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.

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

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10 Perfect Gifts for The Pop Culture Connoisseur in Your Life

Funko/Pinsantiy/Lil Cinephile/Amazon
Funko/Pinsantiy/Lil Cinephile/Amazon

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Over the past year, most everyone has been marinating in all kinds of pop culture. More than any other era, this moment in time has revealed how much we as a society should value our creators and artists. From cinematic comfort food to walks down nostalgia lane, the holiday season is a perfect time to celebrate the pop culture moments and icons that have kept us happy, engaged, and awed.

Here are 10 perfect gifts the pop culture connoisseur in your life is sure to love.

1. A is for Auteur; $30

Lil Cinephile/Amazon

The same team that put out the delightful, surprisingly adaptable Cinephile card game ($18) last year is out with a new book perfect for the cineastes in your life who love Agnès Varda. This alphabet book goes from A (Paul Thomas Anderson) to Z (Fred Zinnemann) and celebrates the unique elements of more than two dozen filmmakers’ careers. It’s a tongue-in-cheek delight, and if you don’t actually want your child to know about Quentin Tarantino just yet, it makes a gorgeous addition to any adult’s coffee table.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Schitt’s Creek Funkos; 4 for $77

Funko/Amazon

Eww, David! This set is ideal for fans of the Rose family who’d love Moira, Johnny, David, and Alexis peering down on them as they work or sleep or fold in the cheese. If you’re going the extra mile, grab the Amish David edition with hoodie, sunglasses, and rake. Individual figures run from $9-$30, and they all pair perfectly with a banana rosé.

Buy Them: Amazon

3. The Bruce Lee Criterion Collection; $68

Criterion Collection/Amazon

This is a stunning collection showcasing the best of the best of a true master alongside Criterion’s usual insightful commentary. Enter the Dragon has never been released as part of a collection before, and it stands as the crown jewel among The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, and the infamous Game of Death—all digitally restored in either 2K or 4K. The collection also features documentaries about Lee; an interview with his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell; and a conversation about the “Bruceploitation” subgenre that blossomed following Lee's untimely death.

Buy It: Amazon

4. NES Cartridge Coasters; $11

Paladone Products Ltd./Amazon

For the entertainer happy to have guests place their IPAs on SM3. These stylish coasters will protect your tables from coffee rings, wine stains, and barrels thrown by kidnapping apes. Plus, you won’t have to blow into these if they’re not loading correctly.

Buy Them: Amazon

5. Van Buren Boys Tee; $16

Underground Printing/Amazon

Deep into its eighth season, Seinfeld was still making iconic, quote-worthy moments. With this pre-shrunk, 100 percent cotton T, your favorite fan of the show about nothing can celebrate the comical street gang named for the 8th president (and the first president hailing from New York). It’s a handsome, comfortable shirt that comes in four colors and goes great with a Lorenzo’s pizza.

Buy It: Amazon

6. This Television History Puzzle; $49

White Mountain Puzzle/Amazon

This pop collage of more than 250 stars and scenes from TV’s past is a 1000-piece puzzle from acclaimed artist James Mellett. It’s probably the only image in existence where Kunta Kinte is between Superman, Gumby, and Norm and Cliff from Cheers. A gorgeous walk down memory lane, it’s also a healthy challenge that, at 24x30, would make a fine wall hanging if you don’t want to toss it back into the box.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Pictures at a Revolution; $17

Penguin Books/Amazon

Entertainment Weekly veteran Mark Harris is one of the most respected film historians of this generation, and this book, which goes deep on five pivotal films, is a must-have for serious cinephiles. Exploring Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and the surprise box office bomb Doctor Doolittle, Harris explores how 1967 marked a tectonic shift in American cultural preferences. Pair it with Five Came Back for bonus gifting points (and a book you can watch together on Netflix).

Buy It: Amazon

8. The Art of Mondo; $44

Insight Editions/Amazon

This is high on the list of gifts you’ll end up keeping for yourself. This sublime book boasts 356 pages of gorgeous prints from everyone’s favorite films. Cult, classics, blockbusters, and buried gems, the Austin-based Mondo is world-renowned for limited release posters from the best artists on the planet. One sheets typically sell for hundreds of dollars, so this book is the cheapest way to get them all. For your friend, of course. Right?

Buy It: Amazon

9. A Princess Bride Enamel Pin; $10

Pinsanity/Amazon

I do not think this pin means what you think it means. This playful piece features Vizzini’s shouting face above a stately “Inconceivable!” banner. It’s made of quality metal with vibrant enamel colors, and buying it should also send you down a rabbit hole looking for dozens of other pop culture pins.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Marvel’s Greatest Comics; $23

DK/Amazon

Someone in your life is bound to want three pounds of Marvel comics. This definitive tome showcases 100 issues that changed the world and built a powerhouse pop culture company, from Marvel #1 in 1939 to Avengers #6 in 2018. The eye-popping artwork is accompanied by smart commentary from industry trailblazers and experts, which makes it as informative as it is entertaining. Just remember to say “Pow!” when you gift it.

Buy Them: Amazon

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