Lost in time: the fading fame of Andy Kaufman

Fame is a weird thing. I was talking to some (highly educated) writers in their early 30s when I discovered none of them had ever HEARD of Crosby, Stills & Nash. I was stunned. How is that possible? 

Well, fame is fleeting, obviously. Bob Hope was one of the most famous people in the world for decades but to our grandkids he'll just be a street in Palm Springs. Elliot Gould was in M*A*S*H and Ocean's 11 and a million movies in between. He was married to Barbra Streisand. A major movie star in the '70s. But if he'll be remembered at all it'll be for his 20 appearances as Monica and Ross's father Jack Geller on Friends. Fame is weird.

That's why this little appreciation piece about Andy Kaufman caught my eye. The headline says it all: "The Legendary Controversial Comedian Being Forgotten By Younger Generations"

I used to love Andy Kaufman. As a teenager, he appealed to my nascent sense that weird was good, that unconventional was the height of cool. Everyone I knew loved him — and if you didn't, you didn't advertise it. His act was somewhere between comedy and performance art, at the intersection of comedy and making fun of comedy. 

The key to Kaufman's genius was challenging conventional notions of what constitutes entertainment.

He was one of the first "to blur the line between performance and reality."

While Andy Kaufman was super entertaining, his unconventional approach to comedy sometimes left audiences unsure whether his performances were genuine or part of an elaborate act. 

For those too young to remember him and for those old enough to love him, here's a couple of early clips of Andy that really made my teenage self laugh.

Here he is on the first season of SNL.

And here he is doing my favorite — his Mighty Mouse bit

He died from cancer almost 40 years ago, just 35 years old. And now he's almost completely forgotten by Millennials and Gen Z'ers. And that's a shame. He was a true original.

See also: Orson Welles interviews Andy Kaufman (1982)