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Andy Kaufman: Indescribable

Published: 1/17/2014
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Andy Kaufman (AP Photo)

Entertainer Andy Kaufman – he preferred not to be called a comedian – was a familiar face on TV: a regular on the sitcom Taxi who also appeared several times on Saturday Night Live. But his career was hardly mainstream. He told jokes without punch lines, performed acts without jokes, and elicited anger and boredom from audiences as often as laughter. He got on stage and read from The Great Gatsby; he launched a professional wrestling career; he took an entire audience out for milk and cookies.

It's said that Elvis Presley praised Kaufman's Elvis impersonation as his personal favorite, and Kaufman has been hailed as a genius by fans and colleagues. Many were introduced or reintroduced to his career by the 1999 movie Man on the Moon, which starred Jim Carrey as Kaufman. Just last year, a posthumous comedy album was released, and a new rumor that he was still alive was quickly quashed as a hoax.

Rumors aside, Kaufman died of cancer in 1984 at just 35. Today, on what would have been his 65th birthday, we look at some of Kaufman's own words to get a better idea of this truly enigmatic entertainer:

"While all the other kids were out playing ball and stuff, I used to stay in my room and imagine that there was a camera in the wall. And I used to really believe that I was putting on a television show and that it was going out to somewhere in the world."

"When I was 7, I believed Howdy Doody was in a little world inside that glowing box. I was hypnotized and I wanted to go away, to be with him in there."

"When I perform, it's very personal. I'm sharing things I like, inviting the audience into my room."

"I just want real reactions. I want people to laugh from the gut, be sad from the gut, or get angry from the gut."

"Whenever I play a role, whether it’s good or bad, an evil person or nice person, I believe in being a purist and going all the way with the role. If I’m going to be a villainous wrestler, I believe in going all the way with it and not breaking character and not giving away to the audience that I’m playing a role. I believe in playing it straight to the hilt."

"What's real? What's not? That's what I do in my act, test how other people deal with reality."

"I am not a comic, I have never told a joke. I don't even watch comedians. The comedian's promise is that he will go out there and make you laugh with him. I've never done that in my life. My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can."

"There's no way to describe what I do. It's just me."

Written by Chuck Falzone

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