The Legendary Controversial Comedian Being Forgotten By Younger Generations

By Charlene Badasie | Published

Andy Kaufman

When Andy Kaufman stepped onto the stage of The Improv in 1970s New York City, the audience had no idea exactly how unusual his performance would be. With a meek demeanor, high-pitched voice, and a thick accent, the Foreign Man (from the fictional island of “Caspiar” in the Caspian Sea) confused and captivated those in attendance with his peculiar charm.

He Came To Save The Day

His routine was as bizarre as it was brilliant. Foreign Man would cue the theme song from the Mighty Mouse cartoon and stand perfectly still while the audience looked on. He would then lip-sync with infectious enthusiasm only one line – “Here I come to save the day.” The crowd couldn’t help but be drawn into the spectacle.

Foreign Man would move on to a series of jokes (albeit poor ones) before breaking into a repertoire of equally terrible celebrity impersonations. “I would like to imitate Meester Carter, de president of de United States,” Andy Kaufman would tell the crowd. And then, in the same voice, say, “Hello, I am Meester Carter, de president of de United States. T’ank you veddy much.”

Andy Kaufman As The King

andy kaufman

When the audience had become used to Foreign Man’s inability to do anything conventionally funny, he would announce that he would imitate “the Elvis Presley.” Shedding his jacket and slicking back his hair, Andy Kaufman transformed into a very believable version of the King of Rock and Roll before the audience’s eyes.

With all the gusto Foreign Man could muster, Andy Kaufman would belt out a rendition of one of Presley’s hits, complete with all the iconic moves. And just like Presley, he tossed his leather jacket into the crowd. However, he would promptly ask for its return at the end of the songs in his endearing faux accent.

As the applause thundered through the venue, Foreign Man humbly bowed and uttered his trademark line, “T’ank you veddy much,” and left the stage. It was a performance that defied expectations and made Andy Kaufman one of the most sought-after performers of the 1970s. The key to Kaufman’s genius was challenging conventional notions of what constitutes entertainment.

Foreign Man Becomes Latka Gravas

andy kaufman

Portions of Andy Kaufman’s act made their way onto the small screen during the inaugural season of Saturday Night Live. ABC later snapped Foreign Man for the sitcom Taxi, where he was introduced as Latka Gravas. Although hesitant about the television gig, Kaufman agreed to appear in 14 episodes per season.

Andy Kaufman’s portrayal of Latka earned him critical acclaim, with nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television in 1979 and 1981. However, Kaufman did not limit himself to scripted television during those years. In April 1979, he performed at Carnegie Hall, orchestrating surreal and unforgettable events.

Blurring The Lines Between Performance And Reality

Andy Kaufman’s humor also found a home on the show Fridays. In one appearance, known as a “happening,” he broke character during a sketch and brawled with a crew member on camera. He returned the following week with a videotaped “apology” to viewers. He then ventured into pro-wrestling and publicly feuded with Jerry “The King” Lawler.

While Andy Kaufman was super entertaining, his unconventional approach to comedy sometimes left audiences unsure whether his performances were genuine or part of an elaborate act. This ambiguity sparked debate and controversy, with some people finding his humor brilliant and innovative, while others found it perplexing or offensive.

Kaufman’s Passing

Andy Kaufman’s death on May 16, 1984, at the age of 35, left the world in shock. He had been battling a rare form of lung cancer, and his passing was tragically premature. However, Kaufman’s death sparked a wave of speculation and conspiracy theories, as some people believe that his death was merely another elaborate hoax orchestrated by the comedian.

Man On The Moon

Although a biographical film titled Man on the Moon was released in 1999, starring Jim Carrey as the performer, younger generations don’t know that Andy Kaufman existed. Instead, we are in an era dominated by cookie-cutter entertainment and formulaic comedy. But Kaufman dared to be different, refusing to adhere to norms and expectations, making him someone everyone should know.

Andy Kaufman once said, “I am not a comic. I have never told a joke. The comedian’s promise is that he will go out there and make you laugh with him. My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can.” And entertain us, he certainly did.