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Film

When Andy Kaufman wrestled Debbie Harry

Andy Kaufman had a lot of bizarre moments throughout his career, moments which solidified his status as a truly surreal comedian. Kaufman’s sense of comedy was so unconventional that he was even cited as an example of an anti-comedian in popular culture, engaging in some of the most weird antics that have become iconic since then.

Parallel to his trailblazing trajectory as a comedian and performance artist, Kaufman also took pride in the fact that he was a professional wrestler in the strictest sense of the word. Famously labelling himself as the “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World”, Kaufman was inspired by the staged nature of wrestling entertainment and fashioned his own acts.

Challenging any woman to pin him by offering a prize of $1000, Kaufman went on to have various memorable wrestling bouts including the infamous brawl with Jerry Lawler on David Letterman’s show. Kaufman’s brother also said that he had once let nurses and a patient’s mother beat him in a wrestling match when he visited a dying girl in a hospital.

Among these strange wrestling encounters is also the time when Kaufman entered the wrestling arena with none other than Blondie’s music icon Debbie Harry. It was actually a part of a Broadway production and it was right up Kaufman’s alley who was ready to reinforce his claim on the throne of the world’s inter-gender wrestling champion.

Titled Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap, the play was originally written by Clare Luckham and revolved around the titular character who rebels against her patriarchal upbringing by becoming a professional wrestling champion who challenges her wrestler husband to a match. Debbie Harry was cast in this role but the wrestling was so demanding that Caitlin Clarke had to be double cast.

Kaufman starred as the eccentric referee who was excited to feature in the production because he loved all forms of staged wrestling. According to Harry, the reception for the play was great when they played in an off-Broadway loft and it was very well-received but that did not continue when they moved to Broadway.

While recalling the project in an interview, Harry said: “It was great; the audiences were loud and everybody was shouting at the wrestlers just like a real wrestling match. And then they decided they were going to open it on Broadway and it opened and closed almost instantly! So I guess it was a little bit premature for Broadway.”