'Fridays': What really happened the night Andy Kaufman melted down on live TV

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Andy Kaufman was famous for taking things too far. He wrestled women! And taunted those who could easily twist him into a pretzel. With Andy, you simply never knew what was real and what was fake. In February 1981, he guest-starred on Fridays, the short-lived live sketch show that was trying to become ABC’s answer to Saturday Night Live. (Michael Richards and Larry David were among the talent that worked on the show for three seasons.)  In one of the show’s most memorable moments, Kaufman dead-stopped in the middle of a live skit about smoking pot, claiming that he wasn’t able to play a stoned character. “I feel stupid,” he said, as the audience chuckled awkwardly. But his scene partners didn’t much appreciate his refusal to stick to the script, and when Richards tossed the cue cards on Kaufman’s lap, television audiences were treated to a scuffle before the show finally cut to commercial. It was pure Andy Kaufman.

It was also completely staged.

In The Best of Fridays, which arrives on DVD tomorrow, the cast and crew look back on that night, and admit who else was in on the ruse. Click below for the skit, titled “Marijuana,” and then an exclusive clip from the DVD that clarifies who knew what and when.

Over time, the Kaufman incident has become the single-most asked question for most everyone who worked on Fridays. But even as the public slowly came to realize that they’d been had, there remained a fog of doubt around the event. Yes, it was staged. But how staged? The 2002 Kaufman biopic, Man in the Moon, included a slightly-overdone version of the sketch that took some liberties to portray Kaufman as taking the bit even further.

As co-creator John Moffitt says in the DVD extra below, the Kaufman incident was totally planned and some of the cast, including Richards, were in on it.

For a show that was struggling for viewers, Kaufman’s antics were a godsend. “We got such great press,” Moffitt goes on to say in the clip. “I think that night alone got us a pickup for the next year.”


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