Andy Kaufman’s biggest contribution to society, I think, was to constantly challenge our perception of reality—especially reality as encountered second-hand by media and entertainment.
And this challenge to reality extended all the way to the question whether he is alive or dead, to this very day. Now that’s commitment!
I first encountered him as the meek immigrant Latka Gravas in the late 70s/early 80’s sitcom Taxi. But there was a whole other side to him that at the time, as a child, I barely had access to—his career as “alter ego” Tony Clifton, and his stint as professional wrestling heel.
Lounge-lizard Clifton was a more than a role for Kaufman, but rather something he fully immersed himself into as to suggest an actual separate reality for the character. In effect, Clifton was almost a tulpa that Kaufman brought to life—an independent entity.
Then there was Kaufman the “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World.” I know if I compare the late comedian at all to the “trolls of the moment” who constantly stir up controversy across social media, I might get burned at the stake—but go dig up some of his screeds, “in character,” regarding women. Witness how he rilled up these wrestling audiences wherever he went, smiling and strutting in all his glorious villainy.
With Clifton and the wrestling, the line between reality and fabrication was purposely blurred—with many people buying his various “acts” as real. That’s probably why pro wrestling had always fascinated Kaufman. And this liminal world of illusion is where most people in today’s society dwell; Andy Kaufman as prophet.
And so we remember Andy, who supposedly died on this day in 1984 at the too-young age of 35. His work is possibly more relevant than ever before.
Possibly the most famous Kaufman routine:
Kaufman with bongos:
My favorite Kaufman routine:
Possibly real Kaufman: