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In the 1999 film "Man on the Moon" starring Jim Carrey as the infamous comic Andy Kaufman, the movie takes great pains to recreate specific points in Kaufman's life. In a somewhat unorthodox fashion, however, many of the original actors/actresses that Andy crossed paths with were called back to assist with the re-creation of those very same scenes.

So, aside from the obvious amount of time that has passed (the actors and actresses clearly all look a bit older) the scenes are more-or-less exact replicas of what happened in Andy's past. This includes many cameos from the cast of Taxi, wrestler Jerry Lawler, SNL Producer Lorne Michaels, David Letterman and more. There are most certainly some actors that weren't able to reprise their roles, for various reasons (the scene wasn't important enough, the original actor wasn't available/dead/etc), but there was one key actor missing who could have reprised his role--for a very significant scene: Michael Richards, in the "Friday's" incident.

Back in '81, Andy appeared on a live sketch comedy show which attempted to take advantage of the success of Saturday Night Live. It was comprised of young comedians getting their start in the industry, and performing sketches on live TV, much in the same fashion as SNL. On one particular night, a sketch involving four friends (one of which was played by Andy Kaufman, another by Michael Richards) took place at a restaurant, with the joke being that they would get up at various times and head to the bathroom to smoke marijuana. About half-way through this sketch, Kaufman decided for whatever reason to go off script, infuriating and frustrating his fellow cast members. At one point, Richards goes off camera and returns with the sketch's cue cards, and tosses them on the table in front of Kaufman, at which point Kaufman sprays Richards with a glass of water, causing even more friction, and an eventual fight breaks out between Kaufman and Friday's co-producer Jack Burns.

Andy was known for unconventional humor. Throughout his career, he made a lot of judgment calls about what he thought was true comedy, but that not very many other people seemed to agree on. One recurring theme in his comedy was that he liked to keep the audience guessing. Was what we were seeing really real? Or was it all an elaborate hoax? A staged event that really truly seems like it is actually happening, only to find out later that it was a sham from the start.

Many people that Kaufman staged these "events" with now confirm today that they were, in fact, staged; the most famous of which could be considered the entire series of events that took place between wrestler Jerry Lawler and Kaufman. And, as expected, in the case of the "Friday's" incident, it was also revealed later that the entire scene...Kaufman going off script, Richards' frustration, the cue-cards, the water splashing and eventual fight...all was a plan from the beginning. Richards himself confirms this in an episode of "Speaking Freely" (Video).

Even though people confirm that these Kaufman-events were planned from the start, one very real fact remains: out of all of the actors/actresses that ever had the luxury of coming into contact and dealing with Kaufman, and were given the opportunity to return and pay homage to Andy by recreating those same scenes in the "Man on the Moon" film, one person refused: Michael Richards.


The question is, why?

If, like so many other actors, Richards had truly been "in" on the event from the start, then shouldn't he, as a comedian, understand the value of that comedic genius and want to pay homage to it like others? Or was there another reason that kept Richards from participating, other than the most basic guesses of "it was an embarrassment for him", or "he simply didn't want to re-live the past", or even "his schedule simply didn't allow for him to contribute to the movie" (which seems unlikely).

Is there any proof available to the story that the event, though portrayed after the fact as a hoax, may have truly been, in fact, something that Kaufman came up with on-the-fly, and the network/people involved simply used "oh, it was planned" as a cover for them losing control of Kaufman on live TV--and that the real reason Richards refused to portray himself in that infamous scene was due to the fact that he knew the truth...that Kaufman embarrassed Richards and his fellow cast members on live TV without their knowledge, and to this day, will really have nothing to do with any homage paying tribute to Kaufman?

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+1 and I wish more, great question! –  TylerShads Jan 23 '12 at 17:05
    
I have to ask where you are finding information that Michael Richards "refused" to be in the movie. I can't even find anything saying they offered him a part in Man in the Moon. –  Legion600 Feb 13 '12 at 5:21
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enotes.com/topic/Norm_MacDonald Second paragraph of "Post SNL Career" –  Shawn Holmes Feb 13 '12 at 15:14
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

3 Answers

Not a definitive answer, but perhaps a clue can be found in this interview with Michael Richards where he claims that the version of events in Man on the Moon was not correct. Three excerpts:

Richards: Yeah, and in the movie, "Man in the Moon," that's not correct. That's not how it happened because the network didn't really know about it either. No one, as a matter of fact, knew about it, except Jack Burns, myself, Andy, and one of the other producers, John Moffet. The cast did not know.

Then

Paulson: He must have trusted you to let you in on it or to make you a member of the — of the skit. Did Jack Burns approach you, or did Andy Kaufman come to you?

Richards: No, we came up with it together.

Paulson: Oh, really?

Richards: We were tossing it about, yeah, 'cause Andy wanted to do something interesting.

Then

Paulson: So what was your take on "Man in the Moon" overall? Was that 90% right, based on what you knew?

Richards: 90? Yeah. I can't say. I know too many people associated with it. I mean, I think it could've been more accurate, but then, on the other hand, there's much in it that's — it's useful if you understand the — the premise, Andy's premise as a comic. He was out to fool everyone, and most everything was fixed.

http://archive.firstamendmentcenter.org/about.aspx?id=12083

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Melanie Chartoff confirms Richard's complicity -- among others -- in this piece.

http://www.aish.com/j/f/48954246.html

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answers that are just a link aren't considered quality answers. could you please edit your answer to include some of the relevant information in the link? –  DForck42 May 21 '13 at 14:45
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I always had the sense, particularly from Bill Zehme's wonderful book on Andy ("Lost in the Funhouse") that even if Richards was in on it, like much of Kaufman's antics, being in on it never meant you truly knew what to expect.

In that book, Richards is quoted as saying:

He just shut down and sat there. And I could just feel that he was just gonna' keep on sitting there and let everybody squirm and stink. I realized that he now wanted me to push it to the next level."

So, perhaps Richards did feel embarrassed about it and perhaps he felt that Andy pushed the whole thing too far (as he was, of course, known to do).

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