I don’t think that there’s too much of a middle ground when it comes to Andy Kaufman : either you love him or you hate him. We can probably add a third category, too – maybe you’re a little bit scared of him. Or, here’s a fourth category as an afterthought : you’ve never heard of him. Here’s some Wikipedia for you. Digest it and come right back.
Kaufman was a scary mystery to me for a long time, just as he was to many of his viewers – but after many years, it became clear that Andy’s entire public persona was an enormous, life-encompassing performance piece. All of the bizarre twists and turns in his life were planned – the angry guy who refused to read his lines and trashed TV studios as an alternate personality, the fake marriage announcements, the wrestling – all of these were events that he approached with a straight-faced conviction that they completely confused any spectators. So, when he announced what was to be the only unplanned twist in his bizarre life, the world actually doubted whether or not Andy actually had cancer. His audience had been trained to believe that even his bout with cancer was probably another hoax.
It’s this kind of mythology that drives me to fascination, be it the mysterious persona of Jandek, or The Residents. Being a child of the Information Age, conscious misinformation (or a clear lack of information) is a wonderfully alienating, exciting experience. When you combine that with my more concrete love of action figures, there’s really nothing left to want.
It’s not often that a company will make a stand-alone figure of a real person, unless said person is a musician. Sure, there are a million Johnny Depp action figures, but he’s always a guy with scissors for hands or a pirate hat or a Victorian doctor or an eccentric who owns a candy factory – there are no action figures of a definitive Johnny Depp. So, it’s an unusual thing to get an Andy Kaufman figure, but almost exactly 24 years after his death, Jakks Pacific has created an action figure of Andy Kaufman.
Toy enthusiasts will recognize Jakks as the primary creator of wrestling action figures, and they’d be right – Kaufman is delicately slipped into an ongoing collection of wrestling action figures called WWE Classics, right alongside Jerry “The King” Lawler – both clothed in the same costumes that they wore during the bizarre and notable bout that riled up an excitable Tennessee audience and put Andy in a neckbrace. The action figure two-pack comes with said neckbrace, a crown, and a beat-up stretcher (that has no real relevance aside from being one of many, many ring props that Jakks includes with their wrestling toys).
This is the kind of thing that qualifies as an ‘event’ to me, and my brain starts yelling, “Why aren’t more people completely excited about this? This is the most unique thing to happen to action figures and entertainment-based toys in a year!” Even if you’re not a toy fan, or a wrestling fan, an Andy Kaufman action figure stands out as a pop cultural, iconic THING, falling safely within the boundaries of many genres of collecting. Because the set is limited to Toys ‘R’ Us, and has been produced in relatively small numbers, I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t loudly announce its existence to anyone who can hear me. I’ve been unable to spot one at actual retail thus far, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
As figures go, it’s a pretty simple thing. A ball-jointed neck and shoulders combine with a cut-joint waist and hinged wrists, elbows, hips, knees and ankles for a total of 16 points of articulation, which isn’t enough for complex ring acrobatics, but certainly enough to run away and taunt with. Most interestingly, Jakks has captured Andy’s likeness perfectly and honestly, unibrow and all. It’s almost eerie to see such a haunted, smirking face on an action figure. It’s respectful and even manages to grasp the emotional quality of Andy Kaufman, and I’d even venture that Andy would love to see himself as an action figure, especially in a wrestling line. I doubt we’ll be seeing Taxi action figures anytime soon, anyhow.
This unusual inclusion only serves to bewilder another generation of pop culture enthusiasts, and even spans that bewilderment into a whole new genre of entertainment. Even 24 years after his death, Andy’s pulling pranks in the toy aisles.
A few years ago, I had written in a personal blog about a certain gentleman who comes into my workplace that bears a striking resemblance to Andy Kaufman. Our Kaufman would wander around and leave strange notes by the computers, stare off into space or at women, and eventually attempt to start an altercation with me across the desk after I asked him to stop yelling profanity, but blogging about the situation actually earned me an e-mail from a prominent Kaufman enthusiast (well, as prominent as a guy who hunts dead celebrities can be) who was actively trying to prove that Andy remains alive to this day. So, not unlike the Elvis that he expertly impersonated, Andy’s earned his own mythology.
And now, they both have action figures.