This is an excerpt from an interview Phil Strum did for Under the Ring with Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler,
PS: One of the real gems I was able to discover about 10 years ago was you and Andy Kaufman in Memphis, watching some of those tapes.
JL: Andy Kaufman was one of the biggest things to ever happen to me in my career, as far as helping put me on the map on a national level. Quite frankly, you know, I’ m from Memphis, Tennessee. We had a great promotion down there for 30-something years that I wrestled. We drew big crowds in our particular area and territory down there. We were wrestling, at that time, and all the way through the mid-80s was regionalized. Before the advent of cable television, where eveything got blown out all over the world, it was next to impossible to make national news. To be known on a national level. You were just known in whatever region you were wrestling in at the time.
Then, along came Andy Kaufman. Because he was on the highest-rated show on television at the time, Taxi, and he wanted to get involved with wrestling. It just sort of fell in my lap because of a guy, Bill Apter, who was a magazine writer, at the time overheard a conversation that Andy had with Vince McMahon Sr. in which Andy wanted to get involved and wrestle some women out of the audience. He never dreamed…Andy never thought about wrestling a man.
That just evolved as I had him come down to Memphis and wrestle the women. It evolved into, finally, I thought, this is a great opportunity to get at least some sort of rub off this superstar. I just told him, ‘I said, Andy, you know, you’ve wrestled the women down here three or four weeks in a row. It’s going over great. You need to move onto something. Why don’t you have a match with a man?’ And he said, ‘Oh no no, I could never do that.’ I said, well, what if I came up with a way that you could do that? Would you be interested. And he said, “Oh my God, yeah.”
The truth of the matter is Andy grew up a wrestling fan and idolized “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. He told me many times, ‘I was always amazed.’ He said what captivated him about wrestling were the bad guys that could go on television and intentionally try to make people despise them, but still be popular. That became ingrained in part of Andy’s comedic performances. He never told a joke in his career. Andy wasn’t a comedian and didn’t even like to be called a comedian. He was a performance artist. His reaction, that he enjoyed getting from a crowd, was he enjoyed having them dislike him more than have them like him. He would go out and sometimes, 1,000 or 1,500 people would come to see him do comedy and he’d walk out on a podium, open up a book called “The Great Gatsby” and just start reading. And read for hours until finally, everybody finally just got up and left. And they’re going, what the heck?
Andy was great and of course, then he got the cancer. He told me at one time, I would give up everything that I’m doing in Hollywood, I’d give up Taxi, the comedy clubs, everything, if I could just stay involved in wrestling. That’s how much he loved it. All the events he did for us. All the huge sellout crowds he helped us draw there in Memphis and all around our wrestling area, he earned a lot of money and we paid him a lot of money. on all those events, Percentage of the gate every time that he wrestled for us. After he died, he had never cashed one of those checks.
PS: Wow. He really respected it.
JL: He really did.