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Dada's Little Dividend

The late Andy Kaufman was the king of discomfiting comedy. Fearless and reckless, he pushed his muse to extremes of near- and actual violence, shaking the classic image of the "funnyman" to its core.

Rightly famed for his portrayal of the gentle, helium-voiced mechanic Latka Gravas on TV's Taxi, Kaufman was infamous -- and will be best remembered -- for his frequent incursions into the realm where comedy's not so funny anymore, where the uneasy audience sits on its hands and wonders whether to laugh or to choke it down. Examples: Kaufman's "intergender" wrestling (he challenged more than 400 women between '79 and '83 -- including Playboy Playmate Susan Smith -- and never lost a match); his no-joke (or was it?) feud with pro wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler; his operatic lip-synching of the Mighty Mouse theme; the time he unrolled a sleeping bag on-stage and proceeded to snore through his routine (which, of course, was the routine); his live performance, in its entirety, of "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall."

So (in)famous was Kaufman's penchant for the disconcerting comic device that many thought (and continue to think) that the nonsmoking health nut faked his death from lung cancer in May of '84, and that he's now sharing a beachfront condo with Elvis and Adolf down South America way.

Frequently referred to as a "dadaist comedian," Andy was actually a performance artist far ahead of his time, so it's appropriate that local p-art troupe SLUMP salutes Andy Kaufman with a program featuring archival footage and "documentary and personal ... commentary and testimony to Kaufman's work." The show continues the "Cinemati Go Go: The Video Drive-In" series.

-- Clay McNear

Andy Kaufman tribute: 8 p.m. Friday, July 31. TemplO, 5217 Feagan, 802-1828. $5 per car; $2 for art cars; $3 for walk-ups.

 
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