Kaufman wrestling Deborah Croce on the Staten Island Ferry. Photo: Bob Mantin
As as true of Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman’s most noteworthy live appearance occurred at Carnegie Hall. The date of the gig was April 26, 1979, and the show could fairly be described as the most complete summation of Kaufman’s career. He ended the evening by taken many dozens of the audience members out for milk and cookies and continued the “performance” the next day on the Staten Island Ferry, treating the random stragglers who showed up to ice cream cones.
The show was filmed and released as a VHS cassette at some point, and now we’ve got a pretty decent upload on YouTube. I won’t reveal any of the gags here—you can see those for yourself—but will supply a few observations.
The show opens with Tony Clifton singing the National Anthem (badly) and then regaling the audience with a few observations and another song until he is forcibly removed from the stage. We’ve all had two solid years of observing Donald Trump in excruciating detail; I don’t think Trump’s similarities to Tony Clifton have been emphasized enough.
The opening act is the Love Family, a cloyingly sweet family who sings “The Age of Aquarius.” Kaufman apparently encountered them at Venice Beach in L.A. The choice of opener shows the tougher side of Kaufman’s humor—it seems that the Love family members were genuinely crushed when the audience started showing its displeasure with the act. According to Gregg Sutton, a friend of Kaufman’s, “For the first time in history, the audience wanted more Clifton!” (Crushed or no, they gamely rejoined Kaufman at the end of the show for a second round of bows.)
Robin Williams, who participated in the show, captured something essential about Kaufman’s milk and cookies stunt when he called it “P.T. Barnum meets Jung”:
“People who were heavily into hardcore drugs were going, ‘Oh, this is nice!’ This wasn’t party till you puke—this was milk and cookies! It was Howdy Buddha time.”
Continues after the jump…