That Time My Friend Wrestled Andy Kaufman
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Andy Kaufman once wrestled my friend, Blake. For readers who might not know who Andy Kaufman is, he's the guy the band REM wrote the annoying song "Man On The Moon" about.
I hum along to that song in the car - even though I hate it. It's that kind of song, and actually, that's probably a common reaction for many people when it comes to Andy Kaufman.
Andy Kaufman is also the guy who made Jim Carrey think dolphins were talking to him and basically turned Carrey into a lunatic before, during, and for quite some time after he played Andy in the biopic Man On The Moon.
This story takes place when Andy Kaufman starred on a massive show called Taxi. On Taxi, Andy played a character named Latka Gravis. Latka was an extension of an Andy Kaufman stage character (Andy didn't do stand-up, per se – his stage act could clumsily be called a mix of comedy deconstruction and performance art) he referred to as 'Foreign Man.'
Latka works as a mechanic in the cab shop during Taxi, speaking in a very on-the-nose 'foreign' accent and punctuating his sentences at least once a show with his catchphrase, "Thank you very much."
Now that you're up to speed let's get to it.
Blake lived in Northern California. As a wide-eyed little Huckleberry, he was likely looking for something to do one day, probably standing in his home's kitchen with olive green appliances, stomach askew from having eaten a cup of 70's shit like this for lunch, and luckily the phone rang. A friend was on the other end of the line. We'll call him "Friend #1."
"Get over here, now," said Friend #1.
"Why?" responded Blake, understandably.
"I don't have time to explain; just do it. It's … awesome." Friend #1 wasn't big on details, and he hung up.
Not apparently big on details himself, Blake hopped on his bike like a good kid of the era and rode hard for Friend #1's house. When he arrived, Blake went through the backyard screen door and walked straight into the kitchen.
And there, on a table in the breakfast nook, sat Andy Kaufman.
"I know you," blurted Blake. "You're Andy Kaufman!"
"Um, no, I'm not," was the curt reply. "You have me confused with someone else."
"No," said a scrunched-up-faced, dismayed Blake. "You're on Taxi. You play Latka."
"Listen, kid, I'm not who you think I am, ok." The tone was unmistakably annoyed and grumpy.
One can imagine Friend #1 having to turn away to conceal the ear-to-ear grin on his face at this point.
"But my parents watch that show every week, and I watch it with them and--"
"Kid! For the last time, I'm not Andy Kaufman," blared out in a real "last straw" way, "and I really don't appreciate you saying I am, so why don't you just beat it."
Defeated, Blake's shoulders slumped. He ambled towards Friend #1 and moped out of the kitchen towards the living room, but just as he reached the archway exit …
"Thank you very much," rang out Latka's catchphrase in character.
Blake spun around. "I knew it!" He exclaimed. "You're Andy Kaufman!"
"Yes, I am, kid," he said, sliding off the kitchen table. "Now c'mere; let's wrestle."
After a presumed moment of hesitation, while Blake scratched his head (the situation wasn't exactly stranger danger, but even in this time period, it must have felt more than a tad sketchy to have an adult ask a kid his age to wrestle), he and Andy Kaufman proceeded to the living room, where they wrestled.
Wrestling was a fascination of Kaufman's. He wrestled women initially (crowning himself the Intergender Champion of the World) and then later professionally, leading to his famous feud with Jerry Lawler. (Warning: the following clip is full of sexism and homophobia).
Blake's recollection of his throw-down with Andy was that it took place on shag carpet and didn't take long. One imagines Andy applied a half-baked, half-Nelson move on Blake only to have him slip out of it while Andy feigned outrage and frustration. In a perfect world, Blake and Friend #1 would have violated all rules of wrestling decorum and illegally tackled Andy together.
Alas, that didn't happen. Andy would probably dispute this in the most entertaining, pro wrestling-interview way imaginable, but Blake remembers their brief grapple ending as a draw.
Andy's "match" with young Blake is pretty proof-positive that his preoccupation with wrestling certainly didn't stop once the cameras stopped rolling. That erasure of the line between his act and his life, more than anything else, is maybe the main takeaway from this anecdote. It confirms what we know so well about him.
Whether it was including a segment during his contractually mandated network special Andy's Funhouse that purposefully wobbled the horizontal hold of the picture so millions of people would get up to adjust their TVs for no reason or putting on and then wrestling a kid Blake, Andy Kaufman had a lifelong pattern: he did everything for his own amusement, period. This is a trite thing to say but true – it was Andy's world; other people were just living in it.
Andy Kaufman died in 1984. The official cause of death was lung cancer (he never smoked a day in his life). But in true Kaufman-appropriate fashion, there has always been speculation that he faked his death to escape fame.
At this point, you probably have some questions regarding this story – chief among them might be, "What the hell was Andy Kaufman doing at Friend #1's house?" That is a fine question, but it shall remain unanswered here. Any good story about Andy Kaufman needs an element of confounding mystery that lingers (see the history of his Tony Clifton character as an example).
What I can include in the way of proof that this whole business actually took place is the autograph that Andy signed for Blake following their' match.' I've jokingly asked Blake if he's kept it under his pillow for all these years, which he hasn't, but I think if this had happened to me, I probably would have.
Top Image: Bernard Gotfryd/Library Of Congress
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