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Andy Kaufman: World Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion (DVD Review)

26 Apr, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 4/27/10
$19.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Andy Kaufman.

Now, here’s a release that won’t exactly wrack you with indecision. The title alone will probably tell you, without too much sand going through the hourglass, whether or not you’re in the, uh, specialized demographic that’s on a springboard to rent or buy what’s being sold here.

Kaufman liked to read The Great Gatsby — and a lot of it — to unreceptive paying customers, which was one thing. So was lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme on national television. But when (with lots of sexist verbal asides thrown in) he challenged the women of the world to pin him in the wrestling ring, the most original comic of his day proved beyond a doubt that there were no limits to his imagination. Or nerve. Or, as some worried, his instability.

Real-life Kaufman companion Lynn Margulies (played by an unbilled Courtney Love in Milos Forman’s Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon) has fashioned a kind of cottage industry in keeping this bent genius’s memory alive. In 1989, she co-directed the on-DVD Andy Kaufman: I’m from Hollywood, an uproarious documentary that touched upon the women-in-the-ring material but mostly dealt with Kaufman’s mock rivalry (though the put-on aspect wasn’t divulged until many years later) with former American Wrestling Association champ Jim Lawler. Supposedly unhappy with the shenanigans, Lawler upended Kaufman in the ring and put him in the hospital with a piledriver. There was also the famous incident, available on YouTube, where Lawler slapped Kaufman (and hard) on the David Letterman show.

By contrast, this release lacks any Lawler material and thus isn’t as interesting, but there is some overlapping when it comes to the “femme” episodes. Other than a Kaufman biography you read off the screen (as opposed to in an accompanying booklet), it consists of real footage where Kaufman wrestles any and all takers in the ring — plus separate, rarer material where women came out of the audience at an L.A. comedy club to do the same.

A couple things come to mind. One is that some of these women are much bigger and heavier than Kaufman and look like formidable challengers — when, in fact, many of these are among those who get pinned the quickest. The other is that others look as if they’d be a lot of fun to wrestle — and, in fact, at least one observer here opines that this might have been at least part of the motivation.

We’ll never know because in Kaufman’s public life, at least, nothing was ever on the level, which is why so much of his preserved material holds up as a baffling good time.

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