Two gifted performers born on this day, Andy Kaufman in New York City (1949-1984) and Jim Carrey, in Ontario, Canada (1962-). Both are brilliant, off-center, and creative... avidly adored and disliked for their zaniness and ability to provoke real reactions, "from the gut."
Kaufman called himself a "performance artist," not "comic," and even disliked playing his popular character Latka Gravas on 1970s hit TV sitcom, Taxi. Whether imitating Elvis, lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme, or wrestling women, Kaufman blurred the lines of what is, and is not, fun to watch.
"What is real? What's not?" Kaufman once asked. "That's what I do in my act, test how other people deal with reality."
A controversy magnet, Kaufman began intergender wrestling matches and made fun of wresting fans. In 1982, rival wrestler Jerry Lawler slapped and toppled Kaufman during an interview on the David Letterman Show. As with all of Andy's best comedy put-ons, he never let the audience know if the action was real or staged.
"We had no better guest than Andy Kaufman in those days," Letterman explained. "You never knew what he was going to do other than that it was going to be strange and exciting."
But life is full of irony. When Andy Kaufman, 35, a health nut and nonsmoker, died of a rare form of lung cancer in 1984, many believed his death was his ultimate staged prank. Unfortunately, it was not.
"Andy was a person who opened his eyes in the morning and the circus began," explained Jim Carrey, who portrayed Kaufman in the film Man on the Moon (1999). For three months of film production, Carrey claimed he channeled Kaufman's spirit and lost himself in the character.
In becoming Kaufman, Carrey celebrated his genius and refused to try and explain him. "The triumph of his life is that he beat death. Because he can't be explained. Nobody knows if it's for real or not. In that way he's immortal."
"Tenk you veddy much."