It’s 3 p.m.! Let The A.V. Club briefly make use of a few precious minutes of your rapidly depleting leisure time with some pop culture ephemera pulled from the depths of YouTube.
We could probably fill any number of articles for this feature with the long and profitable comedy relationship between Andy Kaufman and David Letterman; over the last few years of his life, Dave’s set was one of Kaufman’s favorite places to work out his exercises in comedic discomfort. (A sensibility Letterman himself has never been a stranger to.) The most famous, of course, was the infamous confrontation with wrestler Jerry Lawler in 1982. But today we’d like to celebrate a more low-key moment: The time Kaufman panhandled his way through Letterman’s audience, asking people for loose change.
Filmed for Letterman’s morning show in the fall of 1980, the segment sees Kaufman addressing the aftermath of his decision to quit Taxi, spinning a (completely made-up) story about his fake wife and fake kids leaving him over the choice. For a second, it looks like he’s about to use the premise to launch into some kind of stand-up bit. But then he admonishes the audience for laughing and stands up, walks out in the crowd, and starts genuinely asking for cash.
The genius of the bit, as always, is that Kaufman never blinks. Even as he’s led away by the show’s staff, there’s nothing about his unemotional entreaties that suggests that what he’s doing is anything but the sober-cold truth. Even funnier: This was actually Kaufman’s second appearance on the show in as many days; he’d made a “surprise” appearance the day before, only to have Letterman blithely cut him off and leave him to sit in the guest’s chair, uncommented on, for the rest of the show.