Comedian Andy Kaufman spent much of his professional career provoking audiences with his particular (and peculiar) brand of confrontational comedy, a skill that translated well into the world of professional wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s. His impact in that industry is now being acknowledged with a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.
According to Variety, Kaufman—who died in 1984 at age 35 after a brief battle with lung cancer—is set to be inducted into the promotion’s 2023 class of wrestling notables on March 31, the night before WrestleMania 39.
Though he never actually wrestled for WWE (then WWF), Kaufman cut a memorable figure in the business. Making frequent appearances in and around the Memphis wrestling circuit, the actor claimed to be able to outwrestle any woman who challenged him. In interviews, Kaufman would boast of his credentials (“I’m from Hollywood!”) and offered chauvinistic jokes that would incite wrestling crowds against him. (Women, he said, “belonged in the kitchen.”)
Eventually, he entered into a rivalry with Memphis-based wrestler Jerry Lawler. When the two met in the ring, Lawler demolished Kaufman, who feigned being seriously injured. It was convincing enough that The New York Times reported in earnest on his convalescence, writing that “hospital officials listed him in good condition.”
In their most memorable spot, Lawler slapped Kaufman during an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman in 1982. Kaufman insisted he would sue NBC for $200 million and turn it into an all-wrestling network.
Though bizarre, the wrestling stint was on brand for Kaufman, who relied less on conventional jokes and more on creating awkward situations for audiences. On stage, he would read from The Great Gatsby and scold anyone who complained. Other times, he might do his laundry or nap in a sleeping bag. On Saturday Night Live, he lip-synced the theme from Mighty Mouse. In 1982, Kaufman was “voted off” the show when producers invited viewers to call in their preference on whether he should appear again. (He never did.)
The 2023 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony will stream on Peacock at 10:30 EST on March 31.