Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler – Memphis Wrestling, April 5, 1982

Andy always dreamed of wrestling…

I learned about Andy Kaufman early on in my professional wrestling obsession. This was mostly due to Comedy Central’s constant running of I’m From Hollywood, a kayfabe documentary on his run with Lawler, and reruns of the still hysterical Taxi. Kaufman was an essential part of my development as a writer and why I’ve have a long standing interest in sketch comedy. His willingness to manipulate and sometimes outright piss off his audience connected with my sports entertainment tastes. Finding successful creatives with similar touchstones is a affirming, to say the least.  I’m From Hollywood remains a wonderful document of the angle, as the matches most definitely pale in comparison to the promos.

Oh, the promos.

But, there were matches, and this was arguably the most important. After wrestling women on Memphis television for a bit, something the comedian had developed in his nightclub act, Lawler finally challenged the cowardly Kaufman to a match. This “match” is mostly Kaufman running from Lawler, taunting the beloved champion and dancing around the ring. Spoiler Alert, Lawler catches Kaufman and uses an illegal maneuver, the deadly piledriver, to put the actor out of commission. Then he does it again and the real storytelling starts. Kaufman is left in the ring for what feels an eternity, eventually being put into a real ambulance. The late, great, Lance Russell provides the scene with expert commentary, here bordering on narration. In many ways, it is Russell who is most successful here, though both performers keep in character through the whole debacle. Through most of his work, Kaufman seemed obsessed with the manipulation of live crowds. Kaufman would often play the heel in his own, non-wrestling performances. He wasn’t known for always getting a positive reaction, but he always did get a reaction. It was this that made him such a success in the wrestling world. Kaufman was willing to give every bit for his character, even if that required physical abuse from pro wrestlers. This feigned injury would lead to the highlight of the feud, Lawler and Kaufman’s confrontation on Late Night with David Letterman. Though it would be a few years before Hulkamania permanently broke into the mainstream, Kaufman pushed the art into the spotlight for a bit. Kaufman is an essential part of bringing professional wrestling out of its deceptive sports presentation and identifying it as a genre to the general public. Well, maybe not quite being honest about it, but that’s part of wrestling’s allure. If you’re new to this feud, I recommend tracking down both I’m From Hollywood and the WWE released It’s Good to be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story. Between these two features, you’ll see both the narrative and the real story behind the feud. If you still want more, check out the surreal My Breakfast with Blassie, produced while Kaufman still wore the neck brace from Lawler’s “brutal” attack.

This match is most easily found on It’s Good to be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story Blu-Ray and DVD.