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The TV comedy Taxi was not Andy Kaufman’s favorite job. He felt stuck in a sitcom contract and preferred to do his avant garde comedy. Those worlds met in one episode of the show. Kaufman wanted to appear on Taxi in a separate role as his alter ego, Tony Clifton. But, Clifton got fired. 

'Taxi': Andy Kaufman smiles as mechanic Latka Gravas
Andy Kaufman | CBS Photo Archive

Taxi director James Burrows told the story on the July 18 episode of Smartless. Not only did Clifton get fired, but he almost started a fight with his costars. 

Tony Clifton was Andy Kaufman’s character 

Kaufman wore facial prosthetics and loud outfits to play the obnoxious Tony Clifton. Burrows said Kaufman worked it into his Taxi deal that they had to hire Clifton for one episode, too. 

“He was hired to play Louie De Palma’s brother on an episode of Taxi,” Burrows said on Smartless. “We go out and start rehearsing and he can’t do it because he’s Andy Kaufman playing Tony Clifton playing Louis DePalma’s brother. It’s a disaster.”

‘Taxi’ had to fire Tony Clifton 

Clifton never made it onto an episode of Taxi, but firing him wasn’t easy. Kaufman turned it into a whole performance art bit. 

“He wants to be fired in front of the entire cast with a prostitute on each knee,” Burrows said. “So we come down the next day. There’s a prostitute on each knee. Tony Danza has a camera, an 8mm. Ed [Weinberger] comes down and he says, ‘You’re fired’ and Tony says, ‘I’m not leaving.’ Ed said, ‘You’re fired.’ He says, ‘I’m not leaving.’ I’m watching Tony filming. I’m standing with Judd [Hirsch] and Jeff Conaway.”

Conaway was not amused. Burrows and Danza had to hold him back, but they knew where Kaufman was going with this. 

“Jeff Conoway says, ‘I’m going to go out there and I’m going to f***ing kill him.’ Both of us, Tony and I, grab Conoway and say, ‘Just let this play out.’ Judd says, ‘Okay, I’m going to play.’ So Judd goes out there and literally picks him up, takes him off the stage. Andy’s screaming and we hire another actor, Richard Foronjy to play Danny [DeVito]’s brother. We shoot the show. The next week, Andy comes in as if nothing happened. But that was him. He got his naches that way. He got his thrills.”

Jeff Conaway held a grudge 

Burrows expressed an admiration for Kaufman’s brand of comedy. Kaufman didn’t tell jokes. Kaufman’s “Mighty Mouse” lip sync on Saturday Night Live is famous but Burrows remembers him reading Gone with the Wind on stage too. At the end of the season of Taxi, Burrows had a moment alone with Kaufman. 


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“There was the wrap party after that at Ed’s house at the end of the season when Andy showed up and Conaway was still mad,” Burrows said. “I said to Andy, ‘Come with me, follow me, we’ll go to my house.’ So we went to my house, he had a date, I was married then. I talked to him. He was a rich kid from Great Neck, Long Island. I said, ‘What goes on?’ He said, ‘That’s how I think. That’s what I want to do.’”