Thursday, November 14, 2013

Monopoly, Twenty-One, Checkers and Chess

In case you haven't heard, Andy Kaufman is alive! Except that he's probably not.

I'm fascinated by Andy Kaufman, but--as a confession--I also never really thought he was all that funny. He's what I would consider a comedic innovator; while he wasn't all that humorous to me, he did things that no one had ever done before. And he seemed to have a certain level of genuine comedic ability, something I don't find in other so-called provocateurs like Bill Hicks or Lenny Bruce (I find both of these men to be little more than potty-mouthed hacks).

Kaufman, for those who don't know, was all about absurdity. His material would be deliberately bad, lulling the audience into a false sense of horribleness; the average nightclub would call for his head mere minutes into his act. Then--as if on cue, because it was--he'd pull a magic rabbit out of his hat. My favorite bit of his was when he would read from the Great Gatsby on stage. No jokes, no humorous inflections, just a straight-up reading of a classic novel. Titters at first, nervous laughter after a few minutes, then comedy-killing silence. After reading just a touch too long after the momentum fizzled out of the joke, he's ask the desperate audience if they would rather hear a record instead. They'd enthusiastically say yes, and Kaufman, ever the crowd-pleaser, would roll out a phonograph player, drop the needle, and play--a recording of him reading from The Great Gatsby. It was a long trip for a stupid joke, but he made it work.

He took a job using his "foreign man" bit on the classic sitcom Taxi. He didn't care for it, didn't like the regularity and convention of the sitcom. His personal life was often a mess, and he almost certainly suffered from long bouts of depression. And then, thirty years ago, Kaufman died at a very young age of a very rare form of lung cancer--diagnosed after, of course, incessantly bragging about faking his own death. So it wasn't exactly unwarranted that rumors about his death were an elaborate prank.

So this past weekend, someone posing as Kaufman's daughter claimed that Andy was still alive.Kaufman's actual brother hosted the Andy Kaufman awards, and brought up onstage this woman, who read a letter about how he is still living. As per the article above, this appears to be (surpise!) a hoax, and his brother is a little irritated. (Or may be in on the hoax. Who the hell knows?)

Personally, I hope this goes on forever. There's nothing quite as satisfying as the long con, and Andy Kaufman was a pro.

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