When Andy Kaufman Lost It on Live Television

On Friday, February 20, 1981, Andy Kaufman sat down in a fake restaurant, delivered scripted lines, paused, and then shook himself out of character. “I feel really stupid,” he said.

The other actors—including future Seinfeld co-star Michael Richards—looked confused; the audience hollered. On live television, Kaufman went on to say he felt the sketch (about a pair of stoned couples dining out) was lame and ineffectual. Richards went off-camera to fetch cue cards and tossed them in Kaufman’s lap. Kaufman retorted by tossing water. Someone threw butter. Stagehands pried the performers off one another. The next day, newspapers around the country were asking if Andy Kaufman had lost it.

The show was Fridays, ABC’s attempt to capture the anything-goes feel of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Debuting on April 11, 1980 to meager ratings, it treaded water with conservative network orders of six or 13 episodes at a time. According to executive producer John Moffitt, Kaufman’s appearance and the ensuing controversy probably bought it an entire additional season.

Kaufman knew the series was ailing, which is why he figured Moffitt would be receptive to his particular brand of comedy. In his stand-up, the performer was more of an antagonist of his audience than an ally: Many crowds had streamed into comedy clubs only to endure Kaufman napping in a sleeping bag or reading earnestly from The Great Gatsby, threatening to start all over again if they interrupted. (Once, Kaufman gave a nightclub a choice: the book or a record. They chose the record. It was the sound of Kaufman reading.)

Kaufman’s avant-garde humor was not for everyone. After multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live, NBC executive Dick Ebersol grew tired of his instigating behavior, declared him “not funny” and effectively banned him from the show. Fridays, however, was happy to welcome an established SNL personality and act as an enabler for whatever Kaufman wanted to do.

After convincing Moffitt to allow him and partner Bob Zmuda to play out a sword-swallowing scene in the intro that would go “awry”—Zmuda coughed up bloody spittle before the show cut to a commercial—Kaufman informed him he wanted to break out of character during the show’s closing sketch. Cast members Richards, Melanie Chartoff, and Maryedith Burrell were all aware of his plans; the crew was not. (There is some disagreement whether ABC had approved of it: Richards says no, while Moffitt maintains they had to go through the station's standards and practices department.)

After the Fridays episode aired, ABC was deluged with letters and calls asking if it was a put-on. To Kaufman’s conceivable displeasure, a network spokesperson told the Associated Press that it had all been staged. A week later, a contrite and tearful Kaufman appeared on the show to “apologize” for his actions in what Zmuda would later describe as his patented glazed-over hostage look.

“This has been a very hard week for me,” Kaufman said. His regular role as Latka on Taxi had been jeopardized, he confessed, and the scuffle had “led to a separation from my wife.” (Kaufman was not married.) While a certain segment of the audience was aware Kaufman was effectively trolling them, another portion probably wondered if he had lost his mind. His parents, who had once taken him in for psychological counseling as a child, might have renewed their doubts.

Fridays lasted only one more year, being forced into a later time slot by the success of ABC’s Nightline; Kaufman continued to confuse people until his death from lung cancer at the age of 35 in 1984. He never quite copped to the skirmish being faked. Talking to People in 1981, he accused ABC of a cover up and denied it was prearranged. “I like the type of humor where nobody knows what’s going on,” he said. “I just want real reactions.”

Six months after the incident, Kaufman appeared on Fridays one last time to profess he was now a born-again Christian. Kaufman was Jewish.

The 10 Best Memorial Day 2020 Sales

iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth
iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth

The Memorial Day sales have started early this year, and it's easy to find yourself drowning in offers for cheap mattresses, appliances, shoes, and grills. To help you cut through the noise and focus on the best deals around, we threw together some of our favorite Memorial Day sales going on right now. Take a look below.

1. Leesa

A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
Leesa

Through May 31, you can save up to $400 on every mattress model Leesa has to offer, from the value-minded Studio by Leesa design to the premium Leesa Legend, which touts a combination of memory foam and micro-coil springs to keep you comfortable in any position you sleep in.

Find it: Leesa

2. Sur La Table

This one is labeled as simply a “summer sale,” but the deals are good only through Memorial Day, so you should get to it quickly. This sale takes up to 20 percent off outdoor grilling and dining essentials, like cast-iron shrimp pans ($32), a stainless steel burger-grilling basket ($16), and, of course, your choice of barbeque sauce to go along with it.

Find it: Sur la Table

3. Wayfair

KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Sale on Wayfair.
Wayfair/KitchenAid

Wayfair is cutting prices on all manner of appliances until May 28. Though you can pretty much find any home appliance imaginable at a low price, the sale is highlighted by $130 off a KitchenAid stand mixer and 62 percent off this eight-in-one GoWise air fryer.

And that’s only part of the brand’s multiple Memorial Day sales, which you can browse here. They’re also taking up to 40 percent off Samsung refrigerators and washing machines, up to 65 percent off living room furniture, and up to 60 percent off mattresses.

Find it: Wayfair

4. Blue Apron

If you sign up for a Blue Apron subscription before May 26, you’ll save $20 on each of your first three box deliveries, totaling $60 in savings. 

Find it: Blue Apron

5. The PBS Store

Score 20 percent off sitewide at Shop.PBS.org when you use the promo code TAKE20. This slashes prices on everything from documentaries like Ken Burns’s The Roosevelt: An Intimate History ($48) and The Civil War ($64) to a Pride & Prejudice tote bag ($27) and this precious heat-changing King Henry VIII mug ($11) that reveals the fates of his many wives when you pour your morning coffee.

Find it: The PBS Store

6. Amazon

eufy robot vacuum.
Amazon/eufy

While Amazon doesn’t have an official Memorial Day sale, the ecommerce giant still has plenty of ever-changing deals to pick from. Right now, you can take $100 off this outdoor grill from Weber, $70 off a eufy robot vacuum, and 22 percent off the ASUS gaming laptop. For more deals, just go to Amazon and have a look around.

7. Backcountry

You can save up to 50 percent on tents, hiking packs, outdoor wear, and more from brands like Patagonia, Marmot, and others during Backcountry's Memorial Day sale.

Find it: Backcountry

8. Entertainment Earth

Funko Pops on Sale on Entertainment Earth.
Entertainment Earth/Funko

From now until June 2, Entertainment Earth is having a buy one, get one half off sale on select Funko Pops. This includes stalwarts like the Star Wars and Batman lines, and more recent additions like the Schitt's Creek Funkos and the pre-orders for the upcoming X-Men movie line.

Find it: Entertainment Earth

9. Moosejaw

With the promo code SUNSCREEN, you can take 20 percent off one full-price item at Moosejaw, along with finding up to 30 percent off select items during the outdoor brand's summer sale. These deals include casual clothing, outdoor wear, trail sneakers, and more. 

Find it: Moosejaw

10. Osprey

Through May 25, you can save 25 percent on select summer items, and 40 percent off products from last season. This can include anything from hiking packs and luggage to outdoorsy socks and hats. So if you're planning on getting acquainted with the great outdoors this summer, now you can do it on the cheap.

Find it: Osprey

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Never-Shown-on-TV Digital Shorts From The Office are Now Available on iTunes

Oscar Nuñez, Brian Baumgartner, Jake Lacy, Paul Lieberstein, Angela Kinsey, Phyllis Smith, Craig Robinson, Ellie Kemper, Kate Flannery, Ed Helms, and Leslie David Baker in The Office.
Oscar Nuñez, Brian Baumgartner, Jake Lacy, Paul Lieberstein, Angela Kinsey, Phyllis Smith, Craig Robinson, Ellie Kemper, Kate Flannery, Ed Helms, and Leslie David Baker in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

It's a good time to be a fan of The Office. The NBC series may have ended nearly seven years ago, but the cast still manages to surprise us on a regular basis. Whether it be an impromptu reunion, or sharing some details about the sitcom in new interviews, fans are still able to reminisce on a daily basis. But the best gift yet for those running out of things to watch while stuck at home may have just arrived: A collection of digital shorts from the beloved series is available to purchase on iTunes, and it's full of never-before-seen-on-TV content.

The collection includes 10 episodes of hilarity from your favorite The Office characters, including Michael Scott, Jim Halpert, Pam Beesly, Angela Martin, and Kelly Kapoor. One of these shorts is actually an Emmy winner titled "The Accountants," which sounds pretty intriguing.

So grab some popcorn (be sure to clean out the microwave when you're done) and a few of your fellow The Office fanatics, because this is your chance to re-live the Dunder Mifflin days all over again. You can access all of the episodes here.