More than any other performer, Andy Kaufman was able to create an air of mystery around himself that never dissipated even after his death. Most, if not all, Andy Kaufman stories feel totally unbelievable until they get so crazy that you feel like they might be completely real. Weird Andy Kaufman performances were the norm in his unfortunately short career, so it’s not hard to make the mental jump to believing that he pretended to kill himself on stage after opening for The Temptations, even though there’s no visual proof of that ever happening. If you’ve only heard about the genius that is Andy Kaufman, or you’re afraid to ask “who is Andy Kaufman?” then keep reading and discover the weirdest stories that he was ever involved in. Like the man who would go on to portray him in film, Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman stories are anything but what you'd expect.
Some of the most bizarre Andy Kaufman stunts weren’t even performed for an audience; his weirdest acts were done in crowds of people with no cameras, and they were never repeated. Maybe. It turns out that Andy Kaufman lied quite a bit in his interviews, and that Andy Kaufman art performances may have been completely staged, with no improvising whatsoever. Are these stories real? Or are they just made up to mythologize an okay performer? You be the judge.
In 1979, rather than end a Carnegie Hall Show in some old-fashioned, outdated way (by just ending it), Kaufman took the entire 2,800-person audience, which included Tony Danza, out for milk and cookies.
And if that wasn't enough Kaufman for them, he invited anyone who was interested to meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning where he continued the show.
The story of Andy Kaufman's death is truly sad. According to his friend and the best straight man he ever had, Jerry Lawler, Kaufman died three months after he was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of lung cancer. Kaufman, an early proponent of natural and organic foods, sought out any form of medical help that he could get from chemo to something called psychic surgery.
Essentially, psychic surgery was a hoax perpetrated by a man in the Philippines who would pretend to remove a foreign body from his patient's innards, thus "healing" them. Think reiki combined with slight-of-hand magic. One would believe that Kaufman, a practiced prankster, would be able to note a fake when he saw one, but he still went through with the process and claimed to have been cured.
Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after going through with the "surgery." Was he actually interested in this, or was he just playing a final prank?
Despite starring on Taxi for six years, Kaufman never rehearsed with the rest of the cast. According to co-star Tony Danza, the producers hired a stand in to rehearse with the cast. Danza remembered: "He didn’t rehearse. He never rehearsed. You know. When he did come to rehearsal, he was always late.
And, by the way, when his alter-ego,Tony Clifton, did the show - he constantly wanted to rehearse and he was always early. He was a real pain..."
One of Andy's conditions for working on Taxi was that the producers had to hire his alter ego, lounge singer Tony Clifton, as well. When Clifton was on the show, Kaufman would only appear in character and would never acknowledge himself. Does that make sense? As Tony Danza told an audience at the Gotham Comedy Club, as much as the cast thought Kaufman was a pain, they hated Tony Clifton. So one day when Clifton showed up with two prostitutes, the cast persuaded the show's producer, Ed Weinberger, to fire Clifton.
That's when things got ever more confusing, Danza explains: "Ed Weinberger went to Andy and he said, ‘Andy, or Tony, I have to fire you. I’ve got to let you go. This is not good for the show, to go on.’ And Andy, Andy loved the show. And he was not going to do it. But he could not resist the chance to do something with that. So evidently he told Ed that you can fire me, but you have to do it in front of everybody."
The day Clifton was fired Danza happened to have his Super 8 camera with him and filmed the "wrestling match" that broke out when he was kicked out of the studio, and a week later they watched the footage.
"We’re all on top of one another, everyone’s in there, the cast, the crew, some of the producers, everybody’s in there. And we’re watching it. And just as this fight is starting to break out, the door opens up and out the door, Andy walks in. It was like the air was sucked out of the room. We’re all standing there. And we watched him - I watched him - watch the film. And then the film ran out. It just ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch. You know that thing, because it was on film? So I reached in, and I turned the film off. And we stood there for a second and Andy went just like this, he shrugged and went, ‘Geez. What an assh*le!’"