Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman (; January 17, 1949 – May 16, 1984) was an American entertainer, actor, writer, wrestler and performance artist. While often called a comedian, Kaufman described himself instead as a “song and dance man”. He disdained telling jokes and engaging in comedy as it was traditionally understood, once saying in a rare introspective interview, “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.”After working in small comedy clubs in the early 1970s, Kaufman came to the attention of a wider audience in 1975, when he was invited to perform portions of his act on the first season of Saturday Night Live. His Foreign Man character was the basis of his performance as Latka Gravas on the hit television show Taxi from 1978 until 1983. During this time, he continued to tour comedy clubs and theaters in a series of unique performance art / comedy shows, sometimes appearing as himself and sometimes as obnoxiously rude lounge singer Tony Clifton. He was also a frequent guest on sketch comedy and late-night talk shows, particularly Late Night with David Letterman. In 1982, Kaufman brought his professional wrestling villain act to Letterman’s show by way of a staged encounter with Jerry “The King” Lawler of the Continental Wrestling Association (although the fact that the altercation was planned was not publicly disclosed for over a decade).
Kaufman died of lung cancer in 1984, at the age of 35. Because pranks and elaborate ruses were major elements of his career, persistent rumors have circulated that Kaufman faked his own death as a grand hoax. He continues to be respected for the variety of his characters, his uniquely counterintuitive approach to comedy, and his willingness to provoke negative and confused reactions from audiences.