71 years ago today, Andy Kaufman was born in New York City.
The self-described “song and dance man” often expressed his displeasure at being called a “comic,” but it can not be denied that he changed the face of American comedy. As Kaufman once put it, “I am not a comic, I have never told a joke. … The comedian’s promise is that he will go out there and make you laugh with him… My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can.” Kaufman’s brand of performance art was featured on both Saturday Night Live and Taxi. When Kaufman died of lung cancer at the young age of 35, many refused to believe that he had died and instead said that, like Kaufman’s wrestling career and his Tony Clifford persona, it was just another elaborate hoax. To this day, there are Kaufman truthers out there who are waiting for Andy to come out of hiding.
R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was one of those who spent his teenage years watching Andy Kaufman on Saturday Night Live. Man on the Moon was Stipe’s tribute to Andy Kaufman and the song is full of references to Kaufman’s life. Kaufman was famed for Elvis impersonations and Stipe even attempts to imitate the King himself when sings, “Hey, baby, are we losing touch?” Stipe has also said that the song was meant to be a tribute to Kurt Cobain and that the refrain of “yeah yeah yeah” was Stipe’s way of paying homage to Cobain’s frequent use of the word in his lyrics.
The video was directed over three days in Antelope Valley in California. The video opens with Stipe in the desert, catching a ride from Bill Berry and eventually reaching a truck stop where he and the other customers watch Andy Kaufman perform on TV.
Happy birthday, Andy, wherever you are!