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Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler Feud Remembered 30 Years Later; A Fan’s Take
One of the top news sources in America, CNN, published an article today celebrating the acclaimed pro wrestling angle between Jerry "The King" Lawler and comedian Andy Kaufman. In 1982, popular sitcom star Andy Kaufman started a classified storyline between him and Memphis wrestling hero Jerry "The King" Lawler. The self proclaimed "Inter-gender Champion" took to the airwaves, running down professional wrestling and its buffoon like fans. Lawler took exception to the funnyman's tactics. At one point, the two had a conflict on the David Letterman late night talk show. The fabled angle culminated in a match between the Taxi star and the WWE Hall of Fame member. In my opinion, as a wrestling fan for over 20 years, this is one of the best wrestling angles of all time.
In the early 80s, just before most of America started to smarten up to the somewhat fictional sport, there were still plenty of believers. Especially in Memphis, where pro wrestling was a weekly religious event. To say wrestling was popular in Memphis is an understatement. It was a way of life. So when Andy Kaufman started to run down the southern commoners and their iconic sport, Jerry Lawler took exception to the Hollywood star. It was the perfect conflict. On one side you had a genius, though some would say utterly annoying comedian, who thought he was more elite than the southerners. And he made no qualms about it. He was glitz and glamor and perfect. He stood on his grand stage and let the world know how stupid and simple the southern wrestling buffs were. Kaufman was the opposite of the average southern wrestling devotee. He was the quintessential heel. Lawler, the ultimate hero for the Memphis territory, stood up for his people. And thus, a clash was imminent. Unlike today, there was no need for cheating wives or alcoholic fathers to add to the drama. It was plain. The heel runs down the people, the people hate it, and the people's champion comes to the rescue. It was brilliant in its simplicity, and it worked.
The angle worked so well and was kept so secretive that even Kaufman's closest friends did not know what was going on. Likewise on Lawlers end. Going into the match, everybody thought the fight between Kaufman and Lawler was real. It was exciting and emotional. It sold tickets. This is the kind of angle that captivated an audience and kept them coming to local arenas week after week.
It was not until many years later that the angle was revealed to be a complete work. In 2012, wrestlers and fans alike can look back on the Jerry Lawler versus Andy Kaufman feud and relish in the beauty of how to work a crowd and make them care. With hundreds of internet dirtsheets and backstage whistleblowers, an angle like that would never function today. But in 1982, it was the body of the business, and one of the greatest angles in pro wrestling history.
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