Comedian and media prophet Andy Kaufman died 27 years ago today of lung cancer, at the age of just 35 years old. Kaufman, who played the sweetly hapless immigrant Latka on long-running comedy Taxi, broke the fourth wall in his performances, paving new trails for most every great comedian to come after him.
To some he was an impenetrable nuisance, using the world as his playground, rarely pulling anyone else in on his joke. Other see him as a prophet of a new medium of comedy, and most every young person who wants to be ground-breaking goes through a Kaufman phase, not realizing that they are playing directly into his post-mortem ruses. He's become an icon in his own right, after spending a career mimicking others.
And characters, boy did Kaufman have them in spades. "Foreign Man," who would morph into the more palatable Latka for Taxi, the chauvinst wrestler of females, the force of nature that is lounge singer Tony Clifton, and of course, his Andy's Funhouse persona, which later in the '80s would be retooled by Paul Reubens for his own Pee Wee Herman roles.
Kaufman always joked that he would like to fake his own death, adding an extra allure to his legend that continues to this day. He claimed if he did go through with the very illegal act, he would return 20 years past his date of death. 2004 came and went without a peep from Kaufman.
After Kaufman died, his comedy partner Bob Zmuda continued performing as Clifton, jarring audiences who still couldn't fathom that Kaufman was in fact dead. This next weekend, Clifton will be performing at the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama during the three-day music fest on the beach.
1999's Jim Carrey-starring biopic, Man On The Moon, did a good job of showing Carrey to be an ace Kaufman disciple, but it took so many liberties with Kaufman's story, and seemed to care more about propelling the image his handlers and family had in mind. Still, it's a great primer for people curious about who Kaufman was.
We picked some of the best Kaufman bits from YouTube to showcase his talents for the bizarre and mind-fucking. May he rest in peace wherever he may be.
Wrestling A Woman
My Breakfast With Blassie
Slapped By Jerry Lawler on Letterman
On The Dating Game
Interviewing Howdy Doody
Bust-up on Fridays
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