Dru Johnston on winning the 2014 Andy Kaufman Award

The 2014 Andy Kaufman Award competition may have lacked the hyperbolic histrionics of a year ago that spurred a nation to wonder if Kaufman not only had faked his death but also had another daughter, but Andy’s actual daughter (45-year-old Maria Bellu-Colonna) and sister attended this year’s festivities, along with Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother and producer of the annual celebration.

“Each year that I do this event, I am amazed by the talented young comedians and unique performers who were inspired by my brother and this year was no different. Every finalist was worthy of this award,” Michael Kaufman said.

After a spirited debate by the judges (disclosure: I was one of the four judges) Sunday night at the UCB East, only one finalist could win the 2014 Andy Kaufman Award: Dru Johnston, a head writer of The Chris Gethard Show and an improviser and sketch comedian at the UCB with Grandma’s Ashes and Bellevue.

Andy_Kaufman_Award_DruJohnston_TurkeyJohnston’s winning performance found him existing in a parallel universe where humans evolved not from monkeys, but from turkeys, as one Dr. Turkey (no relation), giving a lecture on creationism and alleging that humans, in fact, did not evolve from turkeys.

Harry Terjanian, last year’s Andy Kaufman Award winner, hosted and also served as a judge. Onstage, he riffed his way through the night. “I can do no wrong,” Terjanian said. “If I’m funny, I’m living up to Andy’s legacy. If I’m unfunny, you don’t get it and I’m above you, which also is upholding Andy’s legacy!”

The room was cold, but the audience was hot.

They were warmed up by several previous winners. Kristen Schaal employed Michael Kaufman for a bit she pre-taped from Hollywood. Marcus Monroe juggled juggling with jokes, and also came back out at the end of the night for a two-man juggling routine with T.J. Miller. And Nick Vatterott’s director’s commentary routine was so on point that I was only half-joking when I suggested we name Vatterott the winner again. That’d show these kids.

But, as Michael Kaufman observed, all of the finalists had something to offer.

Killy Dwyer, in a silver gown, started things off by asking an audience member to sing her as-yet-unwritten intro. Lucy Cottrell handed out flowers to audience members in the first couple of rows and pledged to get more bouquets for everyone else, by January, as long as you email her your requests. Amir Gollan from Philadelphia delivered the funniest set of the night, if perhaps a bit too straightforwardly funny? Only in an Andy Kaufman contest can you get demerits for being clever without a catch. Unless you consider playing the accordion a catch. Pam Murphy tried thanking the audience for the award up front, in character as someone just starting a career in stand-up, but broke character to place a phone call to one of her exes — which prompted Terjanian afterward to remark: “I’ve never met Pam Murphy before tonight. I feel like I’ve gone out with Pam Murphy a couple of times!” Nathan Min — who writes for the UCB Maude sketch team Bellevue alongside Johnston — brought out a character from a past Bellevue show who presented himself as a lab expert on mice. Alana Johnston (no relation to Dru?), who’s from Canada but performs with UCB in Los Angeles, gave what best could be described as a very solid SNL audition, even going so far as providing proper introductions to all of her character studies. And Joe Pera — called in earlier Sunday to fill in for Chris Gethard to preside over an Andy Kaufman celebration at UCBeast — also performed a scene from Kaufman’s semi-autobiographical novel, “The Huey Williams Story,” with Robert Dean playing a dying grandfather.

Dru Johnston, who also won the online audience vote among all of the semifinalist videos, best met the four judging criteria: Originality, Creativity/Inventiveness, Spirit and Commitment.

He spoke with The Comic’s Comic in the UCBeast’s “Hot Chicks Room” following his victory.

“I’m really honored and very excited. I did not see it coming, and I’m very excited to be among such wonderful people involved in the award,” Johnston said. “I guess my friend Jason is going to be super excited, because me and him always thought no one understood what we were talking about. And maybe now, other people might understand we’re talking about when we joke around? So, that’s good. But yeah. I’m very excited. I’m kind of speechless.”

Which Jason is this friend of yours?

“My best friend from fifth grade on. We used to write short plays and sketches in middle school. And everyone thought we were insane, and like, it’s happy that something came of it.”

Did you know about Andy Kaufman back then?

“No. I knew very little about Andy Kaufman. I went on research frenzy after Man On The Moon came out, is when I first discovered him. Because that happened when I was in eighth grade, I guess. From there, I became obsessed. His Mighty Mouse bit is still, to this day, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and I, before YouTube or whatever, was going around trying to find that video and seeing everything I could about him. So I didn’t know him too well. But since then, I’ve just become immersed in whatever he’s done. I’m so excited to be considered someone unique enough that could be able to follow in his footsteps.”

Here was his semifinalist entry video, from a UCB Bellevue sketch, playing upon the principle of Schrodinger’s Cat.

Johnston followed up with more thoughts Monday on his Tumblr:

Last night I was extremely thrilled to win the 10th annual Andy Kaufman Award. The show was extremely fun, the other contestants were so goddamn funny, and the overall experience was so humbling and jubilant that I couldn’t even begin to describe it. But I want to put it out there somewhere, without the detached irony in 140 characters about how the Seahawks lost too, and say thank you to everyone. Deeply, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

All of my friends who voted for the initial video submission, thank you. I was overwhelmed with support, and I wouldn’t have gotten to the finals last night without you. Last night Michael, Andy’s kid brother, talked to me after the award was announced and asked: “How did you get so many votes?” And I had to tell him I had no idea. It was just from friends and family. And it surprised me even more than it did him. I never could have imagined so many people would have come out to support me, and it was amazing.

Thank you also to the folks on my sketch team Bellevue, especially our director Brandon Gulya. If it weren’t for them I never would have found these characters, and probably wouldn’t have been able to find my comedic voice that I’m still in search of. But I definitely could not have gone up there last night wearing a plastic beak, a rubber glove on my chin and feathers coming out of my suit sleeves with ANY degree of confidence if Bellevue hadn’t helped me. Dr. Turkey is something I’ve thought about for a long, long time but it was Bellevue and Gulya who helped me hone it into something that wasn’t just turkey puns and inane gobbling.

And thank you to everyone at the show last night. And to the UCB community. And to the UCB. And especially Melinda Taub, one of the funniest people I know, who had to listen to me mull over this stuff for weeks. I am so very lucky.

Thank you to everyone. I am so full of joy and gratefulness. And now I think I’ll go for a walk and listen to R.E.M. It seems fit.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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