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Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman

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Also Known As: Tony Clifton, Andrew Geoffreys Kaufman Died: May 16, 1984
Born: January 17, 1949 Cause of Death: lung cancer
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: actor, comedian, cab driver, waiter, busboy, truck driver

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A comic genius well ahead of his time, Andy Kaufman pushed the envelope in a series of performance pieces that challenged the very idea of the entertainer-audience relationship, while also confounding a public unsure whether or not his gags were reality or fiction. In fact, Kaufman possessed a rare courage and discipline to stay completely in character, regardless of the outcry elicited by his seemingly erratic behavior. Meanwhile, he made a name for himself on the comedy circuits of New York and Los Angeles, eliciting nervous laughter as the high-talking Foreign Man who often transformed into a dead-on impression of Elvis Presley, or singing the theme to "Mighty Mouse" after standing around in nervous silence, or reading from The Great Gatsby until audience members stormed out. Having first entered America's living rooms via "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), Kaufman's Foreign Man was transformed into Latka Gravas on the hit sitcom "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983), where he emerged as one of the show's most beloved stars. Subsequent antics ensued, most notably his famed Carnegie Hall performance after which he took the entire audience out for milk and cookies. He also starred on "The Andy Kaufman Show"...

A comic genius well ahead of his time, Andy Kaufman pushed the envelope in a series of performance pieces that challenged the very idea of the entertainer-audience relationship, while also confounding a public unsure whether or not his gags were reality or fiction. In fact, Kaufman possessed a rare courage and discipline to stay completely in character, regardless of the outcry elicited by his seemingly erratic behavior. Meanwhile, he made a name for himself on the comedy circuits of New York and Los Angeles, eliciting nervous laughter as the high-talking Foreign Man who often transformed into a dead-on impression of Elvis Presley, or singing the theme to "Mighty Mouse" after standing around in nervous silence, or reading from The Great Gatsby until audience members stormed out. Having first entered America's living rooms via "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), Kaufman's Foreign Man was transformed into Latka Gravas on the hit sitcom "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983), where he emerged as one of the show's most beloved stars. Subsequent antics ensued, most notably his famed Carnegie Hall performance after which he took the entire audience out for milk and cookies. He also starred on "The Andy Kaufman Show" (1980), while marking numerous appearances on late night programs, including multiple stops on "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993). Though he incurred the wrath of feminists by wrestling women while hurling misogynist invective, Kaufman nonetheless maintained his strange ability to keep audiences guessing as to where the performer ended and the real Andy Kaufman began. Though some believed he was pulling yet another prank when he revealed he had cancer, Kaufman was finally being real with his fans. Although he died young, the comic left behind an indelible legacy as a bold and provocative performer the likes of which the world would probably not see again.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Heartbeeps (1981) Val
3.
 In God We Trust (1980) Armageddon T Thunderbird
4.
 God Told Me To (1976) Police Assassin
5.
 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time (2004) Honoree (Archival Footage)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Great Neck on Long Island, NY
:
Began performing for family as a child
1958:
At age nine, started performing at children's parties (date approximate)
1962:
Auditioned for Budd Friedman, the owner and operator of The IMPROV; failed audition
1970:
While attending Grahm Junior College, wrote. produced and directed the campus TV show "Uncle Andy's Funhouse"
1971:
"Discovered" by IMPROVisation Comedy Club owner Budd Friedman (who did not remember his 1962 audition) while performing stand-up at My Father's Place, a Long Island rock club
:
Began doing stand-up at Friedman's NYC and Los Angeles clubs
:
Met Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke who encouraged their manager George Shapiro to represent him
1975:
NBC executive Dick Ebersol caught his act in Los Angeles and asked him to audition for what would become "Saturday Night Live"
1975:
Made first of 14 appearances on "Saturday Night Live" on October 11; lip-synched the theme to Mighty Mouse
1976:
Was a regular on the short-lived NBC variety series "Van Dyke and Co"; "unscheduled" appearances during the middle of Van Dyke's sketches became an instant favorite; 'Foreign Man' to Elvis transformation stunned studio and TV audience
1976:
Feature film debut in the small role of a psychotic assassin cop in "God Told Me To/Demon"
1977:
Headlined the ABC special "Andy's Funhouse"; aired in 1979 as a late-night 90-minute special
1977:
Played the role of Andy the robot helper in a space-age comedy TV pilot, "Stick Around" (ABC)
1978:
Co-starred as Latka Gravas on the sitcom "Taxi" (ABC, 1978-1982; NBC 1982-1983)
1979:
Headlined an appearance at NYC's Carnegie Hall; after the show invited audience to board buses and travel to a local school cafeteria for milk and cookies
1979:
Began challenging women to wrestling matches as part of his act; self-proclaimed World Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion
1980:
First major role in films, a televangelist (Armageddon T Thunderbird) in "In God We Tru$t", directed by Marty Feldman
1981:
Engendered controversy for breaking the 'fourth wall' during a skit on the ABC late night show "Fridays"; questions about the validity of the ensuing scuffle remain (was it staged or was it real?); returned in September and was on his best behavior hosting the first show of its second season
1981:
Starred opposite Bernadette Peters in the feature "Heartbeeps"; both played robots
1981:
During a strike by film and TV writers, worked as a busboy at Jerry's Famous Deli in L.A.
1982:
First of ten appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman" (February)
1982:
Seriously injured spine during a wrestling match with Jerry Lawler (April)
1982:
Confronted Lawler on "Late Night With David Letterman" in July
1982:
Made last live appearance on "Saturday Night Live"; phone-in viewer poll voted to ban him for life from ever appearing on the show again (November); he appeared via videotape (January 1983) thanking those who voted for him
1983:
Broadway acting debut as a wrestling referee in "Teaneck Tanzi, The Venus Flytrap", co-starring Deborah Harry
1983:
Diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer
1984:
Release of final film project, "My Breakfast With Blassie", a 60-minute video spoof of "My Dinner With Andre"
1992:
The rock band REM saluted Kaufman with the song "Man on the Moon"
1995:
NBC aired "A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman"
1998:
Filming began on biopic "Man on the Moon", directed by Milos Forman and starring Jim Carrey
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Grahm Junior College: Boston , Massachusetts -
Great Neck North High School: Great Neck , New York - 1967

Notes

He was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series in 1979

"Well, I'm not really a wrestler, though the last couple of years that I've been doing it in my concerts I've learned a lot about it by just doing it. I wanted to recapture the old days of the carnivals where (before television) wrestlers used to go from town to town and offer $500 to any man that could last in the ring with them for three minutes. So I figured if I could offer a prize, make it like a contest, it could be very exciting. And it turned out to be like one of the highlights, one of the most exciting parts of the concert. But I couldn't very well challenge men in the audience because I'd get beaten right away. I mean most men are bigger than me and stronger than me. So I fugured if I challenged women there are enough women who are almost as big, or as big as me and they would have a good chance to beat me." --Andy Kaufman

"There's no way to describe what I do. It's just me." --Andy Kaufman

Kaufman also told an interviewer that he was "doing things I did in my room as a child. It's just when I do them before an audience, they think it's funny."

"He's funny but he's dangerous." --"Taxi" co-star Carol Kane in 1982

REM's "Man on the Moon" became the title for the Kaufman biopic written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (of "Ed Wood" 1994 and "The People Vs Larry Flynt" 1996 fame).

"I had moments onstage where I felt like I wanted to just throw out the act and have a nervous breakdown onstage, just weird the audience out. And [Andy] was the king of that. If I could just have one or two of those moments that confuse people in my career, I'd really love it. It'd be great just to have everybody go, "Porquoi? Is it real or what?" --Jim Carrey in ESQUIRE, March 1998

Kaufman had a falling out with TM (Transcendental Meditation) officials over his wrestling women. They just didn't get the joke, that the sexism belonged to the obnoxious character he was playing, that it was just shtick. TM people today call it a temporary misunderstanding.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Elayne Boosler. Comedian, singer. First met in 1973; had brief romance, then remained friends.
companion:
Kathie Sullivan. Gospel singer. Announced engagement in 1981; later separated.
companion:
Lynn Margulies. Editor. Met in 1982; together until his death in 1984; made a film about his wrestling career, "I'm from Hollywood"; also served as an editor for "My Breakfast with Blassie".

Family close complete family listing

father:
Stanley Kaufman. Costume jeweler.
mother:
Janice Kaufman.
brother:
Michael Kaufman. Born c. 1951.
sister:
Carol Kaufman. Born c. 1957.
daughter:
Maria Bellu Colonna. Radiation therapist. Born in 1969; given up for adoption; mother was Kaufman's high school sweetheart; married to Joey Colonna.
granddaughter:
Brittany Colonna. Appeared as Andy's sister in the film "Man on the Moon".
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Andy Kaufman: Revealed! Best Friend Tells All" Little, Brown
"Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman" Delacorte
"Was This Man a Genius? Talks with Andy Kaufman" Random House

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