Why Andy Kaufman Was Banned From SNL

Andy Kaufman's off-beat brand of humor was what brought him to the forefront of American comedy in the first place, but it was also what got him booted off "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1980s.

Kaufman began appearing on "SNL" in its very first season in 1975. The show's executive producer Dick Ebersol invited him to audition after seeing him on "The Dean Martin Comedy Hour." His "SNL" notoriety helped him land roles in a couple of movies and also the part of Latka Gravas — an Eastern European auto mechanic — on the TV show "Taxi." He also appeared on "Taxi" as Tony Clifton, one of his alter egos, but he was careful to keep his own identity separate. "Clifton" was fired from the show while Kaufman continued to appear, unlike on "SNL" (via Biography).

Over a period of seven years before he was banned, Kaufman created some iconic "SNL" segments, including Foreign Man and the Mighty Mouse singalong. He appeared on the show 16 times in total, as Far Out notes.

The Vote

Ultimately, it was the fans of SNL, not the producers, who decided Andy Kaufman had to go on November 20, 1982. The show started receiving lots of complaints about Kaufman's "Women's Wrestling Champion" skits, in which Kaufman would invite female audience members up onstage to wrestle with him. The wrestling was staged, and Kaufman always won, calling himself the "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World." These skits led to Kaufman's downfall, according to Far Out.

Executive producer Dick Ebersol came onto the show to denounce Kaufman's brand of humor, and the following week, cast member Gary Kroeger announced that it was up to "SNL's" home audience to decide whether or not Kaufman would ever appear on the show again. NBC had set up two 1-900 numbers that viewers could call to cast their vote. One was the "Keep Andy" number, and one was the "Dump Andy" number. Viewers had an hour — until the end of the episode — to call and vote (video above).

The Results

At the end of the episode, Gary Kroeger announced the results. There were 195,544 votes to Dump Andy versus only 169,186 to keep him on the show. The cast reacted with shocked looks, while the in-studio audience reacted with approval, and Kroeger said Andy Kaufman would never again appear on SNL (video above).

Behind the scenes, cast members deplored Dick Ebersol's plan to get rid of Kaufman. They felt the show had lost one of its most creative contributors. According to Far Out, Kaufman himself was devastated, and a week later, he appeared on several local networks — airtime he paid for himself — to ask the fans to have him back on SNL. It didn't work.

Though Kaufman was only in his early 30s, he died a year later of lung cancer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Many fans, and even some of his friends and family, believed he might have faked his death, but even if Kaufman is still out there, he has never returned to SNL, as The New Yorker notes.