The Slap Heard Around The World (Continental, July 29, 1982)

The Slap Heard Around The World (Continental, July 29, 1982)

Carl Reiner, an American actor, stand-up comedian, director, screenwriter, and author whose career spanned seven decades, said of the late Andy Kaufman, “nobody can see past the edges, where the character begins and he ends.”

Kaufman was a very eccentric entertainer, who enjoyed coming up with elaborate hoaxes for publicity. His range of characters included “Foreign Man” – later to be called Latka Gravas when he landed a gig on the sitcom ‘Taxi’ – and the controversial lounge singer “Tony Clifton.” It was only fitting that Kaufman would be intrigued by the smoke and mirrors of professional wrestling.

Andy came up with the idea of being a cocky heel who repeatedly talked up being a Hollywood star. Furthermore, he decided he would only have matches with women, as proof that men were superior. It was his belief that no matter how fit or athletic a woman might be, they could never beat a man in a wrestling bout. In 1979, Andy did a ringside interview with Vince McMahon Jr in Madison Square Garden, challenging any woman for a $500 prize.

While it is likely that Vince Jr would have been interested, he was not yet the owner of the company, and the decision fell to Vince Sr. Andy was turned away, but it was not the end of Andy’s dream to enter mat mayhem. Wrestling magazine writer and editor Bill Apter is credited for getting him in touch with Jerry “The King” Lawler, who unlike Vince Sr, was VERY interested in having a television star in his Memphis promotion, as was co-owner of the territory, Jerry Jarrett.

Now doing his schtick in the south, the constant bragging about being a Hollywood personality probably made it more effective than if he had done the storyline in the north-east. He upped the ante to $1000 to any woman who could pin him to the mat, proclaiming himself the “Inter-gender champion of the world.”

After weeks of taunting and belittling women, Jerry Lawler had enough. When Kaufman continued to humiliate Foxy after pinning her, Lawler got involved and shoved the actor. Andy aligned with manager Jimmy Hart, who was already feuding with Lawler. Lawler coaxed Andy into having his first match against a man – none other than “The King” himself.

On April 5, 1982, in front of over ten thousand screaming fans in the Mid-South Coliseum, Andy stepped into the ring against Lawler. Kaufman was hesitant, until Lawler offered to allow Kaufman to put him in a headlock. Andy was suckered in, as moments later, he was picked up and dropped to the canvas. Then, Lawler delivered two piledrivers that sent the comedian to the hospital.

Prior to their next big match, the two appeared on The David Letterman Show. Initially, the audience booed Lawler, but his charm and funny repartee won them over. Kaufman came onto the set wearing a neck brace, saying he was only playing a “bad guy wrestler,” and Lawler simply took it too seriously. He demanded an apology, but “The King” wasn’t interested. When Andy threatened a lawsuit, Lawler delivered a hard slap, the sound of which echoed around the studio, and sent Kaufman flying off his chair.

The drama went up a notch when Kaufman became hysterical, and screamed obscenities. He then attempted to take Letterman’s coffee cup and throw it on Lawler before he was chased off. NBC were very unhappy with the stunt and wanted to ban him from their network. Years later, Letterman claimed that Kaufman filled him in beforehand.

Despite his antics on camera, Kaufman was very quiet and respectful of the wrestling business. Andy understood the art of kayfabe better than any active participant. The two year long rivalry drew good money for the Memphis promotion, with Andy not even bothering to cash any of his checks.

Andy Kaufman passed away on May 16, 1984 of lung cancer, at the age of just 35. The feud would later be a feature of the 1999 film “Man on the Moon,” a biographical comedy/drama of Andy’s life, with Lawler stepping back in time to reprise his role.