Kaufman on Kaufman: An Interview with Andy’s Brother Michael
When I was a kid I used to love Taxi. It had been cancelled for a number of years by the time I got into it, but I watched the syndicated episodes whenever they came on Nick at Nite. Thinking back on it now, most of the characters—even the ones who went on to be megastars—are blurry and ill-defined in my memory. Andy Kaufman’s portrayal of the bizarre immigrant cab mechanic Latka, however, is crystal clear. That’s not surprising. As with everything Kaufman did, Latka was memorable because he was so damn unique. He was miles away from any other character on television—on Taxi, he sometimes seemed to be on a different, more surreal show—and Kaufman was just as far away from any other human in real life. Whether he was standing alone on stage nervously playing the Mighty Mouse theme song and lip-syncing only the chorus, orwrestling women and declaring himself the World Intergender Wrestling Champion, or fucking with Letterman decades before Joaquin Phoenix, he was one of a kind, which is why he is still so widely respected today. Oh, and he was also Elvis’s favorite Elvis impersonator.
On Saturday, an exhibition presented by Jonathan Berger, titled On Creating Reality, opens at Maccarone gallery in the West Village. The show will feature a boatload of Andy’s personal effects, as well as a rotating cast of his close friends and family members, at least one of whom will be at the gallery at all times. These people—who are part of the exhibition themselves—will be available to chat with visitors and offer a unique look into the life of one of contemporary culture’s most enigmatic figures. In preparation of the show, and because I am a gigantic Kaufman fanboy, I called up Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother, to talk about the show and his brother’s life.
VICE: Hi, Michael. I just wanted to ask a little bit about the show. Do you know what sort of artifacts are going to be there? Michael Kaufman:I know some of them. His most recognized Elvis jacket will be there, as well as his famous pink Foreign Man jacket that he would take off to become Elvis, and also the mock shirt he tore away. Andy was an author and we published three books for him after he died. Not only will the books be there—that’s not a big deal—but you’ll be able to see handwriting of Andy’s. The World Intergender Wrestling Belt will be there. His 11th grade report card, which has a lot of red on it.
How did he do? One of his 11th grade teachers said to my mother, “The only reason I’m passing your son is I don’t want to take a gamble at having him in my class again next year.” Also in the collection is a wonderful series of communications where Andy went to visit a girl who was dying. She was a fan of his, and when his plane was delayed in Chicago on its way to Washington, he drove out to Demotte, Indiana, to visit her. Word got out at the hospital and Andy wrestled three people. I have pictures. They were supposedly nurses and maybe one patient’s mother. It’s the only time he ever lost a match. He let them beat him. And then there’s a letter from the mother, thanking Andy for doing that. Seven weeks after his visit, she died. That whole correspondence will be there. Andy never told anyone about that. I only knew about it because I went through the stuff.
What was it like being Andy’s brother? Were there times when you saw a bit he was doing on TV and didn’t know if it was real or not? Yes. One time I told him not to let me know what was really going on, because when people asked me questions I didn’t want to lie to them.
Can you tell me about one of his gags that duped you? A couple of months after I told him not to tell me anything anymore, he was on the TV show Fridays.
Sadly, this past May, photographer Theo Ehret passed away at the ripe age of 92. For almost 20 years, Theo was the staff photographer at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, a massive concrete sports arena in downtown Los Angeles. During his tenure, Theo documented all of the mayhem of the boxing matches and the professional wrestling that went on inside the walls of the Olympic. While it is very sad that the world has lost Theo and his signature Rolleiflex camera, the man sure saw a lot of wild stuff in his lifetime.
A week from today, Geneva Sound Systems and 722 Figueroa will present The Grand Olympic: The Photography of Theo Ehret at the historic Kim Sing Theatre in Los Angeles. The show will feature much of Theo’s work from his time at the Olympic Auditorium, full of wrestling midgets and scantily clad women, as well as sports legends like Muhammad Ali and Andre the Giant. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it. If you’re not, check out the images above and contemplate a trip to sunny California.
JEANNE BASONE Professional Wrestler and Stuntwoman “Hollywood” of Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling
One morning in 1986, my mother came barging into the room I shared with my sister, insisting that we get in front of the television. “I think I found the greatest show on television,” she exclaimed. “It’s called theGorgeous Ladies of Wrestling!”
We crowded around a tiny television and within seconds we were cheering and picking out our favorites. I was 14 at the time and these women were the absolute coolest role models a teenager could ask for. Not only did they wear fantastic outfits while they smashed someone’s head against the turnbuckle, they put feminine stereotypes in a chokehold as well by celebrating the many facets of women using strength and humor. Growing up with a single mom in an all-female household, this was exactly what we needed.
At a Los Angeles screening a couple weeks ago of G.L.O.W. the Movie, a documentary about this wonderful anomaly of a show, my whole family showed up to see it. And because we grew up in the heart of Hollywood, I introduced myself to the wrestler who took the name of our hometown and showed the world that the name “Hollywood” isn’t only about glamour—it’s also about being tough.
VICE: How did you become a professional wrestler? Jeanne Basone: I was working full-time at Burbank Medical while a bunch of my friends were doing extra work. When I heard how much fun they were having, I started to do a little bit of it as well and signed up with an agency called Atmosphere Casting. Through them I was told about an audition for a women’ssports show.
Luckily the audition was after work because my boss at the medical facility was not having it. He kept asking me, “Do you wanna be an actress or do you want a real job?” When I arrived a ton of women were there, but when David McLane informed the crowd that it was going to be a show about women’s wrestling, a bunch of them grabbed their stuff and took off. I thought, My goodness I don’t know anything about wrestling but I’ll try it. I had never been on camera before and it was my first audition ever. It was scary but I did it. Not long after the audition I got a call back.
Wait a second, G.L.O.W was your first audition? That’s incredible. Yes! And I didn’t call them back for two weeks because my boyfriend at the time thought it was stupid so I just let it go. Thankfully, my roommate, Rick, encouraged me to call them back. He said, “You never know, it could turn into something, and if it does you will regret that you listened to your boyfriend.”
I called back, and a week later I was down in Watts training in a ring with Mondo Guerrero.
Resistance Pro Wrestling is the latest adventure embarked upon by our favorite bald man from the 1990s, Billy Corgan. Acting as the creative director behind the scenes of Resistance Pro, Corgan is hoping to return wrestling to its halcyon days of the early 90s when it was still fake but more people seemed to give a shit. They held their first event the day after Thanksgiving, cunningly deciding to bill it as “Black Friday.” Below is a firsthand account of everything I tried to avoid when I was 12 years old.