stage, leading to a brawl on camera before the show finally cut away to commercial. The entire incident was a gag conceived by Andy Kaufman, but how many people were in on the joke has never been clear.

Regardless, 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 gospel singer Kathie Sullivan on stage to sing a few gospel songs with him and announced that the two were engaged to be married and talked to the audience about his newfound faith in Jesus. It was also a hoax.

Kaufman died on May 16, 1984 at the age of 35 of lung cancer in Los Angeles, and was interred in the Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York (Long Island). He was diagnosed with the disease in December 1983, but kept the true nature of his health a secret, almost until the day he died. Over the years, many people doubted Kaufman's death, thinking that he staged it as the ultimate Andy Kaufman stunt. For one thing, friends and family said that Andy never smoked, didn't drink regularly, and was also a vegetarian. At the time, lung cancer was considered very rare for non-smokers to contract, and it is also rare in people under 50. For another, Kaufman himself even said that if he were to fake his death; he would return 20 years later. On May 16, 2004, his surviving friends threw a 'Welcome Home Andy' party for him but he didn't show up.

It was only after Kaufman's death that it was revealed he had a daughter, Maria, from a previous relationship. He was forced to give her up for adoption (she never knew her biological father; it was only after Kaufman died that she learned of this).

Andy Kaufman allegedly told at least eleven people - including Bob Zmuda - that he wished to fake his own death prior to his passing. This has caused some fans to believe Kaufman is still alive. A screenplay Kaufman was working on at the time of his death was about a character who claimed to have lung cancer and faked his death.

Andy lost his hair around the time of his death. This was believed to be due to cancer treatment; however, according to the website Andykaufmanreturns.com, Andy's girlfriend at the time later admitted to having shaved his head with a razor. Andy's sister later commented after his death that she found it odd that the doctor who diagnosed Andy with cancer had been wearing tennis shoes, sparking debate amongst fans as to whether Andy had paid off an actor friend to pose as a doctor. There are many such rumors involving Andy's "hoax" death, and the 1999 Jim Carrey film Man on the Moon even references these rumors by including an open ending in which Andy may or may not still be alive. Bob Zmuda has acknowledged "death hoax" rumors over the years quite tongue-in-cheek, admitting that Andy and he had discussed faking his death at times and that Andy seemed "obsessed with the idea," but he maintains the opinion that Andy truly did die and his death was not faked. Zmuda claims he doesn't think Andy would be cruel enough to go this long without making contact with his family if he were still alive. But he also acknowledged the concept that Kaufman could have faked his death in 1984 and died later on of some other cause.

Since Andy's passing, a blog surfaced in 2004 chronicling his comeback. However, these claims were revealed to be false. In light of recent revelations it seems the blog's author was Steve Rocco, a man charged by the OC Weekly of actually being Kaufman himself (these allegations were made prior to the revelation of Rocco being involved with the hoax blog). Rocco was revealed as the author of the blog due to a press release issued through the same company he has used in the past to promote his website, AndyKaufmanReturns.com. The press release issued by Rocco claimed that the blog was a hoax and had been managed by a boy named Enrique. Enrique is one of Rocco's pseudonyms on the website Andy Kaufman Returns dot com. Rocco's press release also claimed to have been issued by Andy's friends and family - among them, Bob Zmuda - but this was false information. Zmuda had nothing to do with the press release, and in fact the site's URL is still online; presumably, if charges had been brought against the blog's owner, the site would have been taken offline. It is unclear why Rocco would want to sabotage his own blog and reveal it as a hoax or why he would even author it to begin with.

The OC Weekly has claimed that Rocco, currently a reclusive school board trustee on the Orange Unified School District, is Andy Kaufman.

Rocco manages numerous websites affiliated with Kaufman, and uses over ten aliases on these sites. He currently goes by the moniker "KING" and claims to be in possession of evidence proving once and for all that Kaufman is alive. He has posted some of this evidence - including personal photographs from Kaufman's family album - online.

Some fans believe Rocco is working for Bob Zmuda and the website AndyKaufmanReturns.com is a "game" of sorts set up to honor Andy and provide his fans with a source of entertainment. This is supported by the fact that Rocco is in possession of many personal items of Kaufman, and appears to have had the support of Bob Zmuda when he began the Andy Kaufman Returns blog. (Due to the fact that Zmuda never pressed charges or acknowledged the fact that Rocco's press release - which falsely quoted Zmuda - was fake.)

Some fans believe Andy's friends are currently operating an elaborate gag in honor of his notorious practical jokes he used to play. Puzzlementary Productions issued a statement against The OC Weekly for claiming one of its owners, Steve Rocco, was Andy Kaufman.

Puzzlementary is also owned by Huey Williams and Nathan Richards - both names of which are characters that had been used by Kaufman while he was alive. Additionally, Rocco operated AndyKaufmanReturns.blogspot.com, which was allegedly shut down in 2004 due to a cease-and-desist issued by Andy's family - however, the press release was determined to be fake after it was revealed that it had been posted by Rocco himself, operating on the free press release website PRWeb.com. The press release mentioned the person who had elaborated the hoax was named Enrique - this is the pseudonym Steve Rocco uses on his website, AndyKaufmanLives.com. According to a Whois database search, Puzzlementary Productions is listed as the owner of the domain name.

# Throughout his entire professional career, Kaufman kept his day job bussing tables at Jerry's Famous Deli.

# Kaufman made ten appearances on David Letterman's morning and late-night shows, including one where he claimed to be homeless and begged the audience for money and one where he talked about his adopted children, who turned out to be three full grown African American men.

# Kaufman also made a number of legendary appearances on NBC's Saturday Night Live, until he angered the audience with his female wrestling routine. The SNL audience voted to ban Kaufman from the show for good, though it was never made clear whether or not this was a gag.

# In 1979, Kaufman performed in front of a Carnegie Hall audience, whom he then took out for milk and cookies, via 35 buses that were waiting outside. At the beginning of his Carnegie Hall performance, 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, his grandmother stood up, took her mask off and revealed to the audience that she was actually comedian Robin Williams in disguise.

# Andy Kaufman has posthumously appeared in Acclaim's "Legends Of Wrestling II" (2002) and "Showdown Legends Of Wrestling" (2004) video games.

# Kaufman was a friend of Alan Spencer, best known as a creator of the cult hit TV series "Sledge Hammer!" Kaufman once invited Spencer over to his home and subjected him to a marathon of forty eight hours of The People's Court, a series that Kaufman religiously recorded.

# Rapper Sage Francis has written a song about staging his own death. He named the song Andy Kaufman.

# The band R.E.M. reference Andy Kaufman and his Elvis impersonation in their song Man on the Moon.

# In a poll on IMDb, Kaufman was named the celebrity who most likely faked his own death, beating out Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, James Dean, and Jimi Hendrix.

Acting:

* The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show (1982) (TV) .... Tony Clifton
* Heartbeeps (1981) .... Val
* In God We Tru$t (1980) .... Armageddon T. Thunderbird
* Taxi (1978) TV Series .... Latka Gravas/Vic Ferrari
* Stick Around (1977) (TV) .... Andy, the Robot
* God Told Me To (1976) .... Police Officer

Writing:

* I'm From Hollywood (1989) (uncredited)
* Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall (1980) (V)
* Andy's Funhouse (1979) (TV)

Composing:

* Man on the Moon (1999) (song "Oh, The Cow Goes Moo")
* Andy's Funhouse (1979) (TV)

Producing:

* Andy's Funhouse (1979) (TV) (producer)

Playing Himself:

* I'm From Hollywood (1989) .... Himself
* Elayne Boosler: Party of One (1985) (TV) (voice) .... Himself
* My Breakfast with Blassie (1983) .... Himself
* Catch a Rising Star's 10th Anniversary (1982) (TV) .... Himself/Comedian
* Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall (1980) (V) .... Himself/Tony Clifton
* Andy's Funhouse (1979) (TV) (also as Tony Clifton) .... Himself/Latka Gravas/Tony Clifton
* Cher... and Other Fantasies (1979) (TV) .... Himself
* Van Dyke and Company (1976) TV Series .... Regular
* Van Dyke and Company (1975) (TV)
* The Midnight Special (1972) TV Series .... Himself - Host

Notable TV Guest Appearances:

* Late Night with David Letterman 17 November 1983 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 22 September 1983 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 23 February 1983 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 7 January 1983 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 17 November 1982 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 8.5) 30 October 1982 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 28 July 1982 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 17 May 1982 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 7.19) 15 May 1982 .... Himself
* Hour Magazine 7 May 1982 .... Himself
* The John Davidson Show 15 April 1982 .... Himself
* Good Morning America 14 April 1982 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 1 April 1982 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 30 March 1982 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 18 February 1982 .... Himself
* Late Night with David Letterman 17 February 1982 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live playing "Himself/Elvis" (episode # 7.10) 30 January 1982 .... Himself/Elvis
* Good Morning America 28 October 1981 .... Himself
* Fridays playing "Guest Host" (episode # 3.1) 18 September 1981 .... Guest Host
* Fridays playing "Himself - Recorded Apology" (episode # 2.21) 27 February 1981 .... Himself
* Fridays (episode # 2.20) 20 February 1981 .... Guest Host
* The Midnight Special 23 January 1981 .... Himself
* The Merv Griffin Show 25 January 1980 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 5.8) 22 December 1979 .... Himself
* The Merv Griffin Show 13 December 1979 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (uncredited) (episode # 5.5) 17 November 1979 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 5.2) 20 October 1979 .... Himself
* The Tomorrow Show 20 August 1979 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 4.13) 24 February 1979 .... Himself
* Live Wednesday 29 November 1978 .... Himself
* The Dating Game (as Baji Kimran) 21 November 1978 .... Himself - Participant
* The Mike Douglas Show 11 April 1978 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 3.13) 11 March 1978 .... Himself
* The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 20 February 1978 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 3.7) 10 December 1977 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 3.3) 15 October 1977 .... Foreign Man
* Redd Foxx 15 September 1977 .... Himself
* The Hollywood Squares 15 August 1977 .... Himself
* The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 3 March 1977 .... Himself
* The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 21 January 1977 .... Himself
* Dinah! 17 January 1977 .... Foreign Man
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 2.11) 15 January 1977 .... Foreign Man/Elvis
* The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 23 June 1976 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 1.15) 28 February 1976 .... Himself
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 1.4) 8 November 1975 .... Foreign Man
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 1.3) 25 October 1975 .... Foreign Man
* Saturday Night Live (episode # 1.1) 11 October 1975 .... Foreign Man
* The Joe Franklin Show 20 June 1974 .... Himself
* The Dean Martin Comedy World 6 June 1974 .... HimselfPermission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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