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Andy Kaufman did a skit on the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975. Kaufman was virtually unknown at the time. This was before his Taxi fame and his other infamous shenanigans.

https://web.archive.org/web/20141219041336/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-wUe5aEwHM

Some feel that this skit and Kaufman himself were some sort of genius comedy.

The genius of Andy Kaufman is what happens at 30 seconds into the performance. Andy knows the crux of his bit—pretending to sing “Here I come to save the day!”

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There was also a book published titled "Was This Man A Genius?"

There are obviously some who think that Andy Kaufman's comedy (which includes this skit) was genius. It is known in popular culture as one of Andy Kaufman's most well-known skits.

I am a huge fan of Saturday Night Live and I love the comedy on that show. I am having a hard time understanding the genius and comedy of this skit. I understand that Andy Kaufman had an obscure way of doing what he considered comedy and he was not fully appreciated until after his death, but that skit still received laughs and appreciation from the audience as it was happening.

Is there some sort of Mighty Mouse reference that you need to be aware of to fully appreciate this skit? Is there some sort of inside joke that is happening during this skit that only certain people can understand?

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  • I can tell you that someone interested in the work of Andy Kaufman I think would get something out of My Breakfast with Blase and also Man in the Moon. I think Andy (played by the brilliant Jim C.) says in MITM something like, "I don't even know what funny is..."
    – releseabe
    Sep 28, 2023 at 15:25

2 Answers 2

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No...I don't think so.

As you said, Kaufman's humor was entirely different from most other peoples.

Here the "joke" is in the fact that Kaufman's "role" is highly specific.

The only act he does is when the words...

Here I come to save the day!

...are heard.

The rest is in his anticpation of the line coming, his preparation for his performance and his gusto during his one job.

The rest is pure performance in the vacuum.

He could have done this to pretty much any song....and that's why it's genius.

Here's something that covers it...which I found after I wrote the above..

Andy takes the stage at Saturday Night Live’s Studio 8H and starts the audio recording of the song. Watch how he waits a beat. Then, listen carefully—the first laughs start at about 10 seconds in, and on first viewing, or even second viewing, it feels like Andy hasn’t done anything to earn the laughs—yet. No performer goes on stage and does nothing, but that’s exactly what Andy does. Just watch. He stands there. The song plays. He waits. The audience waits.

But really, Andy was doing something. He was a master of subtle facial expressions: Notice how he switches from blinking his eyes rapidly to holding long periods of focused eye contact. Notice how he looks confused, which confuses the audience, which is exactly what Andy wants. Look at Andy twitching; his fingers curl and stretch, back and forth, by his side. He’s uncomfortable, nervous, like it was his first time on stage. This helps Andy’s performance, because at 15 seconds in, when he pretends to sing the first “Here I come to save the day!” the surge of laughter breaks the pent-up tension he built up in the room.

The genius of Andy Kaufman is what happens at 30 seconds into the performance. Andy knows the crux of his bit—pretending to sing “Here I come to save the day!”—is now given away. Andy was a master of comedic timing. He knows he needs to rebuild the tension of the performance to deliver more laughs. So to do this, watch how Andy briefly lifts his head and opens his mouth to make it seem like he’s about to sing again, but then puts his head down in shame after he realizes, and the audience realizes, that it’s the wrong part of the song. It’s perfectly timed, obviously rehearsed. During a single performance, Andy invoked from the audience not just laughter during his singing, but also confusion, frustration, and wonder at everything that happened in between.

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    I'm surprised that article didn't mention my favorite gag in the skit - He also takes a sip of water, as if his throat is parched from singing!
    – BruceWayne
    Jan 19, 2018 at 21:59
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    I guess what it boils down to is that Andy Kaufman just liked messing with people ;) Jan 19, 2018 at 23:18
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    He could have done the same thing by holding a triangle and playing an orchestral piece. Or a clarinet. Modern times, people like Rowan Atkinson have done similar pieces. Jan 20, 2018 at 10:20
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    @WillCrawford I don't think a clarinet would work at all. Singing (especially, pretending to sing) a single line and striking a triangle are things that anyone feels they could do themself; playing the clarinet feels much less approachable. Jan 20, 2018 at 15:26
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    There's a subtle point that no one else has mentioned: If you listen carefully to the music, you soon realize that "Here I come to save the day!" is the only line sung by Mighty Mouse himself. The rest is sung by the chorus. Therefore, Andy is specifically trying to play the role of Mighty Mouse, and part of the humor (for me) is that Mighty Mouse has such a small role in the song, which leaves a lot of time for all of the other fiddling around. Obviously, if someone really wanted to mime a heroic singer, they'd pick a different song to begin with!
    – Dave Tweed
    Jan 21, 2018 at 5:51
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You don't need to know anything about MM, but... cultural context always helps in humor. In this case, it's that that MM was an American 1950s hero cartoon, and thus had a suitably heroic song.

He chose this song to work his magic, because it's dramatic. He could have chosen other songs, but an angsty folk song by a failed poet wouldn't have the proper contrast against his bumbling.

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