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Posts Tagged ‘Andy Kaufman’

R-rated heat in Nashville

November 12th, 2010 4 comments

Tonight marks the end of an era: TNA Wrestling is presenting what appears to be the last pro wrestling card ever held at the Nashville Fairgrounds, which will most likely be torn down next year.

Y’know, I’ve always snickered a bit when I see stars such as Robin Williams discuss Andy Kaufman’s foray into professional wrestling as if it was the death-knell to an otherwise brilliant career. (Like Mork & Mindy was such high-brow entertainment.) Even the more-fictional-than-factual bio-pic “Man on the Moon,” which, for the most part, wanted to portray Kaufman as a genius far ahead of his time, more or less portrayed wrestling as a blemish that would forever tarnish his legacy.

I believe Andy loved the business because it was the rare art form in which a performer could actually incite his audience to riot—or at the very least, throw a beer on him.

By the time I turned heel in Memphis in 1994, kayfabe was as dead as Tommy Rich’s career, and attendance was on life support. After attending Monday night wrestling to near-packed houses at the Coliseum in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was a little sad to work in front of the usual 1,200 fans at the 11,300-plus seat Mid-South Coliseum, where heat in the mid-’90 was getting as hard to find as woman in the front row wearing a bra. Most of the fans who were still attending matches at the Coliseum at that point appeared to be there merely at out of habit. I’m not even sure some of them could explain why they were at all.

Nashville, fans, however, were a throwback to kayfabe days gone by, with the fans living and dying with the boys. For those fans of old reading this, think Mid-South’s Irish McNeil Boy’s Club or World Class Wrestling’s Sportatorium, packed with fans vociferous as ever …in 1996.

One hot night in Nashville, in particular, stands out. And, yes, it was really was hot that evening at the Fairgrounds. Try no air-conditioning, in an unbearably humid June, in a small flea-market-style building (the “Sports Arena”–ha, ha, ha) packed with about 1,000 rabid fans, most of whom didn’t pay attention to Kaufman’s heat-generating hygiene-tip promos years back. Yeah, we’re talking heat in every sense of the word.

Some of these Nashville fans bothered me—I mean that in the sense that I was genuinely concerned for all of humanity. There’s nothing more unnerving than seeing a grown woman wearing an undersized Jerry Lawler T-shirt cursing at me with reckless abandon…all while holding her 5-year-old, who was already trying to perfect the art of flipping the bird—a prodigy to be sure. I used to bait this woman all the time with comments like, “Oh, congratulations, you’re the mother of the year” and “I weep for the future.” Still, I loved performing in front of these Nashville rednecks.

The scene: a losers-leave-town match between PG-13 and my tag-team of Rich and Doug Gilbert. I vowed in a pre-bout promo that “for once, one of Randy Hales’s matches was actually going to live up to the billing. Because the two biggest losers I’ve ever met (a bit of a shoot)—J.C. Ice and Wolfie D—are leaving.” Of course, I was careful not to say “Monday night” or “Memphis” during my diatribe. While that interview aired live on Saturday morning in Memphis to promote the card two days later at the Mid-South Coliseum, it would also air in Nashville and Louisville the following week, as if I were referring to the upcoming bout at the Fairgrounds or Louisville Gardens. For years, in the days of weaker TV signals and before cable, the Memphis promotion regularly got away with changing the area’s titles around the horn without very little threat of breaking kayfabe.

For example, Dundee would drop the Southern title to Lawler on Monday night in Memphis, and then walk to the ring still the champion on the following Saturday night in Nashville to lose the strap for a second time, and then again the following Tuesday in Louisville. That way, fans across the area always felt like they were in the thick of things. Of course, there was always the small contingent of arena rats who followed the boys from town to town, but then they could be talked into believing—and doing—anything.

I didn’t expect to tear the house down in Nashville with pretty much the same bout we’d run in front of the Memphis zombies about a week before. Probably because I found it hard to believe that anyone would even remotely care that PG-13 might be leaving town.

The spots in the bout are the same, with heel-manager Scott Bowden (that bastard) interfering constantly behind the broad back of referee Frank Morrell (who was so bad in his role he made Bronco Lubich look like Tommy Young), and, in the end, costing the babyfaces the match by nailing one of the white-trash rapsters with a fire extinguisher.

When the crowd nearly riots, it suddenly occurs to me that there are only a total of two security guards and they’re both former undercard rasslers, which means the fans have zero respect for them. I’m standing in the ring, simultaneously relishing and hating this potentially life-threatening situation when I see a guy flick a switchblade and smile in my direction. We’re not in Germantown anymore. Somehow I make it back to the dressing room with all extremities—and Cole Haan loafers—intact.

Months before this match, I was reading a Pro Wrestling Torch Talk with Cornette, who recalled his days as a manager in the wild Mid-South territory. Laughing, I repeated some of his accounts aloud to my girlfriend at the time. She listened to how Cornette was attacked several times, before finally asking me: “You so wish you were doing this back then, don’t you?” Whimsically, I replied, “Yeeeeahhhh….”

For one night in Nashville, I think I fully grasped what Jimmy Hart and Cornette experienced years before me on a weekly basis. And equally as important, I understood why Kaufman considered rasslin’ the greatest form of entertainment.

On this day in wrestling history: Andy Kaufman passes away

May 16th, 2010 1 comment

Controversial comedian–and professional wrestling’s Intergender champion–Andy Kaufman passed away from lung cancer on this day in 1984. Less than two years removed from his memorable performance with Jerry Lawler on the David Letterman show, most of the “Late Night” staff assumed it was a put-on and that Kaufman alter-ego Tony Clifton would be delivering the eulogy at the funeral.
Because Andy was so private, many mourners did not see him as his condition worsened in his final days, leaving many to discreetly poke his lifeless body in the casket at his funeral on May 18. Even some of his closest friends were holding out hope that this was simply his most twisted comic switch to date and that Andy would pop up and break into song and dance. Sadly, it wasn’t a gag.

Those who had spent Thanksgiving with him months before knew just how serious it was when he repeatedly coughed and hacked during dinner. I was only 12 at the time, but I can recall thinking that Andy didn’t look good during one of his final Memphis wrestling TV appearances on the “Jerry Lawler Show” on November 20, 1983. A few weeks later, a doctor informed Kaufman that he had lung cancer, despite the fact that he had never smoked.

Because it was the kayfabe era, when wrestlers stayed in character at all times, Lawler never let on for one second that the hatred between the two was anything but real when besieged with interview requests following his death–besides, that’s the way Andy would have wanted it. (Although Eddie Gilbert claimed that Lawler’s piledrivers likely caused Kaufman’s cancer, a recent study at UCLA confirmed that there is no correlation between the potentially lethal hold and the deadly disease.)

Although Andy confessed to Letterman months later that the Lawler slapping incident was prearranged, he largely kept the secret about his adventures in pro wrestling. Letterman told GQ in 1985 that he was scared to death during the Andy/Lawler segment, thinking the studio crowd was going to riot after the King smacked the “Taxi” star out of his chair.

Even Andy’s parents continued to despise Lawler for years until the King was able to share with them the details of their epic showdown.Honoring Andy’s request, legendary wrestler/manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie joined his family in the pew during the service. Never at a loss for words, Blassie was so distraught that he couldn’t bring himself to speak with reporters afterward.

National Enquirer account of Andy's bizarre healing methods.

Rumor has it that near the end, Kaufman slept with his eyes open, hoping that it would prevent the inevitable–when the nurse tried to close them after he passed, they actually opened again. Close friend Elayne Boosler wrote in the November 1984 edition of Esquire that she was reminded of a critic’s review of Andy years earlier: “This guy doesn’t know when to get off.”

He stepped off much too soon.

Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
See you in heaven if you make the list. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Hey Andy, did you hear about this one? Tell me, are you locked in the punch?
Hey Andy, are you goofing on Elvis? Hey baby, are we losing touch?

For more details on Andy’s Memphis rasslin’ performances, click Jerry Lawler vs. Andy Kaufman.

He’s from Hollywood

December 11th, 2009 1 comment
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Head start: Lawler offered Kaufman a free headlock, and the comedian obliged.

On Nov. 23, 1981, 10-year-old Scott Bowden sat in the ringside area at the Mid-South Coliseum as “TV star”  Andy Kaufman entered the ring and proceeded to insult women–and the South in general–before preparing to do battle with four ladies (and I use that term loosely) selected from the audience. Kaufman had upped the ante from his previous appearance on Oct. 12 in Memphis, in which he retained his $500 after pinning four women in under 12 minutes. This time, in addition to putting up $1,000 of his Hollywood cash, Kaufman offered to not only shave his head if he lost but also marry the woman who was lucky enough to pin his shoulders to the mat.

My dad and I were huge fans of the show “Taxi,” and Kaufman’s lovable Latka Gravis character was easily my favorite on the show. However, the Kaufman in the ring this night was the antithesis of Latka, with the Hollywood celebrity mocking all 5,392 of us Memphis rednecks in attendance.  I didn’t know what to make of this at first, but in no time at all, I hated his guts. Looking back on it now, Kaufman was fortunate to have landed in Memphis after Andy’s proposal to wrestle women in Madison Square Garden was rejected by Vince McMahon Sr. Yes, he got heat nationwide with his challenges to women on “Saturday Night Live” and his variety show, but the explosion he ignited in the South was his greatest feat in the business, in part due to a videotaped series of ”hygiene tips” that WMC-TV received numerous complaints over. (“This…is a roll of toilet paper!”)

By the time the first woman entered the ring to lock horns with the Inter-Gender Champion of the World, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy hoping to see Kaufman humiliated. He struggled with the first woman before quickly pinning the next two. The “bouts” mainly consisted of Kaufman and his female challengers rolling all over the mat, with the star mainly grabbing headlocks and locks of hair before eventually overpowering them. A black woman, introduced only as “Foxy,” was the final challenger. By this point, blown up worse than Kevin Nash on his worst day (hard to pinpoint that one, really), Kaufman still nearly managed to pin Memphis’ answer to Pam Grier when the time limit expired. Kaufman proceeded to push her around after the match until the staunch advocate of feminism himself, Jerry Lawler, came to ringside and asked Andy to give her three more minutes, which he declined. As you can imagine, little Scotty Bowden was going berserk at this point.

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In fall 2007, when Lawler introduced the documentary “I’m from Hollywood” at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, I discussed those inter-gender bouts for the first time with him. Lawler told me that all four ladies were indeed chosen at random from the audience that night after Andy assured Jerry Jarrett that he could handle himself in the ring. Lawler admitted that he was worried a bit that Kaufman was going to get his ass kicked. After seeing how well Kaufman got over, the promotion asked him return to face Foxy in a rematch, this time with the finish predetermined, with Lawler in her corner. The ending to that bout, with Lawler shoving Kaufman, was designed set up the eventual showdown between the King and the comedian on April 5, 1982.

When it comes to annoying women, Andy wrote the book.

When it comes to annoying women, Andy Kaufman wrote the book.

A new book, “Dear  Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!” is a collection of  actual letters written by would-be adversaries, along with their photos, and in some cases, bizarre illustrations. This coffee-table-style book illustrates just how well Andy excelled in his heel role. Kaufman received a wave of impassioned challenges, threats and even love letters from hundreds of women. (Some women appeared to in on the joke, others not so much.) The letters in “Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!” provide a bizarre take on both ’70s culture in general and post-feminist attitudes of the decade. Kaufman’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Lynne Margulies, helped put together the collection and wrote the foreword. Bob Zmuda, longtime friend and partner in crime, wrote the foreword. You can order it from amazon.com  by clicking the link below. Also, DVDs are available featuring the entire Lawler vs. Kaufman feud, which are definitely worth ordering if you’ve never seen complete feud.