When Improv Comedians Attack!
November 23, 2006 10:56 AM   Subscribe

The Night Andy Kaufman Sabotaged After Michael Richards flipped out at the Laugh Factory, some speculated that Kramer had an "Andy Kaufman moment" gone horribly wrong, but did you know that Richards was once a target of Kaufman's humor himself? On February 20, 1981, Andy Kaufman hosted ABC's late night comedy show, Fridays , but refused to stay on script during the live Broadcast. After deliberately blowing lines in several sketches, Kaufman instigated a fight during one sketch, by pouring water on Fridays cast member, Michael Richards. The next year, ratings for Fridays were so low that they asked Kaufman to host a second time to boost ratings. (More inside.)
posted by jonp72 (59 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Kaufman's opening monologue for his 2nd Fridays appearance, he not only claimed he converted to born-again Christianity, but introduced gospel singer and Lawrence Welk show star, Kathie Sullivan, as his new fiancee. When introducing the musical guest, the Pretenders, Kaufman delivered an antidrug sermon that forced producers to cut to commercial before the Pretenders could play. Next, in his second intro for the Pretenders, he did an audience participation skit that had the audience of 1980s stoners laughing so hard that they could barely pronounce their own names.
posted by jonp72 at 10:57 AM on November 23, 2006


The day the Richards story broke, my friends and I decided the only way it would have a happy ending is if the hecklers turned out to be Andy Kaufman in a blackface. (Note: I don't think blackface would be funny, unless Andy Kaufman came back from the dead to do it.)
posted by PeteNicely at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2006


Now that [the marijuana sketch] is good television!
posted by delmoi at 11:17 AM on November 23, 2006


I forgot about that. Small world.
posted by fungible at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2006


When you have to explain a skit before it even starts you know it's going to suck. No wonder Andy went off script.
posted by 2sheets at 11:25 AM on November 23, 2006


This is some funny stuff, jonp72; thanks for putting it together for us. YouTube comes through!
posted by cgc373 at 11:29 AM on November 23, 2006


Everybody that watched it live, raise a hand. Just moi?
posted by fixedgear at 11:33 AM on November 23, 2006



Everybody that watched it live, raise a hand. Just moi?


I was a big fan of Fridays, but always too stoned to remember much of anything back then. So, yeah, I probably watched it live but (like much of that era), I couldn't say for sure.
posted by buggzzee23 at 11:43 AM on November 23, 2006


So, this Andy Kaufman guy, is he more impressive if you haven't been raised on Monty Python and Spike Milligan?
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on November 23, 2006


Spike Milligan wasn't very funny either though...
posted by snoktruix at 12:06 PM on November 23, 2006


It's surrealism, not comedy per se, I suppose. Whereas Monty Python is comedy with a dose of surrealism.
posted by snoktruix at 12:08 PM on November 23, 2006


And, er, do you think that kid's name really was Michael Boner? Otherwise he has more balls than his looks would suggest.
posted by snoktruix at 12:11 PM on November 23, 2006


To suggest that Richards had a "Kaufman" moment merely besmirches the good name, & uniqueness, of Kaufman. Sure, he was an unpredictable nut, but so much of that was his genius. The Sat. Nite Live skit where he just stood nervously next to a portable phonograph playing the Mighty Mouse song was the funniest goddam thing I'd ever seen at that point in my life. And the amazing part is, I've never been able to figure out why it was funny. That was the genius of Kaufman. Richards is apparently just an asshole, who ran out of teh funny last week.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2006


I was watching that night.

By the way, people need to stop comparing Borat to Andy. Not even close.
posted by davebush at 12:16 PM on November 23, 2006


The curtain opening and closing in the Pretenders intro is great comic timing.
posted by jchgf at 12:27 PM on November 23, 2006


Richards was not a "target", he was totally in on Kaufman's Fridays shenanigoats.
posted by dgaicun at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2006


Can someone recommend some actual quality Andy Kaufman, please? Him hating a show, abandoning a sketch and pouring water over someone didn't do it for me. The audience participation thing was cute, too, but not exactly funny.
posted by imperium at 12:43 PM on November 23, 2006



Andy Kaufman's humor has less to do with what he says, or any inate comedic talent, and more to do with his presence, the look in his eyes, the way he holds himself. He is clearly from another planet, a true Ignu*, a Harpo, child-like (which does not presume innocence), not in on the game, getting tangled up in the drapes, pulling the table cloth out from under the solemn banquet. I have always loved him and felt a close kinship with him, as I think many do.
posted by bukharin at 12:49 PM on November 23, 2006


The Richards/Kaufman comparison is all the more interesting given Jim Carrey's Fridays-moment based explanation for why Kaufman was so "special":
Andy never let you off the hook. Everybody else had an out: "Hey folks, that was a joke I just told." Andy went home, put his head on the pillow and went to sleep knowing that most of the audience was still going (troubled, nervous voice): "He doesn't really feel that way, does he?
posted by dgaicun at 12:52 PM on November 23, 2006



Richards was not a "target", he was totally in on Kaufman's Fridays shenanigoats.

Yeah, I haven't seen this, but I was assuming it's "real" in the same way Andy's wrestling and fight on Letterman with Jerry Lawler were real, which is to say, completely not real. (despite what Bob Zmuda might say while trying to cash in on his dead friend for the rest of his life)
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:54 PM on November 23, 2006


Kaufman's wrestling antics are my favorite.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:02 PM on November 23, 2006


So, this Andy Kaufman guy, is he more impressive if you haven't been raised on Monty Python and Spike Milligan?

I always assumed I thought he was impressive because I was raised on Python and Milligan.
posted by jack_mo at 1:10 PM on November 23, 2006


On a side note, here's Richards saying he's sorrry about attacking the "afroamericans"
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 3:55 PM on November 23, 2006


I think he expresses himself more succinctly in this unedited version.
posted by snoktruix at 4:08 PM on November 23, 2006


[raises hand] Yes, yes, yes
posted by fuckwit at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2006


I'd be curious to hear how Kathie Sullivan got involved in that one bit. I wouldn't be surprised if Andy actually spent a year convincing her that he had converted and wanted to marry her.
posted by papakwanz at 8:36 PM on November 23, 2006


Ironically, I was in drug treatment when I saw that skit and remember reading later it was a total put-on. At the time though, we all just sat there, mouth agape, wondering what the fuck we just saw. Then Fridays had the Clash on so we didn't care.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:15 PM on November 23, 2006


Andy Kaufman wasn't a comedian, per se, he was a clown, or perhaps even more accurately, a fool. In most spiritual traditions, clowns/fools aren't really there to make you laugh, they serve a ritual function in breaking rules, transgressing boundaries, and in the process, transmitting wisdom. I can't think of a modern performer in the pop-arena who more fully embodied this ancient aspect of clowning.
posted by redhanrahan at 10:03 PM on November 23, 2006 [2 favorites]


redhanrahan: perfect.
posted by papakwanz at 10:26 PM on November 23, 2006


I saw the original and I seriously doubt that Richards was "in on it" -- though I can understand why he'd feel obligated to "claim" otherwise.
posted by RavinDave at 10:40 PM on November 23, 2006


posted by RavinDave I saw the original and I seriously doubt that Richards was "in on it" -- though I can understand why he'd feel obligated to "claim" otherwise.

The only person who knew Andy Kaufman was going to be off-book for the entire show was Andy Kaufman, and the only person who might have been in on it was Larry David; Michael Richards only claimed to have been in on the joke after-the-fact.

Watch the clip--you can tell Michael Richards has no clue because:
1) he's visibly annoyed at Andy going off-book in the first part of the skit
2) after Andy goes off-book several times, Richards tries his own brand of ad-lib by retrieving the cue cards and dropping them in front of Andy
3) he's surprised and suddenly ducks when Andy throws water on him, and then Richards sarcastically yells, "Hey, it's funny!"
posted by fandango_matt at 10:53 PM on November 23, 2006


I also recall Dave Letterman talking about an incident where Kaufman went off-book on his show. Letterman was in on it -- but ONLY well into the incident, when (he said) Kaufman leaned over to a shell-shocked Dave and whispered something like "Too much?"
posted by RavinDave at 11:09 PM on November 23, 2006


Andy Kaufman. Not funny. Yeah, I said it. Then again, to each his own.
posted by disgustipated at 12:02 AM on November 24, 2006


Well, I can agree with you disgustipated. Sometimes I think that people's reaction of uncomfortable laughter or "everybody says hes great so this must be funny" was counted as actual laughter, but maybe that was part of the point. I don't think he was always trying to be "funny" sometimes he was just trying to provoke a reaction.

Sort of like how an artist might paint an abstract that relys on the viewer to react. Some folks just don't like abstracts, that's still a reaction though.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:08 AM on November 24, 2006


Yes, I saw it too. I was a pretty loyal fan on the show, not the least due to a raging crush on Melanie Chartoff...
posted by Samizdata at 12:27 AM on November 24, 2006


The only thing less funny than Andy Kaufman is Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman.
posted by Optamystic at 2:01 AM on November 24, 2006


I dunno ... watching Kaufman hold up a bar of Ivory in from of a red-neck wrasslin' crowd and patiently explaining: "This is sooo-oooap." The man had'em the size of cantalope.
posted by RavinDave at 2:12 AM on November 24, 2006


I don't think anyone is denying that Kaufman had guts. And he was an innovator. I'm just not convinced that all innovation is good innovation.

Andy Kaufman wasn't a comedian, per se, he was a clown, or perhaps even more accurately, a fool. In most spiritual traditions, clowns/fools aren't really there to make you laugh, they serve a ritual function in breaking rules, transgressing boundaries, and in the process, transmitting wisdom. I can't think of a modern performer in the pop-arena who more fully embodied this ancient aspect of clowning.

And if my granny had legs she wouldn't be a wagon.

I'll try to think of this transmission of wisdom when the acrobats start doing mime, and the joke-tellers do magic, and the singers start telling jokes, all badly, but quite unexpectedly. I think improv where scripted dialogue is expected can be damn clever if the improv is clever. Flubbing lines and stopping skits just so you can jerk other people around and watch them get all pissy is just masturbation on stage, which is fine if you're in Amsterdam with a joint in your hand. He's not a clown -- clowns are out to entertain others. Andy was out to entertain himself. Some people laughed along. Most didn't. That, to some, makes him an iconoclast and thus worthy of praise on its own. Me, I haven't decided yet.
posted by dreamsign at 4:29 AM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think it's true and in some respects a valid criticism to say that Kaufman was entertaining himself, but I also think that's true of the great artists. Kaufman created discomfort in his audience in ways that they can't translate themselves away from. For some people much more than others, there is a deep connection between discomfort and laughter and humor. And that laughter and humor is an attempt to reconcile or at least release the discomfort. But in any case Kaufman was a master at creating certain reactions and feelings in his audiences. That's in my opinion the essential of what art is. Yeah, art necessarily is more than that, but I think that that "more" is found in the mystery, the incomprehensibility of Kaufman, his alienness previously mentioned. And another part that made him a great artist is that he knew exactly what he was doing. It's not as if he was an unwitting expression of some behavioral quality that makes people uncomfortable. He took us to those uncomfortable places because he knew the way from here to there.

I don't find Kaufman particularly funny. I do find him brilliant and fascinating. And I find it fascinating that other people find him very funny. But then I'm an amateur student of alienation.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:23 AM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


dreamsign: Flubbing lines and stopping skits just so you can jerk other people around ...

It's decades after the incident -- some people reading this weren't even born yet -- and we're STILL talking about it. Contrast that against a forgettable skit from a forgotten show. I'd say he tapped into something worthwhile.
posted by RavinDave at 5:42 AM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


That something being a very tv-friendly, calculated, commercially driven, and self-serving faux-rebellious "rule-breaking." To people who are into this he's the best thing ever. To others he's an overrated comedian. See also - Henry Rollins.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:13 AM on November 24, 2006


Andy Kaufman wasn't a comedian, per se, he was a clown, or perhaps even more accurately, a fool.

I think this is exactly correct. Kaufman was a Fool, in the classic sense -a performance artist using comedy as one tool in his enormous repertoire.

On preview, what Ethereal Bligh said.
posted by elendil71 at 6:14 AM on November 24, 2006


Not to mention, people really aren't talking about this. A random mefi post is far from the tips of everyone's tongues. Kaufman's fanbase is loyal and even after the big hollywood treatment he remains a very nichey cult figure.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:15 AM on November 24, 2006


I don't find Kaufman particularly funny. I do find him brilliant and fascinating. And I find it fascinating that other people find him very funny.

Fair enough. I don't find him funny either, and I don't contend that this is in any way a failure, some bar he had to meet. Brilliant is I suppose where I disagree, and he certainly does hold interest. But if it's all about discomfort, well I can take a shit on stage if you like.

I think it -- unfortunately for Andy -- says more that most people who know him still know him, and like him to some degree, for his role on Taxi, which he apparently loathed. (on preview -- damn dirty ape -- exactly)

And as I said, I'm still undecided. The Mighty Mouse bit was great. This, meh. At best right now I'll consider him hit-and-miss and a general shit-disturber. Not enough to earn the tag of "brilliant" in my book.
posted by dreamsign at 6:25 AM on November 24, 2006


It's no blasphemy to say Andy Kaufman was funny -- he really wasn't comfortable getting just laughter from an audience. I remember my family loved him on SNL -- my mother just thought Mighty Mouse was so funny, and so did I as a kid. But we all shook our heads about the wrestling and the Tony Clifton and the Elvis; it was just alienating.

It was clearly meant to be alienating, and we, a stricly suburban household, got off his carousel (which may have meant we got off his back). We were supposed to. He was happier being at the dream-margin of the American psyche, doing embarassing and unfunny things.

Still, looking at it now: His replay of Mighty Mouse at the second monologue for Fridays looks like a giant fuck-you to his crowd: He played his best and funniest single bit just slightly different so it wasn't funny at all and dared anyone to notice. It's more alienating, to me, than all the performance-art stuff that followed.
posted by argybarg at 8:51 AM on November 24, 2006


I saw the original and I seriously doubt that Richards was "in on it" -- though I can understand why he'd feel obligated to "claim" otherwise.

It's possible that Richards had been warned that Kaufman would go off script, but he may not have known exactly what Kaufman would do.

By the way, Larry Charles, the Seinfeld writer and director of Borat, was also a writer for Fridays. This seems to establish a Borat/Andy Kaufman link, although indirectly.
posted by jonp72 at 10:02 AM on November 24, 2006


"The only person who knew Andy Kaufman was going to be off-book for the entire show was Andy Kaufman, and the only person who might have been in on it was Larry David; Michael Richards only claimed to have been in on the joke after-the-fact."

Incorrect. Andy was a friend of mine and he and I talked abou the Fridays incident (and a lot of other things as well). According to Andy, Richards WAS in on what was going to happen, as was the producer of Fridays, Jack Burns. The other cast members had NO idea what was going to happen.

I don't think it really matters whether you refer to Andy as a "comedian" or not. If you were baffled, shocked, pissed-off or amused by what he did, so long as it was an honest, from-the-gut reaction, I think he did his job.

On my website, Cranky Media Guy (crankymediaguy.com), in the Video section, you can find a "lost" Andy Kaufman performance. The show was done live 45 minutes after I first laid eyes on Andy. Long, odd and almost unbelievable story.
posted by Cranky Media Guy at 10:55 AM on November 24, 2006 [3 favorites]


I think that Andy started out as a comedian when he was doing his bits for SNL (mighty mouse and the foreigner who did terrible impersonations) but after Taxi he transformed himself into a straight up performance artist. I'm fairly certain that the last thing that he wanted was to make people laugh, he wanted to make them uncomfortable, angry, on edge, anything but satisfied.
posted by sic at 12:08 PM on November 24, 2006


I laughed, hard, when I heard Kaufman died. I can think of no one else who could have done that to me. Brought me there.
The man was brilliant. It wasn’t about the comedy, it was about the bounds of reality. And that’s what differentiates it from taking a shit on stage. There is a purpose and a method, there is craft there albeit unseen and perhaps not understood, or even not appreciated But it’s there.

Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Seinfeld, the innovators and the greats of comedy - the methods of judging that kind of comedy is not applicable to Kaufman. They pushed the boundries of what you could do with stand up. They didn’t play with the boundries themselves or audiance expectations. Seinfeld is one of the great comedians of all time. Timing you could set a metronome to. He’s a master of his craft. But he’s no Kaufman. This’d be comparing Bach to Coltrane.
But you don’t have to like Coltrane, or indeed Jazz. And one can assert that classical and the Baroque period resulted in the finest music on Earth and Bach is one of the greatest composers.
But Kaufman fundamentally altered expectations for the craft the way Coltrane redefined the saxophone.
Or Jimi Hendrix - certainly Joe Satriani, Clapton or Jimmy Page are more technically skilled. But Hendrix is outside the categories. Does setting your guitar on fire show off your skills as a guitarist? Well, no, but it’s transcendant. Whether for good or for ill. And it’s transcendant in a way that only Hendrix could do it. Kiss has done a million variations on pyrotechnics that are far more visually stunning. They’ve sold 80 million albums. Their merchandising outsells Elvis’. Are they anywhere near as good as Hendrix? Nope. Robert Johnson had a chair and an acoustic guitar and he’s remembered as one of the all time greats. So it’s something other than the visual or bigger and better or anything like that. It’s something transcendant.

But y’know, some people expect to see a show for their money, not have their cages rattled. If you’re hungry and you sit down for a steak at a resturant, you don’t want to have the concept of a meal transcended. Tastes, moods vary. Not only person to person, but time to time within a person.

I saw the thing on Fridays live. I totally got it from the outset. I’ve always gotten it. But then my friends and family think I’m a little odd. (Uh, mom, why’d uncle Smedley tell me he thinks we’re all Bozos on this bus?)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:27 PM on November 24, 2006 [3 favorites]


Cranky Media Guy -re: from the gut reaction, would that be a “gut blow out”? I know next to nothing about Kaufman beyond his performance, but I saw the movie and his connection to TM. I’m just curious if your choice of words, and Kaufman’s direction, was influenced by that. That is, if eliciting that kind of reacion was by that design. I don’t believe it was as ham handed as I’m (poorly) expressing it...
posted by Smedleyman at 12:33 PM on November 24, 2006


Smedleyman: Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Seinfeld, the innovators and the greats of comedy - the methods of judging that kind of comedy is not applicable to Kaufman.

I recall Steve Martin "joking" about taking everyone in the audience out to McDonalds. And I remember Andy actually renting buses to do it (except he took'em somewhere for milk and cookies).
posted by RavinDave at 5:14 PM on November 24, 2006


"Everybody that watched it live, raise a hand."

*raises a hand*

I was thirteen. I didn't understand it. It was funny, but I couldn't figure out why. The skit wasn't funny up until that point, and then the actors started breaking character, so I remember thinking it was funny cuz they screwed up. Like watching John MacEnroe trip on his shoe strings, or a football player fumble the ball. However, just before they cut to commercial, it looked to me like the actors did it on purpose and for some reason the producers - the establishment - were the brunt of the joke. I remember wishing the actors had had control over commercial breaks and not the network, cuz I didn't wanna see the commercials - I wanted to see what happened next on the show: behind the scenes. I wanted to see what was really going on. Not what the producers were wanting to show us.

I don't know if that's what Kaufman was trying to do. I don't know if he really had any elaborate plan. He was just being unpredictable - and I've since learned that good humor only really works if it's not predictable. That's why jokes grow stale and skits get old. Kaufman knew what they were doing on that show was crappy - after all it was a retread of SNL, which was a retread of british comedies, and dumbed down (you heard me) for an American audience. Kaufman was bucking against all that, and I like to think seeing Kaufman on Fridays was a moment of learning that no school could or would want to teach me: for that I am ever thankful to Kaufman... ripe bastard that he was.

"Can someone recommend some actual quality Andy Kaufman, please?"

uhm.. no.

Kaufman's humor wasn't supposed to be 'quality.' He was anti-quality. He was anti-alottashit.

He wasn't trying to be good. He was trying to push buttons. He was trying to get a rise out of the audience. His goal was never to make the live audience sound like a canned audience. If you wanted to kick his ass, he was as happy about that reaction as any - it meant he reached you. Nowadays some people call it "guerrilla comedy" but Kaufman also hated labelling everything, unless he could make fun of it.

Kaufman was pushing at the unwalled boundaries that society tries to pretend are there. Other comedians who have done this in their own ways include George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, early Steve Martin, Howie Mandel, Sam Kinison, and Tom Green, but none of them were as GOOD at it as Kaufman.

Kaufman wasn't a comedian. He was an entertainer, a prankster, a man who played people like jazz musicians play instruments. Sometimes he knocked one out of the park. Admittedly he fouled and fumbled now and then, but when you're playing a game where the rules are so undefined, that's gonna happen.

Oh. And he's not really dead. It was all an elaborate hoax. He's hanging with Elvis down the street at the Circle K.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:53 PM on November 24, 2006


"The man was brilliant. It wasn’t about the comedy, it was about the bounds of reality. And that’s what differentiates it from taking a shit on stage. There is a purpose and a method, there is craft there albeit unseen and perhaps not understood, or even not appreciated But it’s there."

Having had the opportunity to know Andy and talk to him about this stuff on a few occasions, I think you've put your finger on it pretty well.

Andy wanted to portray whatever character he was doing SO well that you couldn't tell it WAS a character.

OK, we all know that Tony Clifton was Andy (except for the times when he wasn't). Clifton is a pretty ridiculous character, I think you'll agree, right? Yet, if you watch tape of some of "Tony's" performances, you'll see audience members reacting to him as if he was real.

Same goes for Andy's wrestling persona. I mean, come on! Who could believe that a famous person like Andy would openly and repeatedly express the kinds of things that Wrestling Andy would say to the crowd? Again, though, if you see tape of the performances, you see people completely suspending disbelief. That suspension of disbelief is what Andy was shooting for in all of his work. He wanted you to BELIEVE what he was doing. It's all about the opposite of cynicism and being jaded.
posted by Cranky Media Guy at 7:33 PM on November 24, 2006


Maybe I was just born just slightly too late, so the fourth wall had been thoroughly broken so many times that I never really learned to believe in it to start with. That clip looked completely staged to me - it's moderately funny, but it would never have occurred to me to think they had a different sketch planned and the chaos at the end was improv. Especially with the starting introduction - that is the set up; the punchline has to go against the expectation the set up prepares (even a bad joke where you know what the punchline is gonna be contradicts the set up; it's just in an obvious way that you expected since you knew it was a joke).
posted by mdn at 11:27 AM on November 26, 2006


"That clip looked completely staged to me - it's moderately funny, but it would never have occurred to me to think they had a different sketch planned and the chaos at the end was improv."

According to Andy, they had rehearsed the same sketch, complete with an actual ending, but it was agreed among himself, Michael Richards and the producer that he would "sabotage" it live on the air.
posted by Cranky Media Guy at 4:03 PM on November 26, 2006


yeah, ftr I wasn't trying to say I doubted the truth of the story, just that it didn't strike me that way upon watching it. But thinking about it, perhaps the most real aspect of it was how underplayed it was, except for the glass of water in the face. If they'd rehearsed it, they'd probably have played actors breaking character, more along the lines of even stevphen... in the kaufman clip, no one seems particularly unsettled by the break, the actress playing the already stoned lady just keeps acting like she's stoned, and the other actress might have been trying to feed him a line at first, but generally played along with him... but they were probably all used to improv, & the premise of the skit was pretty much cut out for improv, I'd say. As a scripted piece, the punchline was given away in the intro so there was hardly a point to acting it out unless someone was going to swerve down a side road.
posted by mdn at 10:08 AM on November 27, 2006


Having seen it live - and it’s been a bit - I remember wondering if the shampoo commercial that followed was part of it. It was a new commercial, ‘Prell’ I believe but it could have been Suave as in the Carrey film.
What was funny was watching the faces aghast when they cut back for the ‘apology’ and he was saying “It’s all a plot” by the network. And the crowd laughing. And the commercial was the Green Giant and the “Ho ho ho” came out almost immediately. And I realized that the joke was on me as well. And yet, I was a participant.
The experiance as a single piece, as television, for that time, was utterly transcendant.
In improv there is the concept of “yes, and” where you take something given to you - an idea, a concept, a character, a string of words, and heighten it - run with it. And as this echos back and forth it reiterates itself to the point of absurdity and thus you have humor sans the schticky jokes.
It’s also a magickal concept - but far too much distortion there to get into (and it’s stuck in the occult most likely because few philosophers delve that deeply into humor - a few notable exceptions - Henri Bergson of course, few other western philosophers - it’s been an integral concept in some eastern thought tho).
One of the mental judo techniques however is - and kids do this all the time but they eventually lose it - is to make the OTHER guy “yes, and” your stuff.
This is, for adults, often incredibly hard because seriousness can be contageous. There are brutal assaults possible from otherwise quite normal and compassionate individuals when they feel their identities under assault. (Ahem, as we’ve seen here. Call “smedleyman” and idiot and, really, who cares. That’s not me. Just some name selected to log in as. But you might get a rise outta me anyway. I’m just explaining it.)
And double hard for celebs ‘cause their name is their trademark - they can’t simply log in as a sock puppet and go to work. (The Hollywood blacklist comes to mind).
And it’s a double edged sword. Because as adroit as one might be, one often has to resort to more ham fisted provocation. I wouldn’t have brought up the occult connection (again, can be confusing) except that Aleister “The Beast” Crowley is such a great example of that.
You run the double risk of either folks not getting it and not being interested at all, or being overwhelmed by it and persecuting you on something that is really in jest to elicit a self-revealing response or to entertain or to touch you, etc. etc. And the further risk of being hoisted by your own petard (theme touched on in ‘V’) if you buy into it too much yourself to defend your goal of getting that ‘aha’ out of people.

Jimi Hendrix - a story I heard on an album - hit this guy. As the guy tells the story, he says it astonished him because Hendrix was a gracious and peaceful type of person. And he went to confront Hendrix who was “smiling, and sitting with his ladies” and the guy yells at him: “if you ever touch me again, I’ll kill you.”
And Hendrix said: “I’ll always touch you.”

A guy like that doesn’t grow old and do denture commercials.

Similar circumstance with Kaufman. I don’t know whether he “got” being voted off SNL. But that was a great moment in audiance participation. Albeit executed poorly with a “yes/no” kind of response option, but television networks are machines, executives doubly so.

What counted was not the result, but the amount of calls. The fact that anyone cared enough to pick up a phone. That’s what made that something. And, as a kid, I got that.
It’s a bit dimmer now, I’m not Peter Pan, I don’t feed the monster under my bed, but he grabs my foot from time to time.

Kaufman let you play too. That’s what was great about him.
“Great” in the sense that Lincoln was great - even though he did some pretty lousy things and many people hated him, and some enough to kill him - as opposed to technical competance or how entertaining at heart or any other qualifiers.

But it seems he got caught on the celebrity thing. Some folks in the past avoided getting snagged by that by not using their names and such. Lao Tse f’rinstance - who the hell was that guy? His name means ‘old man.’ Alan Abel, perhaps, somewhat famous, but still obscure enough to get away with some serious play. Or Shakespeare - some obfuscation as to who exactly he was. And that’s just it, the play’s the thing (heh, double entendre there). Dodge having your own identity in the mix and you can go pretty far.
Seems Kaufman tried to do some of that. Working in the resturant, et.al.
Maybe he faked his own death. Maybe not. (Hmmm...he was an Elvis fan). Whether he did or not...
...but perhaps I’ve gone on long enough.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:11 PM on November 27, 2006


I didn’t bring up the wrestling women thing, ‘cause it goes without saying.
(But I’ve found often I’m misunderstood, ‘cause not everyone is aware of what need not be said.)
Denegrating women and proving male superiority in a contest of physical strength is utterly absurd. Getting people to buy into that utter absurdity and get angry about it is absolutely brilliant.
(Getting a mark to ‘yes, and’ you)
And did more for pro-wrasslin’ than has been suspected in most quarters. (Kayfabe (sp?) alla that).
Indeed, the subtext in fighting Lawler is that a regular guy fighting a pro-wrassler will get smashed by the incredibly damaging moves that other pro-wrasslers endure every day. And that’s beyond all the theatrics and sundry illusion of pro-wrestling brought to the mainstream.
Wow.

Contrast that with the modern crude attempts to draw audiances in - football for example - getting the crowd pumped up, delivering some sort of energy to the players to help them win. Whether the concept is valid as a psychological edge in emotional state, it’s not been played up as a factor before. The audiance has been passive in the past, not part of the game. One benchmark there might be the ‘85 Bears (music video, the ghost of Papa Halas, etc.) But prior to that - say the ‘79 Bears - not so much. You just sat and watched and admired.

But people were so emotionally invested in Kaufman’s wrestling they actually protested. Sent nasty letters. This for a celeb known for comedy and pranks and such. That does require a good degree of skill to pull off. Merely to overcome one’s own known comic image.
“Yeah, I’m a jokester, but I’m really serious this time about women being mentally inferior to men. And to prove it, I’m going to wrestle them.”
You get someone to buy into that, you are one sharp MFer.
Pro-wrestlers do it all the time, but most people know it’s stagecraft, and are willing even eager participants. You get someone to hate your guts based on a completely idiotic concept - and have them heighten it by not only emotionally investing, but actively participating? You’re a genius. Le Petomane was skilled, this was far superior.

But y’know, it did get old. And you can’t push a rope. Which is the difference between the jokey jokes and improv. Henny Youngman or Sheckey Green can do the same schtick for 20 years in the catskills (Take my wife, please!), but if it isn’t fresh, it isn’t improv.

I dunno why Kaufman didn’t reverse course and become a radical feminist, oh, wait, yeah, death, right. But y’know, still a lotta options there. I mean where the hell is Tony Clifton? He’s a tulpa...well, after the movie he’d be an egregore. Ran out of emotional energy I suspect. Still, no reason someone couldn’t put on the suit.
And indeed...
...well, I’ll stop there.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:58 PM on November 27, 2006


"But it seems [Kaufman] got caught on the celebrity thing. Some folks in the past avoided getting snagged by that by not using their names and such. Lao Tse f’rinstance - who the hell was that guy? His name means ‘old man.’ Alan Abel, perhaps, somewhat famous, but still obscure enough to get away with some serious play."

Alan Abel is also a friend of mine. I've worked with him on a number of hoaxes, including this past February when I flew to Nebraska and pretended to be the winner of America's largest-ever Powerball lottery.

Alan is unknown to the average American, but is known to some members of the press, so he mostly stays behind the scenes of his hoaxes these days. He wasn't even in the restaurant where I celebrated my "lottery win." He was hiding across the street while I did interviews with the TV, radio and print guys.

"You get someone to buy into that, you are one sharp MFer.
Pro-wrestlers do it all the time, but most people know it’s stagecraft, and are willing even eager participants. You get someone to hate your guts based on a completely idiotic concept - and have them heighten it by not only emotionally investing, but actively participating? You’re a genius."

Yup, you got it. Andy was a genius in his own very special way. Unfortunately, it was a way which is not necessarily compatible with the "business" in "show business."
posted by Cranky Media Guy at 4:54 PM on November 27, 2006


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