The comedian Andy Kaufman is a topic of conversation that never seems to get old, and people never seem to get tired of hearing about him. Even 25 years after his death, most of the mainstream still know exactly who he is. Maybe they know him from the show Taxi, or from Saturday Night Live, or perhaps just from Jim Carrey's biopic movie Man on the Moon. Whatever memory of Kaufman stands out to each person, they still remember him. He was one of the greatest performance artists of all time, preferring that title to comedian since he didn't exactly perform jokes.
For example, his appearance on Saturday Night Live when he performed in "Foreign Man" skit, a character he would reprise on Taxi as Latka, putting on an unknown accent. In a musical performance of sorts Kaufman would listen and bob to the Mighty Mouse theme and then lip sync energetically to the line "Here I come to save the day!" It was rarely about telling jokes for Kaufman; it was all about the character, and the gotcha moment when the audience realized he was kidding with them.
In the Foreword to Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!, Kaufman's friend Bob Zmuda talks about how the big woman wrestling stunt on Saturday Night Live began. In the story, Andy always liked watching two women wrestle, and he was a longtime fan of the WWE. His friends arranged for women to wrestle for him, and it sparked an idea for him to play a WWE 'heel' on Saturday Night Live. He wrestled a woman, beat her, and then said horribly sexist remarks. Then he challenged all the women watching the show to a wrestling match, promising if they beat him he would shave his head, give them $1,000 dollars, and even marry them. This was during a heavy feminist movement, so there were women all over the world who were infuriated by Kaufman's performance. Some knew it was a joke, but many of them didn't.
Not long after, Kaufman started getting letters from women challenging him to battle. He kept them, and now years later the letters have been put together in a neat picture book for readers everywhere. The book Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts! includes various letters, including pictures and the original handwriting of the women, and they range from hilarious to bizarre to furious. Zmuda states that Kaufman would pick out the prettiest and show up in her home town to wrestle her. There do seem to be a great deal of lovely young women who want to prove Kaufman wrong, and even a few men as well that declare he's a coward for not challenging his own gender.
These letters are interesting, because I would think that most people would be able to recognize that Kaufman was playing a role, but some of the women seem completely convinced he was the sexist joke he appeared to be. Did they also think he was foreign like Latka and that old lady from his milk and cookies show died of a heart attack before he 'saved' her? Or are they all in on the joke, same as him? Still, he did seem to invoke and inspire a lot of emotion and response in the world, and Kaufman was the master at pulling giant pranks on the audience. This was just one of his most successful pieces of mischief. The colorful Dear Andy Kaufman is easy to read and endlessly entertaining since you never know what the next writer is going to say. It can sometimes be on the sad side, like when one woman wants to wrestle him since it'll be the closest she's been to a man all year, or the letter he receives from a man glad he said all those sexist things because he thinks Kaufman was right.
For fans of Andy Kaufman, Saturday Night Live, or anyone who has respect for great pranksters and comedic performances, this book is worth picking up. It is a glimpse, not really into Kaufman's own life, but rather into the life of the people who loved to hate him. Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts! comes out on December 1st, but it is available for pre-order now on Amazon.com. It could be a great holiday gift for someone you know who loves Kaufman. At 120 pages it is a little short, but it is something that can be read a few times over and still be amusing each time.