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Welcome Back, Andy Kaufman!

The Saga of the Welfare Queen Rancher

by JOHN ESKOW

OK—prove me wrong on this one.  Granted, I have no hard-core evidence that nitwit rightwing hero and big-rancher/welfare queen Cliven Bundy is a completely fictional character—a flesh-and-blood piece of performance art created by “dead” comedian Andy Kaufman—but  it’s blatantly obvious that the comic has left a Hansel-and-Gretel breadcrumb trail to lead us towards the truth.  To wit:

FACT: When Kaufman, a non-smoker, “died” at 34 of lung cancer, many fans—and  fellow comics—speculated that the death was a hoax, and that he would return, after a long hiatus, in another comic persona.

FACT: Kaufman, the most conceptual of stand-up comics, delighted in making his paid audiences as uneasy as possible—sometimes flat-out brutalizing them with stunts, i.e. conducting whole performances in disguise as a fake Vegas entertainer “Tony Clifton” in bad wig, blue tux and aviator shades, or reading endlessly from Joyce’s Ulysses onstage, long after the last awkward chuckle died and the walk-outs began.  Bundy—whose mock-heroic refusal to pay minimal grazing fees to the US government has made him a Fox News hero—does the exact same thing, horrifying his fans with comedy stylings like this: “…if…if…I’m not free to call them ‘Negro’ or ‘black boys’ or ‘slave,’ and  if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive, then, then…Martin Luther King didn’t do his job.”

Sheer Kaufman-ian genius! First of all, that speaking style: what Mel Brooks ao wonderfully described as “authentic frontier gibberish.”  I mean, Andy, come on, you tipped your hand there!  “Black boys!”  “Slave!”  All building towards the first great shock-burst of Frontier-Gib—“offensive” instead of “offended’—and then climaxing symphonically by blaming it all on that notorious deadbeat and job-shirker, Martin Luther King.  (Side note: I have spent some time—not that much of it, but “quality time,” as they say—among heavily-armed people of Bundy-esque tendencies, and I can report that in private their preferred name for the man is “Martin Lucifer Coon.” )
FACT: Had he lived, Kaufman would now be 65 years old.  The wattle-jawed Bundy is 67. Coincidence?  I think not.  To my eyes—those of an ex-child actor– “Bundy’s” wattles look no more convincing than Tony Clifton’s rayon hairpiece.  Clearly, the zany Kaufman has used intentionally-bad theatrical make-up to “age” the two  short years into the form of a sunburnt and big-gutted crypto-Bundy.
FACT: Kaufman revelled in props: he’d go onstage with a portable turntable and  play a vinyl 45 of “The Theme from Mighty Mouse,” etc.  His “Cliven Bundy” persona delivered that “black boys” riff while actually cradling a dead calf in his arms!  Here we journey, with Kaufman as our guide, into the swampy worlds of Dada and Surrealism.  As rational minds destroy themselves trying to puzzle out the relationship between MLK and a slab of dead veal, Kaufman snickers into his phony wattles and enjoys a final, absurdist laugh at America.

As I count it, that’s 5—perhaps even 5 1/4—hard-core facts that prove my case.  While I don’t believe that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, or that George Bush blew up the World Trade Center, this is one so-called “conspiracy theory” that’s as plain as the nose on Cliven Bundy’s face.

Welcome back, Andy!

John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He can be reached at: johneskow@yahoo.com