Andy Kaufman’s Magical Moment

And a few others from my misspent youth.

So, Andy Kaufman might still be alive, eh? I don’t know whether I would like to see him at age 64 or not. Maybe it is better to think of him as having died at the same age as Mozart.

I was watching Saturday Night Live when he first performed the Mighty Mouse bit. The feeling that I experienced is difficult to describe. The only thing that comes to mind is the words of Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man: “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is.”

The same could be said of his stint as self-proclaimed Intergender Wrestling Champion. The best jokes, in my opinion, are also the longest. This one, which went on for months, culminated in his feud in Memphis, TN, of all places with Jerry “the King” Lawler. Incidentally, the King, who had a heart attack this year, promptly responded to the dubious news of Andy’s return by challenging him to a rematch at the next Wrestlemania.

The only other joke of this nature that I can remember was Pat Paulsen’s presidential campaign. Every week on the Smothers Comedy Brothers Hour a film clip would be shown in which the candidate got off the plane in a new city and held a press conference. He always began the event the same way: “Gee, it’s great to be in _______, where there are real people, not like those phonies in Los Angeles.” In the very last episode he landed at LAX and heartily proclaimed: “Gee it’s great to be back in Los Angeles, where there are real people, not like those phonies in the rest of the country.” It was only funny if you had seen all of the other shows.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus had the same appeal. The Spanish Inquisition sketch was so outrageous that it made you wonder if you had actually seen what you remembered. When the cardinals showed up unexpectedly in subsequent episodes, it was not funny in the way that people were used to. It was new and special for us who were there at the creation, or at least the first viewings in the U.S. If you recognized that Cardinal Fang (Fang?) was, in fact, Terry Gilliam, so much the better.

It was probably just the fact that I was young that made moments like these seem so magical. There were other examples, too. My reaction to The House of the Rising Sun, Highway 61 Revisited, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Cheap Thrills, and the White Album was similar. Watching the movies Z, Midnight Cowboy, and Blow-up also had a strong effect on my psyche. It wasn’t that I just enjoyed them. I felt a strong bond to something unique that seemed to be transforming the culture.

I was wrong, I guess. They were just comedy bits, pop songs, and films. They certainly did not change the world. Even so, what a great feeling they engendered! Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young.