Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman was born on January 17th, 1949. In his time, Andy was a wildly popular comedian, even though he reportedly hated the word. He didn’t tell jokes, as stand-up comics had typically done before he surfaced. Andy’s whole act was performance art. It all relied on the characters that Andy played, and he would stick to them with absolute dedication. A shining example of this would be Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, but Andy also did more for the sport of professional wrestling than most men can say. He brought it into the mainstream, live on late night television.
It started when Andy Kaufman declared himself the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World, wrestling women from the audiences of his act. This is in comedy clubs and late shows, and the women were plants. He tried to bring this part of his act to Vince McMahon Senior, but the elder McMahon didn’t want showbiz anywhere near his society of professional wrestling. Thanks to wrestling photographer/reporter Bill Apter, Kaufman got in touch with Jerry The King Lawler. They developed a friendship and began to work a feud that would elevate both of their careers to the stuff of legend.
The feud began when Andy showed up down South and kept pushing his “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World” gimmick. Jerry The King Lawler, always over in Memphis, quickly grew tired of Kaufman and challenged him to a match. The Mouth Of The South Jimmy Hart was often in Kaufman’s corner, along with the other heels working the South at the time. Their feud saw Andy sustain a broken neck during a match, due to Lawler’s pile driver. The injury was legitimate, but exaggerated for effect.
The defining moment of the Kaufman/Lawler feud came in their guest appearance on David Letterman. This television appearance has done more for professional wrestling alone than most men will ever be able to say. It is the single greatest jump in audience that the sport has ever seen. It went from the hundreds they could try packing into the stuffy gymnasiums they worked out of, to millions on national television. Every single one of those millions fell for Andy and Jerry’s bit.
The commitment to character shown in this segment is incredible. Andy explodes, picking upon little moments from Lawler to use as fuel for his better than you Hollywood dickhead character. He was doing such great things to get heat during this period, like sending videos down to Memphis of him explaining how to use soap for the “rednecks” in “the nation’s redneck capitol.” He was good at being a dickhead.
It helped that Letterman had no idea they were going to pull something. He thought he was getting a legitimate interview between two guys who hate each other. Instead, what he got was pushed aside for a bit while two guys hijacked his spotlight and fascinated millions.