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Home > People

WAWIBF... Andy Kaufman

14 May 2004

This Sunday evening there is a once-in-a-lifetime showbiz extravaganza at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip, Hollywood. The name of the show is 'Andy Kaufman - Dead or Alive?' begging the answer, he's dead. Of course he's dead. He died of lung cancer on May 16th, 1984. Or did he? Well, yes, he did. But apparently he told a number of close friends that he was merely faking his own death so that he could return in exactly 20 years' time. Or did he? Well, they say he did. Apparently he was under the impression that it would make him a legend. It would be, he reasoned, the perfect prank.

There are those who believe that the organizer of the evening, Kaufman's ex-collaborator Bob Zmuda, is merely milking the memory of Kaufman. He has, they snipe, made quite a career out of his dead friend. A year after Kaufman's 'death', Zmuda pulled himself out of a grief-fuelled career nosedive and organised a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The evening was called Tony Clifton Live - Clifton was the crass and offensive lounge singer alter ego of both Kaufman and Zmuda, although in public both maintained that Clifton was in fact a real and separate person.

Backed by various well-known comedians, Tony Clifton Live developed into America's annual Comic Relief event, which over the last two decades has raised more than $50m dollars for homeless charities.

But would Andy Kaufman - would anyone? - really allow the people who loved him to believe he was dead for 20 years? Most people wouldn't. But then most people wouldn't allow their loved ones to believe that they had just had their neck broken in a wrestling bout. Most people wouldn't institute a National College Sex Concert Tour or declare themselves Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion. But Kaufman wasn't most people. He was after all, more than just a little insane, and more than just a little bit of a twat. It was apparently part of what made him loveable - for those who loved him. And vice versa.

Whether Kaufman pulls the greatest and most futile prank in the history of futile prankage on Sunday night or not, the evening promises to be an interesting one. According to Zmuda's site, 'This is a non-televised event. No cameras or recording devices will be permitted. Tickets are non-transferable and photo I.D. is required. Audience members will not be allowed to enter or leave the theater during the last 30 minutes.' All that intrigue, plus of course, Tony Clifton, so whatever else happens, someone is sure to end up with a glass of water in the face. For, like Kaufman before him, Clifton is not so much interested in making people laugh, as in simply annoying them. But the question is, would it be more annoying if Andy Kaufman were dead or alive?

More Andy: http://www.laweekly.com/ink/04/24/features-shulman.php
More Tony: http://www.tonyclifton.net
More Bob: http://www.comicrelief.org

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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