Tony Danza, on remembering Andy Kaufman
This year's edition of The Andy Kaufman Award finals featured a special appearance by Tony Danza, who co-starred with Kaufman on the sitcom Taxi in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Before the finalists competed in front of a live audience at Gotham Comedy Club on Nov. 12, 2012, Danza offered a few words in remembrance of the late comedian whose name adorns the award for which they competed.
Here is what Tony Danza had to say about Andy Kaufman:
"When people ask me, 'What was Andy like?' And it happens all the time. I mean. What was he really like? I always tell them that he would be glad, he would be very happy to hear that you would ask that question, because Andy really wanted you to wonder. He really just wanted you to be puzzled, and wonder.
Of course, when I first met him, you know, it took me some time to realize that. You know. When I first got to meet Andy on the set of Taxi, in 1978, he was odd. He was -- you know, I was brand new to Hollywood from Brooklyn, you know -- and Andy was the kind of kid that my friends and I usually beat up in our neighborhood. So from the beginning, you know, he set himself apart from the rest of us at Taxi. You know. He didn't rehearse. He never rehearsed. You know. When he did come to rehearsal, he was always late. And, by the way, when his alter-ego,Tony Clifton, did the show -- he constantly wanted to rehearse and he was always early. He was a real pain in the ass. But anyway. The rest of us were really like a team. You know. We really worked on the week's show, every week, trying to wring every last bit of humor out of the 50 pages that we had, and Andy would be meditating in his car in the parking lot. He was always having strange food delivered to the stage. Like, that's the first time I ever saw seaweed delivered. I mean, he was ahead of his time with organic food. And most people don't know this, you know, during the making of Taxi, we had an actor play Andy the whole week. During rehearsals, there was an actor who did an impression of Andy doing Latka. And we got to work with him so we could work out the bits, because we rarely got to work with Andy -- except the two times a week he came. He came for the run-through on Tuesday, and he came for the show on Friday. And, interestingly, when they made the gag reels at the end of the year, where they showed off the many mistakes we all made, he was very rarely in them, because in spite of no rehearsal, he very rarely made a mistake. He was like a machine.
But even so, I couldn't take it. And I wanted to confront him about this behavior. I resented the behavior, and I said, 'We're a team and you're out meditating in your car. What's your problem? Get with the team!' So one day I had a brilliant idea. You know. He was coming to rehearsal, I heard he was coming to rehearsal, and he was late, and when he got there, I took the fire extinguisher off the wall, and it had a hose, a big silver thing, it had a hose, and it shot like a heavy stream of mostly water -- I don't know what it was -- but mostly it was water. And I shot him. He walked in, and I just shot him. I just shot him. And I shot him. And I shot him. Waiting for some kind of reaction out of him. He just stood there. And I shot him. And he just stood there. The thing was empty. Then we looked at each other. I dropped the fire extinguisher, and walked away. So, then of course, Jim Brooks heard about it, the great producer. And he came down to my dressing room and he very sternly told me 'no soaking actors.'
I started to wake up, I think, when I saw Andy's show. It was at the Huntington Hartford (Theatre), where he took the audience for milk and cookies after the show. The whole audience filed out of the theater, and we walked onto these waiting fleet of buses, and we went for milk and cookies. I think we went to The Spaghetti Factory, or something. Milk and cookies! And it was then I started to, you know, not only was he funny but he was very different from anything anyone else was doing. He was more performance artist than comic, you know. I think much of what we think of as funny today was pioneered by Andy. By my friend, Andy. And I mean it. We did become friends. I grew up a little. And he was better about the show. So we started to get together. Even a schmo like me from Brooklyn could see how great he was.
When he was, as his brother mentioned, when he was the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World. He asked me to referee a match. I got a close-up look at what he would do. It was unbelievable. The first thing he would do, he would work the audience -- and specifically the women in the audience -- into such a frenzy that they wanted to beat him so bad. But he would just be horrible. And the things he would say. And he'd get them crazy. Then he'd pick somebody. He would make them vie for it -- "No, I want to fight him! No, I want to fight him!" -- then he'd pick the one that was the most manic and he would get her onstage. Now here's the thing. He'd make her wait. He'd make her nuts. Needle her. Just make her crazy, so she wanted to kill him. And, he wasn't a great athlete by any means, but he was much better than he looked! So what he would do is, he would get the girl. He would start wrestling the girl. He would make her think physically that she had a chance to win -- so that she would go all-out because she was going to beat Andy Kaufman -- and then he would crush her. Andy would just totally destroy her. Then he'd get up and strut around. He'd stomp on her! Then he'd walk around and say, 'Take off your shoes, get in the kitchen, and get pregnant.' That's what he'd say.
You know in the movie, in the movie about Andy, the Man on the Moon. There's that famous scene, where Andy as Tony Clifton is fired from Taxi and dragged off by the security guards from Paramount. It's one of the great days...the end of a crazy week. And, by the way, I don't know if you know this, but we were scorn, the cast -- Judd Hirsch! Danny DeVito! all of the actors -- heavy people, sworn to say he's not Andy. He's Tony. We have to go along with this. This is part of our job. So we can't even. By the way, it wasn't easy. Because Clifton was an asshole. Oh, he was a pain in the ass. I mean, he really was. So. But the day of that incident, what happened was, I was ready for run-through, I was sitting around, what happened was they had -- we had gone to the producers and said we can't do it. Because we had Andy playing Tony playing Nick. We had Andy, playing Tony, playing Louie's brother Nick. And it was just one character too many! C'mon! So, it just didn't work. It was just ridiculous. Taxi was something that was very important to all of us, obviously, and so we went to the producers and said, you know, this isn't working. And Ed. Weinberger, who was a tough guy, a really tough guy. Ed. Weinberger, said, 'OK.' All right. Evidently. Now I didn't know this at the time. But evidently, he went to Andy and he said, 'Andy, or Tony, I have to fire you. I've got to let you go. This is not good for the show, to go on.' And Andy, Andy loved the show. And he was not going to do it. But he could not resist the chance to do something with that. So evidently he told Ed that you can fire me, but you have to do it in front of everybody. So the next day, that next day they hired another actor, Richie Foronjy, he was playing the part. And it was going great. We were going great. It was fun. Taxi was such an incredible time, I'm in my 20s, we're all having this unbelievable time on the best show on TV, and so, what happened was, though. That day, I had a little jag where I thought I was going to be Steven Spielberg. I was running around with a Super 8 camera. And that day I happened to have it with me. What happened was, I was standing away for the run-through, as I always did, and all of a sudden, the bleachers started to fill up. And I thought, why would the bleachers fill up? Nobody comes in to watch our run-through. And then you saw important people from Paramount and ABC, and all of these people started showing up. I thought, holy shit. I got the word that there was something up. So I told the lighting guy, Kenny. I said, 'Kenny, raise the lights, in case I want to shoot anything here,' you know. So what happened was, we were doing the run-through, and then all of a sudden, in through the back door came Andy. Andy with these two -- these two giant women, uh, cultures. It was just unmistakably, with both of them giants! By the way, he comes in with, he's wearing orange broquet. He comes in, they're carrying boxes, these little square boxes, and he handed them out to all of us. And oh, by the way, we were in the middle of the run-through. He comes in through the back door with the two girls and goes, 'All right! I'm here! Ready to go!' And he sat down at the end. The boxes were these little dogs, you know the little dogs with the remote control and the wire, you push one button and it talks, you push another button and they pop up and it jumps over? So picture this. On this set, there's all these dogs barking and jumping over, and he walks in and sits down at the table. Remember, Taxi had that table in the middle of the garage. He sits down, he puts the two girls in his lap, he says, 'I rewrote the show. And in my version, these two girls sit on my lap and I do everything from right here as I sit here and play Louie's brother.' So Ed. walks over, and he says to him, 'Andy, I've got to fire you.' I mean, 'Tony, I've got to fire you.' Then, that started the thing. It was a large number of barking, flipping dogs. And then a wrestling match, with Andy as Tony in orange broquet, and Judd, and Ed. Weinberger. A wrestling match. A serious wrestling match. The craziest thing you ever saw. So I filmed the whole thing! I just happened to have my camera. So I shot it.
The next week, I had it developed. The next week we were off. Because when you do a sitcom, you do three weeks on, one week off, three weeks on, give the writers a chance to keep up. So the next week we were off. The following week, we come back and Andy's back as Latka. As Andy. Alright. He's back as Andy. You think it's hard for you to follow?! Anyway, so, I, he wasn't there, but I got everybody in my dressing room. We had these little cubicles above the stage, on Stage 25, these little tiny cubicles. And I got a projector, and I'm shooting this film on the wall, and everybody's there. We're all on top of one another, everyone's in there, the cast, the crew, some of the producers, everybody's in there. And we're watching it. And just as this fight is starting to break out, the door opens up and out the door, Andy walks in. It was like the air was sucked out of the room. We're all standing there. And we watched him -- I watched him -- watch the film. And then the film ran out. It just ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch. You know that thing, because it was on film? So I reached in, and I turned the film off. And we stood there for a second and Andy went just like this, he shrugged and went, 'Geez. What an asshole!'
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm glad to be here tonight. I'm sorry Andy isn't. I'm sorry he isn't. You know, I saw him in the hospital. By accident. I happened to be in the hospital at the same time and I saw Andy, and I knew he was sick. So, seeing that film tonight and being here is -- and actually just sitting down and thinking about it -- is really something that's really pleasurable and something that I treasure. So, thank you all for being here. And Michael (Kaufman), thank you for having me."