Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman (January 17, 1949 – May 16, 1984) was an American entertainer and actor. Although he is often referred to as a comedian, Kaufman considered himself a "song and dance man." Kaufman is best remembered for his portrayal of the "Foreign Man," who would perform inept and incomprehensible impressions of Americans celebrities--and then do a dead-on impression of Elvis. Kaufman appeared on the first episode of Saturday Night Live, where he performed the theme to "Mighty Mouse" (see the video below) and later developed the recurring role of Latka Gravas on Taxi. Kaufman hadn't been considered for the show until the producers of Taxi saw Andy's Foreign Man, at which point they wrote a part for him. In order to allow Kaufman to exercise his comedic range on the show, Latka was given multiple personality disorder, and Kaufman was able to randomly portray different characters. Throughout his life, Kaufman was known for blurring the boundaries in his performances between truth and fiction, and audience and stage. For instance, even after establishing himself as a performer and entertainer, Kaufman once appeared on The Dating Game under an assumed name as a supposedly real contestant, and once appeared on The David Letterman Show claiming to be homeless man with adopted children.
Andy Kaufman's penchant for unexplained and unorthodox comedy began early. After he was deferred from the military draft for failing the psychological evaluation, Kaufman went on to Boston's Grahm Junior College, where he wrote and starred in his own show, Uncle Andy's Funhouse, which would become the basis of his later shows, Andy's Funhouse on ABC and The Andy Kaufman Show, on PBS. Kaufman favored truly unusual performance art, including one performance where he read The Great Gatsby out loud until his entire audience walked out. In another, he appeared on stage with a sleeping bag and slept through the show.
Through his stand up, Kaufman met actors Carl Reiner and Dick van Dyke, as well as their manager George Shapiro, who later became Kaufman's manager. Shapiro would go on to become co-executive producer of Seinfeld. In 1974, Kaufman made his television debut on The Dean Martin Comedy Hour. The next year, Dick Ebersol invited him to audition for a new show called Saturday Night Live. Kaufman became known for several original roles, like the Intergender World Wrestling Champion and Tony Clifton, a loudmouthed, abusive lounge singer, whom Kaufman later insisted be hired on Taxi as if Clifton were a real person.
In various performances, Kaufman was not the only person to play Tony – occasionally, he would be played by Kaufman's brother or his close friend Bob Zmuda. Clifton was supposed to appear as a "guest star" on Taxi, and a script was written for him him. During taping, however, Clifton threw a tantrum on set, and was escorted off the Paramount studio lot. The incident was reported in newspapers, to Kaufman's delight. Producers James L. Brooks and Stan Daniels released a statement that although Clifton was "no longer welcome on set," Andy Kaufman was.
Kaufman was famous for his ability to create dramatic and memorable television appearances, often by staging fights with fellow guests. For instance, Kaufman staged a heated argument with pro wrestler Jerry Lawlor when both men appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. However, the incident was not revealed to be a hoax until over a decade after Kaufman's death.
On the ABC variety show Fridays, Kaufman famously got into a fight with Michael Richards and the show's co-producer Jack Burns stormed on stage to break up the fight. It was later revealed that the fight had been completely staged, but was known to no one except the three men involved.
Kaufman even appeared the following week in a videotaped apology to home viewers. On Fridays, Kaufman also faked an engagement with a singer from the Lawrence Welk Show, and pretended to have discovered a deep faith in Jesus and announced it earnestly to the audience. Another time, instead of introducing the show's musical guest, The Preteneders, Kaufman gave a nervous, rambling speech about the dangers of drugs, and then told viewers that he had taken too long, and the show had to go to commercial.
Kaufman's adventures in show business also included his show at Carnegie Hall, when he invited his "grandmother" on stage to watch the show up close, from a chair on the side of the stage. At the end of the show, his grandmother stood up to reveal that she was actually Robin Williams in disguise.
The show famously concluded with Kaufman actually inviting the entire audience for milk and cookies, shuttling them in dozens of buses. Anyone interested could meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the following morning, where he continued to perform.
Kaufman's own show, Andy's Funhouse, featured famous gags like the Foreign Man, his skilled Elvis impersonation, and a segment including Howdy Doody and the "Has-been Corner", as well as a fake news segment with fake screen static. A few years later, an extremely similar show was filmed for PBS's SoundStage program called The Andy Kaufman Show, which featured very similar segments.
On the set of My Breakfast with Blassie, a parody of My Dinner with Andre, Andy Kaufman met Lynne Margulies and the two lived together until his death. Kaufman's television appearences are numerous, and include several performances on The Tonight Show, one of which involved Kaufman singing a song called "I Trusted You" which featured those words repeated over and over. Kaufman made 16 appearances on SNL. After a negative response to his "wrestling routine", Andy appeared in a pre-taped segment inviting audiences to cast a telephone vote on his fate on the show. More people voted for Kaufman to leave the show, although several cast members, including Eddie Murphy and Mary Gross, offered support for their castmate. Although it was never made clear whether the phone vote was also a gag, Kaufman did not appear again on the show.
In January 1984, Kaufman acknowledged, after audiences expressed shock at his gaunt appearance,that he was dealing with an unspecified illness, later revealed to be a rare form of lung cancer. Kaufman attempted several methods of natural medicine, radiotheraphy, and "psychic surgery" but none were successful. Kaufman was only 35 when he died.
In honor of his friend, Bob Zmuda started Comic Relief on HBO, an annual benefit for the homeless which has been hosted by Robin Williams and other friends of Kaufman. The 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey, was extremely well received, and in true Kaufman fashion, leaves the question of his whereabouts open-ended.
- Birthday Date: Friday, 17 January 2014