I like original people…Andy was that completely.
He covered the bases…Mighty Mouse, Foreign Man, wrestling women, Elvis Impersonator (I think the best), Tony Clifton, bongo player, Great Gatsby reader and generally pissing people off, boring them or making them laugh. He was a performance artist – a comedian who sometimes was uncomfortable to watch but great as well. He was not a joke comedian…not remotely close.
I remember seeing him on a clip from the Tonight Show… as the very innocent childlike foreign man talking for a while and doing terrible celebrity impersonations and then suddenly shedding that character like a used coat and he started to do his Elvis impersonation…no, he WAS Elvis… I’ve read where Elvis said that Andy was his favorite impersonator but whether that is true or not I don’t know.
His first SNL performance… All he did was to get on stage with a record player playing the “Mighty Mouse” theme and mime along in certain spots. He made it work. He was only doing what he did growing up alone in his room as a child…he translated that to a national audience.
He loved to be the bad guy… At his performances, he would sometimes threaten to read the Great Gatsby…the complete book…just to piss everyone off…He would read a chapter or so and then ask the crowd if they wanted to hear some music from his record player….the audience, thinking of Mighty Mouse would applaud and he then would start playing a record of him reading The Great Gatsby from where he left off right before.
Andy grew up loving wrestling. After he achieved his fame he started to wrestle…wrestle women. I’m sure many people at the time were baffled.
That led to the infamous guest shot on The David Letterman Show with wrestler Jerry Lawler in 1982. Jerry slapped Andy off a chair who had a neck brace on already…at the time people really bought into it. Lawler says he still gets hate mail to this day from people who think he caused Andy’s death. Of course, both planned this and they were friends.
A couple of years before his death he made a film with Fred Blassie a wrestler Andy admired. He filmed it at a restaurant and called it “Breakfast with Blassie.”
Andy once played Carnegie Hall and took the entire audience out afterward for milk and cookies. Being Andy, some probably didn’t believe it but he had 20 buses waiting outside for them and they all went to have milk and cookies.
He will be remembered best for Taxi and his character Latka Gravas. It amazes me that he was on Taxi…that he was on any normal show…though Taxi was great…It worked out well that they found a place for Andy’s foreign man character…but Andy wasn’t always happy being on the show.
He also had an alter ego character he played called Tony Clifton. Tony was a loud, obnoxious. sleazy lounge singer that would rip the audience. Usually, the person getting ripped was Andy’s writing partner and friend Bob Zmuda. Later on, to really mess with people’s minds…Andy had Bob to play Tony Clifton and they would appear together. “Tony Clifton” even got himself thrown off of the Taxi set.
Some people loved Andy, some hated him, some thought he was irritating and some all three. I just appreciated the fact he was different.
Andy died in 1984…or did he? Bob Zmuda has said that Andy did say he was going to fake his death and said that he actually helped Andy plan it. More people have come forward saying the same thing. Every few years we get an Andy sighting in Albuquerque or somewhere else. No, I don’t believe he did fake it…but hey I would love if he popped up well and alive anytime in the future. The world needs original people. You know he would be loving the rumors about him being alive…if he is alive or not.
REM had a song that was based on Andy called Man on the Moon. It was about questioning everything like the Moon landing, Elvis dying, religion, Andy dying and etc… from REM’s bassist Mike Mills “He’s the perfect ghost to lead you through this tour of questioning things. Did the moon landing really happen? Is Elvis really dead? He was kind of an ephemeral figure at that point so he was the perfect guy to tie all this stuff together as you journey through childhood and touchstones of life.”
In 1999 a movie called Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey was released about Andy’s life. I went to see it when it came out and enjoyed it. I’m not sure how close Carrey got to Andy’s non-public side because of course, I didn’t know him. Marilu Henner said that he was a warmer person than the movie portrayed and Judd Hirsch said that while not performing, Andy was a very normal, quiet guy but Judd admits he really didn’t know him. I do think Carrey did a good job portraying him.
I like one-off people like Andy Kaufman and Keith Moon. Expect the unexpected…it keeps life interesting.
First SNL Appearance
Andy on Letterman
Milk and Cookies