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Two views of the Song-and-Dance man, Andy Kaufman
July 1, 2010 12:54 PM   Subscribe

April 26, 1979, Andy Kaufman performed for a sold-out crowd in Carnegie Hall, who were welcomed to their seat by a "press kit" containing a bag of jelly beans, a program and flier for the show, and other copied material, supposedly put together by Andy's mother. The show starting off with an impersonation of Tony Clifton and ending by taking the audience of 2,800 out for milk and cookies. About 10 months later on February 20, 1981, Kaufman hosted an episode of Fridays, ABC's attempt to duplicate the success of NBC's Saturday Night Live. Instead of performing the show as rehearsed, he took the entire cast and crew, the studio audience and a nation of television viewers hostage. Video links and more details inside.

The Carnegie Hall show is available on YT in 10 parts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, and part 10.

Though the Carnegie Hall show was the only performance that ever saw Kaufman using openly political material, the Star Spangled Banner segment in the video focuses on Kaufman as Clifton, omitting any images of bombs exploding or Nazis marching.

If you're looking for the New York School of Printing where the Carnegie Hall audience was seated in kindergarten chairs and given milk and cookies, head for the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, as the school is now known.

The infamous episode of Fridays was discussed previously, but the one video clip in the FPP is no longer online. More recently, some fine fan has put up the Andy Kaufmen segments of that episode of Fridays online (part 1, part 2), though the video occasionally includes text banners providing a bit more info and some personal thoughts on the clips. The marijuana / fight clip is also hosted on Funny Or Die in slightly higher quality, but with potentially NSFW video thumbnails around this video, so I also offer up the same video on VideoSurf, with a more professional white background and a lower potential for NSFW images.
posted by filthy light thief (30 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing post. Fantastic work!
posted by zarq at 1:01 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And a hat tip to wsg for his comment, in which I learned of Kaufman's Milk and Cookies trip being posted on YT, along with the rest of the '79 show.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:04 PM on July 1, 2010


Also of note: the twenty bus milk and cookies trip wasn't the end of the show. [Kaufman] invited anyone interested to meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning, where the show continued. I haven't found any write-up on what the next day's performance included, which is a shame.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:08 PM on July 1, 2010


Such a fine line between cutting-edge performance art and fucking insanity.
posted by Melismata at 1:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Some of the best nights I've ever had were when the party didn't stop when the show ended and the acts hung out with the audience afterwards -- or hell even during the show. I understand why they don't do that, but I wish more acts did. The whole idea of a show and a performance and artist and audience is so artificial.
posted by empath at 1:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wonderful post.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:14 PM on July 1, 2010


The whole idea of a show and a performance and artist and audience is so artificial.

Parties are one thing, where the DJ or musician is directly involved with crowd, playing to their emotions. A stage comedian is the same way, able to tailor their show to the mood of the audience. But scripted shows or theatre can only be as flexible as their cast, and televised shows have the audience at home, too. Still, it would be pretty great to see the fourth wall broken more often.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:23 PM on July 1, 2010


filthy light thief! Yeah! you're filling in so many blanks for me with this fantastic post. If I bump into you tonight IRL I'll happily give you all the booze you can hold.
posted by ouke at 1:37 PM on July 1, 2010


I recommend reading Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman. So many great stories.
posted by not_on_display at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The discussion of the Fridays episode, and which of the cast (if any) was in on what Kaufman was doing, and to what extent, reminds me of the SNL episode that Garry Shandling hosted in the late eighties; his then-current TV show, It's Garry Shandling's Show, made breaking the fourth wall an integral part of the program, and Shandling did so several times on SNL, the first time during a sketch in which Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks did a great job of looking furious and terrified, respectively.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Kaufman delivered his Friday's anti-drug screed standing not 10 feet in front The Pretenders, waiting to perform, who would within a year or so lose half their membership to overdoses.
posted by anazgnos at 1:56 PM on July 1, 2010


Still, it would be pretty great to see the fourth wall broken more often.

HAMLET: To be or not to be, that is the question. But hey look at this guy, folks? Looks like the only question he's been answering is "do you want fries with that?" Am I right, folks?
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:07 PM on July 1, 2010


Oh yeah...the Pretenders thing was on his second Fridays appearance, not the first one under review here.
posted by anazgnos at 2:11 PM on July 1, 2010


Hamlet has plenty of metafictional elements already, not least of which is that right before Hamlet's players perform a text from the real world of the play, Hamlet and Polonius are talking about the dramatic arts and Polonius mentions that he appeared in a production of Julius Caesar.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, so this is really great. Thanks a million.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2010


I love that Fridays clip, especially the restaurant sketch. The look in Michael Richards' face when he drops the script on the table is priceless. He justs wants the thing to end.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2010


There's a nonchalant Larry David at the end of the second Friday's clip (far left @ 10:53), as Kaufman is being dragged off stage.
posted by Who_Am_I at 2:53 PM on July 1, 2010


This is excellent.

The whole idea of a show and a performance and artist and audience is so artificial.

What does this mean? Human culture is artificial. That doesn't make it bad, that makes it culture. If you mean that you don't like it, that's something else entirely. I've had good times that were very interactive, and good times that were very receptive, but the former weren't qualitatively better just because they were interactive.
posted by OmieWise at 3:18 PM on July 1, 2010


So does anybody know if he's alive or what?

Seriously, I know people here would mock you...but I really want to know and you can send me MeFi mail...which I'll be receptive to.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:34 PM on July 1, 2010


There's a nonchalant Larry David at the end of the second Friday's clip (far left @ 10:53), as Kaufman is being dragged off stage.

Why does he look better now than he did over 30 years ago? Seriously.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:36 PM on July 1, 2010


Kaufman was an asshole. It is one thing to be nuts and all that on your own, but taking everyone else down like that is just rude.
posted by gjc at 4:02 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I imagine more people watched the show after the Kaufman episode than before, but I'm just guessing. Anyway, he was invited back in 1981, and was on the show and "he appeared a remarkably changed man," dressed in a suit and he performed his Foreign Man Mighty Mouse skit.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2010


hal_c_on: "So does anybody know if he's alive or what?"

The most prolific claimant to the title of living Andy Kaufman recently is this guy, who used to tweet under the handle SantaPresley among others. He seems to have gone dark (other than the fairly recent Touchdown Jesus-related update on his site), but he was interviewed here.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:38 PM on July 1, 2010


That guy in the audience who kept hooting throughout the sketch (even before it went awry) got annoying very quickly.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:34 PM on July 1, 2010


I remember seeing the Carnegie show, where he took everyone to get milk and cookies, and I distinctly remember thinking that more people would go to the theater if that happened all the time. I was seven years old, and he was one of my small group of heroes.

I mean, milk and cookies for everyone. How could you not look at that at seven and swoon?
posted by blixco at 7:37 PM on July 1, 2010


Such a fine line between cutting-edge performance art and fucking insanity.

I worked on Man on The Moon, the Kaufman biopic, and I can attest that Jim Carrey stomped all over that line, to his great credit, and ultimately (I fear) his great detriment.
posted by Optamystic at 7:58 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


but he was interviewed here.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding the art form of internet radio, but...I pretty much want to kill this radio host for reading his Whole Foods receipt and eating flax seeds on the air before ever getting to the interview. I feel like, if ADHD were contagious, I might catch it from this guy.
posted by Ouisch at 12:04 AM on July 2, 2010


I remember feeling little else than discomfort many times when watching Kaufman back in the day (but what an Elvis impersonation!). Now I see an aggressive edge to Kaufmann beneath the "experimentation" and surmise that, despite his anti-drug stance, or maybe because of it, he was picking up on the torrents of wound-up irritable show-biz cocaine energy around him and channeling it through his performance.
posted by telstar at 1:46 AM on July 2, 2010


Awesome. I only really know of Kaufman from Taxi which was on here in the UK when i was little. I watched some recently and remembered watching the first episode (the free phone calls - alex's daughter episode) all those years ago. Kaufman is great in taxi, even if a minor role. Interestingly I was watching some Cheers and realised it is made by a lot of the same writers and directors from Taxi.

I also watched Man in the Moon to learn more of the guy, despite disliking Carrey, and loved the film, so thanks for this. Bookmarked for later, as work beckons.
posted by marienbad at 4:23 AM on July 2, 2010


Also:

"...the SNL episode that Garry Shandling hosted in the late eighties; his then-current TV show, It's Garry Shandling's Show, made breaking the fourth wall an integral part of the program..."
Posted by Halloween Jack

I absolutely love It's Garry Shandlings Show, it is my favourite ever TV program. "killer Routine" is just awesome.
posted by marienbad at 4:25 AM on July 2, 2010


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