‘Tank You Vedy Much’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Taxi’

Andy Kaufman’s alter ego, Tony Clifton, was supposed to guest star as Danny DeVito’s brother before he was fired and thrown off the set
‘Tank You Vedy Much’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Taxi’

From 1978 until 1983, the sitcom Taxi gave audiences a hysterical glimpse into the lives of New York City cab drivers. The series, led by stage icon Judd Hirsch, would also introduce the world to future stars Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Carol Kane and Andy Kaufman. Lauded for a superb blend of pitch-perfect acting and writing, the show is still considered a classic decades later in the era of Uber and Lyft. 

With that in mind, let’s hail some tidbits about the gang from the Sunshine Cab Company...

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It Was Never a Ratings Juggernaut

Despite being named one of TV Guide’s top 50 shows of all time, Taxi was never a monster hit in the ratings. It topped out at around number 10 for its first season and number 13 for its second, but would never crack the top 30 again.

It Switched Networks

Because of its struggling ratings, ABC canceled Taxi after the fourth season. NBC would pick it up for one more season before it was canceled again.

The Television Academy, However, Loved It

Despite being underappreciated by viewers, Taxi was nominated for 31 Emmys, winning 18, making it one of the most decorated sitcoms in TV history.

Kaufman Was Only There Half the Time

Kaufman was reluctant to play Latka Gravas. He only agreed after getting a contract that put him in just half the episodes and allowed for limited rehearsal.

Louie’s Brother

As another condition of his contract, Kaufman demanded a guest spot for his alter ego, Tony Clifton. Clifton was cast as Louie DePalma’s brother, Nick, in the Season One episode “A Full House for Christmas.” However, Clifton arrived on set with sex workers on each arm and was entirely uncooperative with any aspect of production. He was eventually fired and carried off the lot, an event brilliantly reenacted by Jim Carrey as Kaufman in Man on the Moon.

The ‘Reunion’

Man on the Moon saw many Taxi cast members reunite to recreate moments from the sitcom, with one notable exception. DeVito did not reprise the role of Louie DePalma as he was already playing Kaufman’s agent, George Shapiro, in the film.

There Were a Number of Changes to the Cast

While Taxi had one of the best ensembles in sitcom history, it underwent numerous changes during its five-year run. Randall Carver, who played rookie cabbie John Burns, was fired after the first season as the writers felt the character was too similar to Tony Danza’s Tony Banta. Jeff Conaway, who played aspiring actor Bobby Wheeler, left after the third season, feeling he was being underutilized. Meanwhile, Christopher Lloyd and Carol Kane joined the cast after guest spots in earlier seasons. 

No One But Hirsch Could Play Alex Reiger

Hirsch was one of the most respected theater actors in the business when the series was being developed, and James L. Brooks only saw him in the role of Alex Reiger. “We had a character who could be a loser,” Brooks said, “unless you had the authority and dignity and brilliance of how (Hirsch) worked. And (Hirsch) does comedy! My god, he was the perfect combination.” 

While there was some initial struggle between him and the studio regarding pay, the studio eventually caved, and Hirsch went on to win two Emmys for the role. “Without him, it could just be people stepping over each other, but he was the center,” Brooks explained. “He was the rock-solid dignity. He allowed us to address the human condition with poetry.”

Jim and Louie in the Cuckoo’s Nest

The episode “Fledging” sees Marilu Henner’s Elaine Nardo helping a man overcome agoraphobia, with Alex jokingly calling her “Nurse Ratched,” referencing the character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Interestingly, DeVito and Lloyd both appeared in the Jack Nicholson classic. 

‘Who Wrote This Shit?’

When DeVito auditioned for DePalma, he entered the room as Louie with the script in hand. He slammed it down on the table in front of the creators, said, “Who wrote this shit?” and proceeded with his audition. The creators cracked up and hired him.

DeVito and De Niro

DeVito filled Louie’s cage with personal effects like family pictures and various cups and trinkets. Among the photos was one of Robert De Niro that DeVito asked him to sign as a reference to Taxi Driver.

The ‘Cheers’ Connection

Many writers and producers on Taxi would go on to work on Cheers. Several future Cheers cast members also appeared as guest stars on Taxi. Rhea Perlman (DeVito’s real-life partner at the time) played Louie’s girlfriend, Zena, while Ted Danson also popped up as a hairdresser, and George Wendt played an exterminator. Later on, Lloyd would guest star on Cheers as a painter. 

Reverend Jim’s Jacket

Lloyd sourced his own clothing for the part of Reverend Jim Ignatowski. The denim jacket came from a friend in Laurel Canyon who found it in some bushes, where it had been outside for years, causing the peace sign on it to fade. Realizing it would be perfect for the character, Lloyd wore it to his audition and every subsequent episode he appeared in.

The Bridge

The bridge featured in Taxi’s iconic opening credits is none other than the famed Queensboro Bridge.

‘Great! Write It!’

During the show’s run, Hirsch said he was frequently approached by real cab drivers in New York. He revealed his strangest encounter was when he was walking down the street and a cabbie backed up three blocks in reverse, then cut across traffic to tell him, “I’ve got a story you probably would like to do on that series of yours. It happened to me!” 

Hirsch cut him off and replied, “Great! Write it!”

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