Andy Kaufman's Funhouse
“When I was seven, 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.”
Born in 1949, Andy Kaufman was a quintessential product of the first TV generation. Though his career as a comic actor and performance artist lasted little more than a decade, he left a lasting impact on American entertainment by creating comedy that commented on itself—that challenged the very idea of what “funny” meant. Whether lip-syncing to the Mighty Mouse theme song, declaring himself “Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World,” or staging a multitude of highly volatile pranks, he thrived on confounding public expectations. As Robin Williams once put it, “Andy made himself the premise and the rest of the world was the punchline.”
The centerpiece of the series was Andy’s Funhouse, his first network special, from 1977 (but not aired until 1979). Kaufman’s creative partner, Bob Zmuda, and his manager, George Shapiro, helped me track down the original, unaired version. We timed the retrospective to coincide with the release of Man on the Moon (1999); associated events included a museum symposium involving Zmuda, Shapiro, Danny DeVito, and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; and a special airing of Andy's Funhouse on TV Land.