Jerry Seinfeld recently suggested that the character of Cosmo Kramer was so specific and so demanding that there were very few actors, aside from Michael Richards, who could have taken on the role. In fact, Seinfeld claimed that there was only one person he could think of who could have portrayed Kramer. That, someone, was Andy Kaufman. Kaufman, who died in 1984, was best known for his characters and accents. The comedic genius died long before Seinfeld aired, but he had some pretty iconic roles before his death. So, what was Kaufman best known for?
Andy Kaufman as Latka on Taxi
Kaufman’s most iconic television role was that of Latka Gravas on Taxi. Several books about Kaufman and his life suggest the character of Latka was created by showrunners based on Kaufman’s “foreign man” act. Kaufman, who had no interest in appearing on a sitcom, agreed to act in 14 episodes per season at the urging of his manager.
Latka, whose accent was unique, never mentioned what country he emigrated from, and the language he spoke was entirely made up by Kaufman. Fans, however, assume Latka hailed from Caspiar, a fictional island created by Kaufman. He appeared in all five seasons of the show.
Kaufman’s wrestling appearances
Aside from his key role in Taxi, Kaufman was well known in performance circles, and had a keen interest in professional wrestling, partly for its showmanship. The famed comedian added wrestling to his act, before approaching Vince McMahon Sr. about joining the professional wrestling circuit, then known as the WWF.
McMahon originally had no interest in adding Kaufman to his roster, but Kaufman developed a friendship with Jerry Lawler. Eventually, Kaufman did wrestle professionally, but he continued to offer to fight women for a $1,000 prize if they could pin him.
Kaufman regularly appeared on the late-night circuit
Kaufman was also a regular on the late-night circuit. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, five times, and made 11 evening appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. He also made several appearances on The David Letterman Show, an afternoon talk show.
Kaufman made regular appearances on Saturday Night Live but was eventually fired from the famed variety show. According to Mental Floss, Kaufman was banned due to poor behavior on set, as well as being deemed “not funny.”