The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 120,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)
When it comes to comedy today, audiences are kind of spoiled. With podcasts, cable channels, video sites, and every other vehicle for media out there, you can cater your content to whatever your specific niche is. You like redneck jokes? Try out Larry the Cable Guy's Twitter feed. Prefer smart short films? Above Average is right over here. You like film analysis with a smattering of anti-comedy? Tim Heidecker has a podcast for you. Back in the days of only three TV networks, I hope you liked Bob Hope specials and whoever Johnny had on that night.
That's why Andy Kaufman is so interesting to me. The fact that this man was allowed to coexist in this world and managed to find his audience is so amazing. I'm not taking anything away from him when I say this; he was incredibly talented and had such a profoundly unique voice. But the odds against him succeeding, let alone landing a major role on the hot sitcom Taxi, doing a bunch of bits on the seminal years of Saturday Night Live, or getting his own 90 minute special on ABC, the focus of today's article, must have been infinitesimal.
The Andy Kaufman Special was taped in 1977 but didn't air until August 28, 1979 and takes the viewer into a world that is purely Andy's. It serves as a bit of a greatest hits, compiling many of his classic pieces into one arena, but also veers off into its own unique animal. The show opens with Andy as his Foreign Man character, speaking directly to the audience about how this special came to be in his heavily accented, broken English. "ABC gave me $50,000 to make a special. I was supposed to hire writers and guests, but I was so lazy. I did not do it. I went on vacation and now I don't have any money left. Just for this camera and this chair. …So we will just sit here like this for 90 minutes." Andy sits there nervously for a long beat and insists that this is true. There won't be any special tonight. He waits a little bit longer and then leans in a bit, confiding with the camera. "Now that we have lost the audience and only my friends are watching, I would like to show my special." And just like that, we've entered the world of Andy Kaufman. READ MORE