ANDY KAUFMAN ORAL HISTORY
appeared in shortened form in GQ magazine, December 1999
interviews by Don Steinberg
further nonsense at:
George Shapiro, Andy's personal manager: I first heard about Andy from Carl Reiner, one of my clients. Carl had seen this kid at Catch a Rising Star in New York, and I was having lunch with Carl and Dick van Dyke at the NBC commissary in Los Angeles, and Carl started telling us about Andy. He said he just saw the most unique act he's ever seen.
Carl Reiner: My wife and I were in New York, and we're interested in comedians, and we just went to Catch a Rising Star to see what people were doing. I didnít know about him. I didnít know who he was. And the first thing I think is, what is this guy doing up there? He's got no jokes.
Richard Belzer: I was emceeing at Catch in those days. Andy didnít do jokes. He would take out a sleeping bag and take a nap on stage. He would play records. He would have people come up and touch the boil on his neck.
Rick Newman, founder, Catch a Rising Star: He would eat potatoes on stage. When he did the sleeping bag, people would get up and walk out of the room. When I would see him setting up the sleeping bag, I'd think, shit there goes 25 percent of the audience.
Budd Friedman, founder the Improv: He had a company of players who were mostly my waitresses or ex-waitresses. He'd bring 'em up like somebody out of the audience and pick fights with them and slap them and pull their hair. People didn't quite get it. I used to stand in the back of the room and watch body language on guys who I felt were going to attack him.
Richard Belzer: He use to drive in from Long Island in his father's station wagon, and I'd help him unload this car full of stuff he used in his act, bongo drums, sleeping bags, record players, books, musical instruments.
Rick Newman: Belzer hated comedians who used props. He had a line he used all the time: "Props are the enemy of wit."
Richard Belzer: But Andy was different. He didnít use props the way other comics did. It was so genuine. He never did anything that seemed contrived. It was part of his form of expression.
Marilu Henner: The first time I saw Andy was at the Improv in New York. This guy gets up, he doesn't look like a comedian at all, and he starts reading from the Great Gatsby. And then, he keeps reading from the Great Gatsby. And he gets to chapter two. And we're like, wait a minute. This is his act. So people start pelting dinner rolls at him, they're heckling him. Finally he breaks down and cries. He's just weeping on stage.
David Brenner: And, you know, people would boo the crying. They were New Yorkers.
Budd Friedman: The Great Gatsby became a bore at times. I remember once it went about an hour.
Bob Zmuda, Andy's writer, best friend, author of Andy Kaufman Revealed: Budd Friedman would use Gatsby to empty out the club at the end of the night. When there were just people hanging out and they're not buying any more drinks, he'd sic Andy on em.
Carl Reiner: I laughed a lot at the Gatsby thing because I had once done that to somebody, actually to Dick van Dyke. I came into the room and said, hey I'd like to read you guys something. You know how you read somebody something from a newspaper? And I opened a book up and I started to read, and after the second page Dick says "Are you gonna read the whole book?" And that was the joke. And then when I saw this guy do it on stage, I said, this is a man after my own heart.
Budd Friedman: Andy had been recommended to me by a fellow who owned a nightclub in Great Neck, where Andy lived. I didnít ask anything, and the guy just said you should see this kid, he's terrific. So Andy comes up to me and says (switching into a foreign accent) "hello, I am Andy Kaufman." And he's doing the Foreign Man. I say, where are you from? He says "I am from an Island in the Caspian sea." Now I don't know at that time there are no islands in the Caspian sea. And he goes up and he starts doing his act as the Foreign Man.
George Shapiro: The foreign man character was so funny and innocent and authentic: the foreign man trying to follow his dream and do stand-up comedy. And doing these terrible imitations. He did imitations like President Carter: "Hello, I'd would now to do my emetation of meester carter: Hello I am meester carter, plesident of united states, thank you veddy much."
Bob Zmuda: The Foreign man would just bomb, with this terrible act. And then he would get all flustered and start to cry.
Marilu Henner: So while he's up there crying, he turns his back to the audience, and he whips off from the side of his pants two pieces of black electrical tape, revealing studs all the way up his tuxedo pants. And he turns around and does the wildest Elvis I've ever seen.
Budd Friedman: He does his Elvis impression, and he says in perfect English "thank you verrah much," and my jaw dropped. I knew I'd been duped and that this was a very special performer. After that he became a regular. We made it his laboratory. Let him do what he wanted to do. He succeeded more times than he failed.
Marilu Henner: It was such a brilliant moment, and you realized that you'd been had. It was so beyond any of the typical jokes that you were seeing that night at the Improv.
Carl Reiner: His Elvis Presley was maybe the best ever done. When I came back to California, I was raving about this guy that was more different than anything I'd ever seen in my life.
George Shapiro: Coincidentally, the next day Budd Friedman called me and said he was flying in this kid from New York called Andy Kaufman -- and did I want to see him?
Budd Friedman: When I opened the L.A. Improv, I knew all the guys I'd groomed in New York -- Jay Leno and Jimmie Walker and Freddie Prinze -- who were working in L.A. would come perform for me. But I thought I had to bring somebody out who nobody had seen before. So I brought Andy out and gave him a very small stipend and put him up in a little hotel, and he started perfroming at the club, and that's where George Shapiro saw him. And he signed him.
Ron Meyer, president, Universal Studios: Mike Ovitz and I had dinner one night with George and Howard [West, Shapiro's partner]. They said, we just signed a comic, why donít you come and see him. So we went at 12 o'clock at night to the Improv, and here was this guy, Andy. Nobody knew who he was, including us. And he did the worst jokes, the worst performance ever. The audience was booing him and forcing him off the stage. And George kept saying "Isnít he brilliant?" And I said "no, he's awful, this guy's terrible." He says, "yeah, but that's what's so brilliant, he does that on purpose. When he's famous people will know that's part of his act." And I said, "yeah, but he's not going to get famous with that act." He was quite courageous . He had no qualms about, even at his earliest stage, doing whatever he wanted. He was so far ahead of his time.
Budd Friedman: Andy later told me that he had come to me when we was 16, and presented himself to me as a young man who played the bongos, and I'd told him to get out.
Bob Zmuda: There was an audition for Saturday Night Live at the Improv in LA, and Dick Ebersol saw him. He discovered Andy in L.A, then turned Lorne Michaels onto him.
Lorne Michaels, executive producer, Saturday Night Live: He sort of defined for me everything that I wanted to say about stand up comedy. Because it was midway between standup comedy in the Ed Sullivan Show sense, or the Friarís Club sense, and performance art, which was just beginning to emerge in the world below Houston Street.
Chevy Chase: The kinds of things he was doing were so distant from everything you would see in the improvsational clubs, which were places that Lorne and I visited to look for cast members. And I just thought it was brilliant stuff that eventually would be recognized as brilliant. I mean besides just being down-and-out, gut-wrenching funny. I mean, you have to laugh when a guy sings 'here I come to save the day' and then does nothing the rest of the time.
Bob Zmuda: Andy went out there on the first Saturday Night Live and he didnít say anything. He went out on stage, smiled, kind of hesitated, and dropped the needle of a record player on a scratchy record. He lipped synched to the Mighty Mouse theme song. That was it. And the audience went nuts. Lorne Michaels said the genius of it was that Andy didnít lip-synch the whole song, but stood there waiting for his part in the song to come.
Lorne Michaels: It was the thing that was uncuttable for me in the first show. We had an unfortunate moment with Billy Crystal, or Billyís manager, because we had George Carlin hosting the first show, and he wasnít doing sketches, just three different monologues. Billy Crystal was also doing a monologue. We were running long and it had been suggested that what we cut was Andy. But that was sacrosanct. We had to bump Billy ultimately.
Chevy Chase: Sure, there was doubt about how he would go over. But there was doubt everything. With Andy it was really a question of faith. It was a question of surprise, which is what makes people laugh -- and faith that people would get it, and laugh. All we wanted was laughs, basically.
Lorne Michaels: You canít imagine what it was like putting someone who didnít speak, but whose act was only to lip synch to a certain part of a record, and no further explanation. You canít explain now how odd that looked in 1975. It was just brilliant. Itís hard to explain why it was so funny. Except that it was funny. If I tried to talk to you about Iíd just look like a moron. Itís not describable. It was inventive and fresh and words donít do it justice.
Chevy Chase: I remember once asking Andy in the quiet of my office, Do you have any idea what you're doing? You know, do you have any idea why it's funny or what it is about that's funny? And his response was (pause) "....No."
Michael Stipe, REM, author of song "Man on the Moon": I was 15 when he did Mighty Mouse on TV in 1975. Fifteen was a significant year for me. I started taking photographs. I bought 'Horses' by Patti Smith the day it came out and decided from then on that I was going to sing and dedicate myself to music. And I saw Andy Kaufman on television. I just knew instantly that I had seen something that I had never seen before. It was very, very wild for television for this guy to do what he had done. It just left such an indelible impression on me.
Bob Zmuda: We had to adapt the Gatsby bit for Saturday Night Live, because it didnít have an out. The way we did it, Andy goes into character with a British accent and starts reading Gatsby: "In my younger and more formative yearsÖ" And he's reading for a minute and the audience starts making noise. And he slams the book shut and starts scolding them. He starts again from the beginning. There's this record player next to him, and he says, all right, I'm going to ask you all, who wants the music record, and who wants the book. They all want the record. He says "fine, but first the book." He keeps torturing them. Finally, he says all right, we'll put the record on. He puts the record on and starts doing a little beat thing, like thereís going to be a rhythm that's going to start. And then you hear the record is of the British guy reading "In my younger and more formative yearsÖ"
George Shapiro: Andy started doing a revue in the main room of the Comedy Store in L.A. The first act was a beginning tap dance class. It really was a tap dance class. The second act was Tony Clifton, in his tuxedo and full makeup so that no one could recognize him. And then Andy Kaufman was the third act. Nobody knew that Andy was Clifton .
Bob Zmuda: According to Andy, in 1969 he hitchhiked to Vegas to see Elvis. And while he was there he stumbled into a lounge in some sleazy downtown casino, and he said he saw the worst act he ever saw in his life , this really bitter, untalented, drunken lounge lizard he said was named Tony Clifton. When he got back to New York and got his act together, he did this character. He'd do Tony not at comedy clubs, but at real Italian dive restaurants that had piano bars. He'd call them and say he was a manager who represented this international singing sensation, and you're very lucky to have him, and they'd book Tony. I would go and play his stooge. I'd always go in beforehand and blend in. I'd be sitting there having dinner and he'd start giving me a hard time, insulting me, and the next thing you know he'd take my glass of wine and pour it over my head and push my face in my ravioli. And the place would go nuts. I 'd run out crying -- I'd have to run out crying because I was laughing so fucking hard. He'd keep his dad's car going out in the alley. And he'd whiz out through the kitchen out the door . And we just laughed our asses off.
Chevy Chase: Tony Clifton obviously was a character that was inside of him, that he knew very well. He was able to pinpoint what makes bullies bullies, particularly in show business, and he was brilliant at it.
George Shapiro: Rodney Dangerfield saw Tony and booked him in as a warm up act for three shows in San Francisco, at Bill Graham's Fillmore West. Rodney knew Clifton was Andy, but the audience didn't. Tony immediately antagonized the audience when he sang "I left my heart in San Francisco," and he sang it so bad.
Bob Zmuda: They were booing him, and he's saying "You will listen! You will not see your Rodney until you listen to this song. " And every time they make a sound, he starts the song over. Four or five times. And they start throwing shit.
George Shapiro: He had apples and peaches and a Southern Comfort bottle thrown at him. The second night a guy came on stage and pulled a knife. No one planted that.
Bob Zmuda: Bill Graham just didnít get it. He said to me and George Shapiro "This is the worst act I've ever seen in show business! This is worse than when the sex pistols pulled out their dicks and pissed on the audience!"
* * *
George Shapiro: One night Ed. Weinberger and Jim Brooks and Dave Davis and Stan Daniels, the four creators of Taxi, came in to see Andy's revue at the Comedy Store.
Ed Weinberger: It was the first time Jim Brooks and I had seen him. One of the amazing things was that the opening act was Tony Clifton, and -- I'd like to think we were a little sophisticated in show business -- but we really had no idea it was the same person.
George Shapiro: When I told Jim Brooks that it was also Andy playing Tony Clifton, he said, "I'm glad you didn't tell me during the show."
Ed. Weinberger, producer, Taxi: We weren't considering Andy for the show before we saw him. Then we wrote a part for him.
Bob Zmuda: They basically were buying Andy's Foreign Man character for the Taxi character Latka.
George Shapiro: Andy really didn't want to do a sitcom I told Andy, these guys just finished doing the Mary Tyler Moore Show, they're the hottest producers in town, and they'd love you do to the series. He thought sitcoms were mostly pretty dumb. I told him it was an incredible opportunity, it would make him a star almost instantly, besides the money you could make to put into your own act.
Lorne Michaels: When he agreed to a situation comedy, we were stunned. We couldnít understand why in the world. Because he was Andy Kaufman. Going from being that far out of the mainstream to being ground zero of it. Not that Taxi isnít a good show. But in the pure world of status, he was regarded as a genius. So for a genius to be the 4th lead in a situation comedy was not, at the time, seen to be an act of genius.
Ed. Weinberger Of course the negotiation got a little complicated when Andy and George wanted Tony Clifton in the show as well.
George Shapiro: Andy said he only wanted to do 14 out of the season's 22 shows, and Tony Clifton would have to be guaranteed four shows. And Tony Clifton had to have a separate dressing room, and a separate parking space. So I said "okay, let me go talk to busines affairs at Paramount." So they ended up giving me two separate contracts, one for Andy Kaufman, one for Tony Clifton.
Ed. Weinberger: We figured it was a small price to pay. It turned out to be a little bigger than we expected.
Danny Devito: The first time I had contact with Andy was the first rehearsal of Taxi. We were doing a pilot, so it was a ten-day shoot. I was aware of him from Saturday Night Live. Whenever Rhea and I would see he was going to be on, we'd try to catch him. But I didnít know what to expect. So we're all sitting around on the soundstage, the very first day. And there's a break in the action, and everyone is sitting around shooting the breeze: Marilu and Tony and Judd, we were all getting to know each other. Andy wasn't participating. He was sitting at one end of the table with headphones on. And I'm looking at him and wondering what the hell is he doing. And after it was about twenty minutes I go over and say "hey Andy, so how are you doing?" He took the headset off and said hello. And I said "so what kind of music are you listening to?" He kinda looked at me really strange -- he was in character all the time, no matter what. And he handed me the headset. And I put it on and what I heard was this: "kee-bee-ta-bee tee-be-ta. Da-ba-koo-peh teh-deh-koh." He had a conversation on tape that he was listening to for twenty minutes before I approached him. That was his thing. That was the puzzle, the enigma of the guy. You donít know whether he was just siting there waiting for someone to come up and angage him so he could blow your mind.
Carol Kane: When I started as Latka's girlfriend, I had to learn his language to sound like I came from the same place as he did. Andy said he would teach it to me. His notion of how to do that was that I would come over to his house, and then we would go to dinner where nobody knew either of us, and we would speak only in the language. So I went over to his house one early evening, and he said a good place to go, where nobody know us, would be to go to Mexico for dinner. I had a big gulp in my throat, but I also
decided that I should just say yes and go, because it was going to be part of my creative experience to do that with him. Then he was on the phone for the longest time, and I finally I went into the kitchen and said "if we're going to Mexico, we'd really better get going." And he looked at me like I was nuts. I mean, completely nuts. Like it was obviously a joke, what was I thinking? We did go to dinner, to a Chinese restaurant on La Cienega, and when I asked him about how to start talking, he said it's just like when you're a kid and you pretend to speak Russian or Chinese and you just talk. For him that was totally accessible as an adult.
George Shapiro: Taxi came out of the box huge, Andy's character Latka was huge. So Andy did a few shows, and then it was Tony's turn.
Danny Devito: Ed. Weinberger came up to me at lunch at the commissary at Paramount, and said that the Christmas show was going to be a Louie show, based that week around my character. It was going to be about Louie's brother, and my co-star that week was going to be this guy named Tony Clifton.
Ed. Weinberger I sort of warned the cast that this was going to be a different sort of actor . Of course, I had been sworn to secrecy not to reveal the identity of Tony Clifton.
Danny Devito:: I had never heard of Tony. And I said to Ed., "well, where 'd you find this guy, who is he?" And he said, "well, Tony opens shows for Andy. But there's something bizarre about this: Tony, it's really Andy. But it's not Andy. It's Tony. It's a totally different guy." And I said "uh huh."
Ed. Weinberger We wrote a part for Tony Clifton as Louie DePalma's brother. And of course it was a disaster from the beginning.
Danny Devito:: At the cast party the week before, Andy told me he knew that Tony was going to do the show next week, that Tony's never acted before, and he wanted me to take care of him. Andy was going to go away and do a college date. It was kind of interesting to me, so, you know, you go along with it. You become part of it. So he came to work that Monday -- well, he didnít come, Tony came.
George Shapiro: Tony rented a Winnebago bigger than Judd Hirsch's. And he comes in with two bimbos, and he starts drinking -- Andy doesnít drink at all -- and he tells Ed. Weinberger that he rewrote the script, he put his two lady friends into the script.
Danny Devito:: Tony was belligerent, he was obnoxious, he stinks with this cheap perfurme, he makes jokes at other people's expense. He's not a really nice guy. He couldn't act. We wasted two days with this guy.
Marilu Henner: Can you imagine you're working with somebody almost every day for three months, and then they're dressed like someone else and you're suppsoed to relate to them like you don't know. So you do it as a joke. But then, by day two, we realized that Tony Clifton was such a bad actor, he was taking the show down with him.
Ed. Weinberger We were a struggling, first-year show. We couldn't take a risk with someone who couldnít act. So I met with Andy and we had this bizarre conversation. I said, I have to fire Tony -- I referred him as a third person. I was of course very careful not to offend Andy, who we very much wanted to hold onto. He agreed if I fired Tony publicly the next day for drinking and coming in late, as opposed to for his performance, then he accepted it, and that was the agreement we entered into with Andy.
George Shapiro: Of course, the next day when they told Tony, he refused to leave
Marilu Henner: Tony was yelling that he wasnít leaving. He says, I have a contract! But we also noticed that there were all these people in the blaechers we had never seen before, so it was a show, it was a performance. So Judd turns to me and says "the guy wants a psychodrama, thatís' what he wants," so Judd throws himself in there and starts yelling back. And the two of them just start taking hits at each other.
George Shapiro: Tony was saying fuck you and they were saying fuck you. Judd was screaming, Jeff Conaway was screaming. And they called security. They grabbed Tony. I really feared that he could be hurt.
Danny Devito:: He wouldnít give it up. People tried to look in there and say, you know, Andy, come on, this is enough. But he wasn't there. Andy wasn't there. Nobody was there. He'd just tell you what a jerk you were.
Ed. Weinberger When Tony Clifton was around you couldnít really see Andy inside.
Danny Devito:: Security had to throw Tony off the lot.
George Shapiro: Right afterward, I met him at a restaurant around the corner. He was back as Andy. And he said "George, this was one of the greatest days of my life! This was the theater of the street!' He was exuberant.
Ed. Weinberger A while later he called me back, as Andy, from a street corner payphone and complimented me on my performance that afternoon, how good I was. Of course, I had stopped acting and had reached the point where I literally wanted him off the set.
George Shapiro: The next week, Andy comes back to the show as if nothing happened. Tony Danza had filmed the whole Clifton confrontation, and he was showing it to the cast in his dressing room. So Andy walked by and stuck his head in the dressing room,watched for a minute, and shook his head and said 'what an asshole.'
Ed. Weinberger Andy never referred to that incident again. It was as if another actor had been fired.
Marilu Henner: I remember he was upset that I'd been sort of miffed at him that week, so he took me aside, never admitting he was Tony Clifton, and he said I know you had trouble with my friend Tony. But donít you just see there's something really beautiful in the guy?
Bob Zmuda: Was Tony just an act? A career move? A publicity stunt? Well, at the same time, when the man is showing up drunk on fucking Taxi and upsetting the cast and comes with real hookers and he's drunk out of his mind, I don't know. I think it was probably all those things. Tony could stay in character for three, four days at a time. Tony appearances always seemed to be when Andy was undergoing great stress. I could tell Andy's rhythms, when he was going through a lot of crap, that within 12 hours Iíd get a call that Tony was coming to town.
George Shapiro: In my opinion Andy was completely calculating in playing this character of Tony. It was an intense commitment to character. When he had the make up on, he became Tony Clifton, he was an actor totally committed to the role. But I donít think there was any personality disorder. Andy knew what he was doing all the time. Of course Andy couldnít predict where Tony would take him.
Marilu Henner: During our first season, Judd and I ran into Andy in New York. We were doing some publicity for the show. And we saw him panhandling in the Bowery. He was bum, a total bum. I mean, we had a hit sitcom on the air, and there he was, panhandling, because he wanted the experience.
Penn Jillette: I really never met Andy, but once I saw just him in the crowd at the California State Fair. Teller said, "There's Andy Kaufman!" He was dressed like a redneck-style trucker, and he was yelling at the guy behind the counter, "I'm not that faggot on Taxi, asshole, what the fuck is wrong with you? I donít play no fucking faggot on no fucking TV show, you piece a horseshit." And we watched him, and Teller said, "yeah, that's Andy Kaufman," and I said, "It sure is."
Danny Devito:: Andy was a real nice guy, who had this need to do his work. And sometimes the work was a little off-putting to a lot of people. Sometimes it was, come on, lighten up, get out of character. You know, you couldnít just have a conversation with him.
Carol Kane: He never sold short the way he worked, the way he did his best work. He was very committed to upholding what he knew would allow him to do the best work he could do. I was thinking of the kind of strength that took.
Marilu Henner: I remember one time we ended up on the same flight to New York, so we sat next to each other, and we held hands during takeoff and landing. There was something so dear about him. You just felt like he was a big puppy dog or something.
Lorne Michaels: He had no evident need to be loved, to please the audience. He was there to provoke them. But there was an incredible sweetness about him that you just trusted him.
Ed. Weinberger I think there was a little arrogance, in trying to be above what he was doing , trying to be superior to it and beyond the reach of normal relations or emotions.
Lynn Margulies, Andy's girlfriend and documentary filmmaker: Andy was the most psychologically sound person I ever met in my life. He had no neuroses. He didn't have a personality disorder. He just had numerous personalities.
Penn Jillette: All he was was passionate and honest and pure. Maybe Andy had something that someone wants to label a personality disorder, and if they want to do that they can just go fuck themselves and choke on their own vomit. Because what Andy did was really beautiful, and I donít care what was wrong with him. I donít care if he was missing arms, I don't care if he was missing legs, I donít care if he crawled on his belly like a reptile. The fact of the matter was he did great stuff for the world, and it seems like on every level he told the truth as he saw it. And thatís all that we're all aspiring to.
* * *
Bob Zmuda: One part of the Taxi deal was that Andy would get his own one-hour special, and he could choose his own guests. He said, oh, Iíll get the first TV star. Howdy Doody. Howdy was his idol. The night before the rehearsal, Andy couldnít sleep. He was so nervous. He was so childlike, he said "what if Howdy doesnít like me?" I wouldn't dare say to him, what are you a nut, he's a fuckin piece of wood. Because in Andyworld, the reverence he had for this fuckin hunk of wood, I couldn't tell you. It turned out we didnít rehearse Andy with Howdy scene. The take we got on TV was the first time Andy met Howdy. And that's why it's so magical when you look at that footage.
Penn Jillette: I remember when he did the TV special that had him interviewing Howdy Doody. Teller came to me afterwards saying how he was just sobbing uncontrollably, how it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, the love for Howdy Doody and the way he was willing to completely capture dealing with Howdy Doody as a real person when you're a child. With no apology and nothing to protect him. It was just so moving to Teller. I donít think there's a month that goes by when Teller doesnít mention the interview with Howdy Doody as the only moment on television that really moved him.
* * *
Bob Zmuda: One day George Shapiro called Andy up and said, look, we have an offer at the Huntington Hartford Theater [now the Doolittle]. And we realized, well, hell, let's really do something different and odd. We wanted to start making movies. We had grand plans, we realized that the Huntington show could be our calling card, to say we're ready to mount productions. To Andy it was, like, this should be a magical experience for the audience. He was so hot, like the flavor of the month. Everybody who was anybody in town was at the Huntington.
George Shapiro: They really put a show together. Andy did maybe a three hour show, an amazing performance.
Bob Zmuda: Then at the end, he thanks everyone for coming. He says, "I'd like to thank my guests." Like off the top of his head he says "I'd like to thank theÖ Mormom Tabernacle Choir." Just then 350 members of the choir start walking down the aisle in their robes, theyr'e singing Hallelujah from Handel's messiah. And he says, "I'd like to thank, uhÖthe Radio City Rockettes!" And 35 Rockettes come out from the wings kicking their legs. And it was right around Christmas. And he says, "I'd like to thank Santa Claus!" And Santa comes down on his sled, and it starts snowing on the stage. And it's just beautiful. There was this magical feeling that anything that was gonna come out of this guy's mouth was gonna just appear. Then he said "Calm down ladies and geltlemen, that's just the first act of my show."
Danny Devito:: Andy said, now we're all going to get on on buses and go out for milk and cookies.
Bob Zmuda: We took them to the Spaghetti Factory, maybe a seven minute ride. When the audience walked out and got on those buses, they were like litte kids.
Ed. Weinberger The Taxi gang was on my bus.
Ron Meyer: We went out of the theater. It was raining a bit. We just got in the bus and went to an abandoned pizza house. It was without a doubt the best evening of entertainment I've ever had in my life. It was one of the great evenings I've ever spent.
Bob Zmuda: The show was so well received in in L.A., we moved it to Carnegie Hall. We had 35 buses take everyone to the New York School of Printing. I had little chairs and tables set up -- I rented stuff from kindergartens -- so the audience were like big babies. We had magicians and sword swallowers and hula girls. But nobody was fucking leaving the party. I said, Andy, we've got to pull the plug. I said tell them to go home and sleep and that act three is going to continue on the Staten Island ferry tomorrow morning at 8 am . So everyone got on the buses and went home. The next morning at the hotel there's a knock at my door and Kaufman is in his bathrobe, and he says "do you think anyone going to show up at the ferry?" I said everybody knows it was a joke, but then I'm thinking, what if there's like one reporter there? So we get a cab, we go down there. And, this didn't get into the movie, but I think it was the greatest moment in Andy's life, 350 people from the night before were standing there waiting for him. He was tearing up. It was unbelievable. Of course he bought a ferry ticket for every one of them and bought them ice cream cones, and wrestled, like, a dozen women on the deck.
Budd Friedman: The wrestling wasn't my favorite. The idea of wrestling women was certainly unique. It was a little different.
Bob Zmuda: As a little boy his grandma would take him to Madison Square Garden to see the wrestling matches. That forever shaped Andy's view of theater. It's not like she took him to a broadway musical or an opera. It was Haystacks Calhoun, Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino -- Andy just worshipped these guys. To him this was a rock concert. He was always kind of bored with the comedy clubs, with polite applause and laughter. Compared to a wrestling match at madison square garden where the place is in an uproar. That's what he wanted a piece of. He'd always talk to me about wrestling.
Lynn Margulies: He always, really and truly wanted to be a bad guy wrestler.
Bob Zmuda: One day his brithday was coming up. It was when he was on Taxi, and I figured, here's a guy making 30, 35 thousand a week, what the hell am I going to get him? And I thought, fulfill one of his fantasies. Because I'd been at his house one day and he said he wanted to show me something. From undernbeath his bed he pulled out this little paper bag. Out of it he pulled -- and this was before they had video porno -- a reel of 8 millimeter film. He must have bought it in some little shop, because he had this little battery powered projector, you hold it in your hand. I'm wondering what kind of kinky, hardcore stuif is he going to show me. And he's sweating, and he'd got the blinds closed like it's a snuff film or something. And all it is is these two girls in bikinis wrestling. And he's, like, out of his mind. So I figured this is exactly what I'd get him for his birthday. There were two girls he found very attractive, Marilyn Rubin and Gail Slobodkin. They didnít know what to get him either. So we figured, letís fulfill this fantasy. And we had about 50 people at his house. There was never any alcohol or grass at his house. And they wrestled. He went crazy. So we put it in our act. We went on college tours with Andy saying he'd pay $500 to any woman who could beat him.
Carl Reiner: The wrestling with women I objected to. But he did it anyway. I think he got a lot of dates out of it.
Bob Zmuda: It was definitely a way to meet girls. He was shy to a fault.
Marilu Henner: He was always trying to get me to wrestle him. I mean, always.
Carol Kane: When I went over to his house to learn to speak Latka's language, he asked me if I wanted to wrestle. I didn't want to wrestle. I was too scared.
Bob Zmuda: He would talk to the girls when he had them down -- I was always the referee -- and he'd be going, oh baby, you are something else. Can you believe we're doing this, in front of all these people? Please, you gotta come backstage with with me afterward. And the next morning I'd go knocking on his hotel room to get him so we wouldn't miss our flight, and the babe would be in the room in his bed. It worked! I'm guessing he probably wrestled 300 women. His chances of bedding a woman after wrestling her increased like 100 percent.
Danny Devito: There are a lot of women out there who were pissed off at the guy.
Lynn Margulies: He said such inflammatory things about women. My favorite one is when he says they're all oatmeal north of the eyebrows, Wheatena for brains. He says go back to the kitchen, scrub the pots and pans, raise the babies. And then very seriously he says, he doesnít mean to insult them, but they're just not smart enough to beat him. Women in the country got really mad at him. I donít know this as fact but I heard at the time Lily Tomlin was angry at him.
Marilu Henner: I think he took the wrestling a little too far.
Lorne Michaels: Because he had embraced a [mainstream comedy] world with so much sugar in it, his comedy became much more astringent. And, towards the end, sour. The Andy I knew and saw in the first five years of the show was a comedian first and foremost. We was still Andy Kaufman. Iím not sure -- and I donít mean to sound like some broken record from the thirties about losing your soul in Hollywood -- but something changed. And the kind of popular success he had on Taxi, Iím not sure thatís what he was yearning for.
Bob Zmuda:: If he lived, he was planning on opening up Andy Kaufman wrestling palaces in every major city in the U.S. He really thought that for people like him that were very shy, it would be the only way they'd get a chance to get laid.
George Shapiro: He was into wrestling right before the explosion. He was working on a variety and wrestling show that would have been huge. Thatís what he would have been doing now, a cable and wrestling variety show.
Lynn Margulies: Even at the end there, in 1983, right before he got sick, when Taxi was off the air and he was having trouble getting booked on TV, I swear he was thinking, well, you know, I could just be a wrestler now. That's how much he liked it. He was seriously thinking about it as a career.
George Shapiro: He got sick very quickly. I was with him when the doctors told him he had large-cell carcinoma, which is a very agressive form of lung cancer, in December of '83. And the first thing he said, is "George, book me on the Letterman show, and he can ask me what I got for Christmas, and I can say I got cancer." I think he felt that the was going to beat it.
Lynn Margulies: The doctor said he might live for three months.
Budd Friedman: The last time I saw Andy, he had a screening of a wrestling movie he had done, My Breakfast with Blasie, and my wife Alex and I went to a screening. He had lost his hair through chemotheraphy and had made it into a Mohawk. And I went over to George and asked do you think he's up to coming over the club, we'll have a party for all his friends here and give him some chocolate ice cream? And George said yeah. So 50 of us went over to the club, and I can still picture him there eating his favorite ice cream with a beatific smile on his face. Then next day he left for the Philippines or Mexico or something for some obscure treatment. We never saw him again.
Lynn Margulies: We were in the Philippines for five or six weeks. It was like forever. It was so bizarre. We visited this healer two times a day, six days a week. Andy was like a little kid in a lot of ways, and someone had just told him about this guy, and he didnít really question it, he just said, well, let's do that. Dying did not scare him in the slightest. So the fact that he didn't get better and he suddenly realized he was going to die didnít faze him.
George Shapiro: After it was announced he was dead, I got a call from the Washington Post to ask if this was a put-on, and I told them it wasn't. The public always doubted it.
Carol Kane: Anybody who was associated with him has some little, minute-but-still-present hope in their hearts and minds. I donít think any of us really believe it. But there's still that strange hope. Because he never broke any act, he never let on when he was up to something, he never winked at anybody ever. I donít think anybody was completely in on everything except Andy.
George Shapiro: He did talk about faking his death. He was driving over to my office when he heard John Belushi died. And he said, Belushi stole my bit! He's faking his death! That's what he felt.
Michael Stipe: What I was doing with the lyric for Man on the Moon was pulling in various crackpot conspiracy theories of our time, like Elvis Presley was still alive somewhere. And, even more absurd and ourageous, that when they sent a man to walk on the moon that he actually went to a stage set up somewhere in Arizona and the moonwalk never really occurred. And these were the comparisons I was drawing to the people who were not able to believe that Kaufman was dead, that, to the end, he was pulling a prank. That that idea is just as outrageous as those other theories. That he, for me, as a fan of his, puts himself on that level by being such a prankster that people actually thought that.
Carl Reiner: Did Andy influence comedy? No. Because nobody's doing what he did. Jim Carrey was influenced -- not do what Andy did, but to follow his own drummer. I think Andy did that for a lot of people. Follow your own drumbeat. You didn't have to go up there and say "take my wife, please." You could do anything that struck you as entertaining. If gave people freedom to be themselves.
George Shapiro: Jerry Seinfeld had seen Andy when he was in college, and he gave Jerry the courage to go on stage. Jerry felt if someone like this could go on stage, I'm not afraid. Dick van Dyke called him the bravest performer he'd ever seen.
Penn Jillette: When I first met Bobcat Goldthwait, he was playing at some theater in the round in New Jersey. I went backstage after the show, and one of the first things he said to me was, "Man, you guys must have been big Andy Kaufman fans." And I said, "Yeah, you too."
David Brenner: Andy was so far out there that whether you were verbal, a monologist, or a prop man or a physical comedian, he gave you this desire to reach. Because he was saying, come on, guys, get your feet off the ground. Flap your arms. Learn how to fly.
Penn Jillette: Andy made us be able to just do whatever we wanted and know it was going to be okay. I think if he didnít come along I would have been a little more afraid to do big hunks of our show that weren't funny and didnít have magic in them. And now we do big hunks of our show that aren't funny and don't have any magic in them. And they're really, really good. Andy made it very clear to us that we could just do our stuff purely. We could leave Teller dead at the end of bits. We had headroom all of a sudden. He had pushed the ceiling so much higher that we had plenty of room to jump around as much as we wanted to.
Danny Devito:: He would come into a room, no matter where, and the psychological room would become his room. You were participating in his drama. Whether he was going to pick a fight with a waitress or whatever. It was always exciting. If there was anybody who manifested the phrase, all the world is a stage, this was the guy. Everything he did was his art.
Michael Stipe: I think that there were a lot of closet Andy Kaufman fans. and the song provided a little bit of an outlet. I didn't realize --and I'm 39 year's old, for fuck's sake -- that the things that inspire me and move me are often shared by a lot of other poeple. Kaufman was one of those inspirations. People really didn't let go of him. A friend of mine, Mark Williams, who works as a music executive in Los Angeles, had horrible quality bootleg tapes of just about everything Kaufman had ever done and we used to sit and watch them at his house with a bunch of people who thought that stuff was lost forever.
Lynn Margulies: He was just open to any possibility. In 1983, towards the end of the year, no one would hire him. He couldnít get booked anywhere. It's interesting to think what would have happened if he'd been confronted with actually becoming one of the has-beens he used to put in his act and interview them. He probably would have loved it. He would have gone on a lecture tour on being a has-been. He would have tried to book himself on shows as a has been. And they would have booked him.
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