Performing for an Audience That Doesn’t Know They’re Watching – An Interview with Bob Pagani

Last month we published an article detailing how Andy Kaufman faked his death. Shortly after this we received a message from Bob Pagani, co-creator of The Slycraft Hour and the man who witnessed meeting between Alan Abel and Andy Kaufman. He told us that not only had he witnessed it, but he arranged it. We got him on the phone for an interview and he dished on hoaxing the media, his relationship with Andy Kaufman, and that fateful meeting.

You’re a—would the term be “professional media hoaxer?”

I don’t know about the professional part. That implies money right? I’ve done a lot of it, yeah, over the last bunch of years, the last thirty years or so… or more actually. From when I first met Alan Abel and a thing or two I did when I was younger.

How did you become a hoaxer, and when did you realize you had a knack for messing with people?

When I was a kid, I grew up in the Bronx and I went to Catholic school. In Catholic school everything was “this is this” and “that’s that” and “thou shalt and thou shalt not.” They kind of teach you to live in a Leave it Beaver world. It’s all very “exactly how it should be.”

But my dad was very cynical about stuff. He fixed appliances for Westinghouse; he was the guy who would come in if your washing machine broke. He used to take me to work with him and people would always go, “Oh, you’re showing your little boy what line of work to go into?” and he would say, “No, I’m showing him what line of work not to go into.” He was very cynical about big corporations long before most people were and would tell me things that completely contradicted what I was learning in school. Over time you come to realize he’s more right than they are.

Living in New York, I got to see Alan Abel turn up in the news once or twice a year. As a kid I was a fan of his—I was amazed that he could make up a story and get it on the news. How do you do that? How does that work? Aren’t they supposed to be more careful than that? Make it appear so real that these journalists will believe it.

I finally got meet Alan in the late ‘70s. Have you ever heard of The New School?

Yes.

It was intended to be an alternative school. It’s actually The New School for Social Research— that’s the full title, but nobody calls it that. I took one of their night classes, it was supposed to be about comedy writing and then one week the instructor says “We’ve got a guy coming in next week named Alan Abel.” I’m like “Oh my god! Oh gee, I’m finally going to get to meet him.” So Alan came in and he was talking about stuff he’s done and after the class I went up to him and said hi and was talking to him. He says “Why don’t you come down to my office?” He had an office on 5th Ave, right off 42nd St that had literally been a mop closet and he convinced the landlord to rent it to him for twenty bucks a month or something. Two people could stand in it. If there was a third person, they’d have to be in the hallway outside the door. There was no room. He had a desk and a file cabinet, a phone, some posters on the wall and that was all there was room for in there… and a chair obviously.

I went down the next day, or a couple days later. Alan says “So, what do you do?” I said I worked for the Yankees and the Mets and Madison Square Garden as a security guard. His eyes light up. He goes, “You have a cop uniform?” I go, “Yeah,” and he asks, “Do you know what Omar is?”

Omar is a thing he that he was doing where he played a guy who pretended to call himself Omar who ran a class to teach people how to panhandle. It was recession; he had gotten a lot of play out of it. I said, “Yeah!” and he goes, “Want to be Omar’s bodyguard?” and I said, “Okay?” [laughs] That was the beginning of that. I just became Omar’s bodyguard.

Wow.

Yeah. I’ve done stuff on my own too, here and there, whenever I get an idea. I was a radio disc jockey in the Allentown area for several years in the late ’80s. It was one of the very few times in my life where I actually had a plan going in for something.

It’s a very—or at least it was 30 years ago—an area where people tried very hard to stay off the radar. Everybody wants to blend in. It’s very Pensylvania Dutch. It’s almost sinful to stand out. I just thought, if you were on the radio in an area like this and you went out of your way to stand out, you’d have to be a superstar. You’re the only one doing it. You’re the only one that’s trying to attract attention. That was my game plan going in there, and I did everything I could think of. I got tons of press—just tons and tons of press over five years.

I was also doing stuff with Alan…In ’79 we did Idi Amin’s wedding. You know Idi Amin was? The dictator of Uganda? He was really big in the news, and he suddenly vanished. Nobody knew where he was; he just disappeared. So Alan gets this brainstorm: What if Idi Amin came to America and married a Jewish girl so he could become a citizen and maybe avoid prosecution and extradition? So we staged it at the Plaza Hotel.

It was the weekend of April Fools’ Day because Alan had a guy who was paying for this whole thing, a guy with some money who just liked paying for a good gag. So I got to stay in the Plaza Hotel. The suite was  $350 a night, 1979. I’m the only one staying in the suite over the weekend until we do the wedding, and I remember sitting there in this luxurious suite, and there are Ugandan flags hanging from the fireplace and Ugandan travel brochures on the table! I’m sitting there, thinking, “What the fuck am I doing?!” Most of the “what the fuck” moments I’ve had in my life were with Alan [laughs] and a couple with Andy Kaufman. Those were the two people I had to meet.

When I met Andy—I assume we’re going to talk about that right? I mean, we’ve got to. That’s the craziest story, and I always say I wouldn’t have the nerve to tell it if I didn’t have witnesses to it, because it’s not believable. It really isn’t believable and I do have eyewitnesses to it who will back me up on it.

Idi wedding

We’ll get to that in a minute. To follow up with that last question: What do you think is the best hoax you’ve pulled off?

A lot of stuff with Alan. Omar was great, Omar was terrific, Omar was really really funny. I was too young to do the Society for Indecency, the naked animals, with him.

On my own I did one called “Asleep at the Wheel,” where I pretended to be a guy who was renting homeless people to sleep in your car so your car wouldn’t be stolen. I was doing a radio talk show at the time and this was while I was a talk show host. I hinted that I had something big coming, but I didn’t say exactly what, and then it broke on the ten o’clock news. I thought the listeners were going to be livid at me, but actually they said it was really funny. I didn’t get the bad reaction I was expecting—“Oh, you’re such a jerk!”—but it wasn’t that way at all. People thought it was great. In the last two weeks, it got rediscovered by some people on the internet, and I’ve been getting a lot of praise for it but it’s like, “Where were you when!? Where were you guys in 1992?” I’m kind of fond of that one. That was pretty funny.

In that video’s description online, you mention that at the very end the reporter gave out your real phone number.

Yes! Oh, my god! Yeah! I guess I gave it to them as a contact number, y’know? Just like I gave you my cell phone number. So I’m sitting there at ten o’clock that night and I think my wife wasn’t home for some reason—good thing, because she would’ve gone ballistic if she had seen this. I’m sitting there watching the ten o’clock news, laughing my ass off with the VCR going, and then at the end of the piece they go, “If you want to contact them about using this service, here’s the number…” and they throw my home phone number up on the screen! Oh, my god! Of course, within five seconds the phone starts ringing. I’m sitting there going, “Should I take these calls?” I did answer a few and people were like, “That’s great” or were mad at me, whatever. I had no idea they were going to do that. That completely took me by surprise. Oh, well! That’s the price you pay.

When you’re pulling off a hoax, what’s your favorite part of the process, from developing it to being there in the moment with the media?

I think in the moment. That’s what’s surprised me, when [“Asleep at the Wheel”] was rediscovered a few weeks ago, people were praising the acting. I thought, “That is the first time anybody’s sort of seen it on that level.” People say, “Oh, you’re so perfectly deadpan, you seem so perfectly legit” because it is acting. It’s a very funny kind of acting where you’re performing for an audience that doesn’t know they’re watching a show. You go to a movie: No matter how good a performance is, you know you’re watching a performance. You know that Meryl Streep is not that person. In this case, they think that I am who I report to be. It’s a different challenge in a way. I don’t think of it like that. I’m not so artsy-fartsy. I just dive into the deep end of the pool.

I had a friend of mine say, “Where’d you take acting lessons?” and I said, “Yeah, right! I went to the Alan Abel School of Improvisational Acting.” That’s how it was when I started doing the Omar thing. One of the first ones we did, he would rent the rehearsal hall just a couple of steps off Time Square, and he would get all his out-of-work actor friends to come in and pretend to be the students of the class.

Alan Abel School

I remember, one night he calls me after eleven o’clock at night and he says, “Are you doing anything tomorrow?” I said no, he says, “Well, we’re doing Omar, come down, bring your uniform.”

I get there the next day, and I said, “What’s up?” [Alan] says, “You better hurry and get changed, they’re going to be here any minute. It’s NBC.” I’m all nervous and then it hit me: I can’t prepare anything because I don’t know what they’re going to ask me and I’m kind of a peripheral character in this thing anyway. But if they do ask me any questions, I know what to say. I know what the bit is, and I know how I figure into it. What am I worried about? I was talking to Frank Murgalo recently and he said the main thing he learned from working with Alan was fearlessness. I said I know exactly what you mean because you don’t know what you’re going to be dealing with! Whatever it is, be ready to go. That to me is the funnest part: You’re just doing it and you’re concentrating on that.

About nine years ago, I [portrayed] the winner of the then world’s largest powerball jackpot in Nebraska. When we got to the diner where we were [bought everyone lunch with “the winnings”], I went to bathroom and I was sitting in the bathroom going “Oh, my god, I’ve got to go out there and do what?!” But the second I came out and there were all these TV cameras there, I was fine. I was totally into it. It’s thinking about it beforehand that makes you nervous. Once I’m doing it, I’m fine, completely relaxed. I would recommend it to anybody—just get into something where you’re thrown into the deep end of the pool, sink or swim, man. You’re gonna learn real quick how to pull it off or you’re not. One or the other.

Am I correct in thinking you created The Slycraft Hour?

My friend Albin [Sadar] and I were working on this other dopey public access show. We were writers—it never amounted to anything, just something this guy Larry Somethingorother had put together. Albin invented the idea of this company that made these ridiculous products and I joined in; he and I were the ones who would come up with the ideas for it. My friend Kathy O’Connell—who is now a two-time Peabody award-winning radio host in Philadelphia—she was doing some show on public access, and she got tired of doing it. She said, “Do you guys want to take over the timeslot?” She had to leave her name on as producer because that’s all the cable company cared about…they didn’t know or care what the content of the show was. It’s just a thing they had to do under New York City law—provide cable access channels. So we took it over and completely changed the show.

The two of us created the show, and we were supposed to be representatives for the company who would demonstrate these “products.” We got a book out of it in ‘84: Slycraft’s Catalogue of Stuff.

We talking about Andy?

Yeah, sure!

SlycraftBW

We’re doing this show, and it’s black and white, and it’s two cameras, it’s just the lowest of low-rent. It is literally, not our show in particular, but just in general, that public access place and those shows. You know Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis? That’s what he’s satirizing, the kind of thing we were doing. The set decor is two ferns and a couple of chairs in between them.

I said to Albin, “What would make somebody watch a show like this? The production values are never going to be better, it’s going to black and white because we can’t afford to produce the show in the color studio,” because they charged you more. What could get anybody to watch this? You could get somebody who was legitimately famous on it, because then it was, “Why is this person on this piece of crap?” But who would do it? I thought, maybe Andy Kaufman might.

But this is pre-internet. I didn’t have an address, I didn’t know who his manager or agent was, any of that. The only address I could think of was ABC in LA because he was doing Taxi at the time. So I hand-wrote him a letter. I said, “I love your stuff, I’m a big fan and we do this thing, if you’re ever in New York. You don’t even have to tell us you’re coming, just show up and we’ll work you in.” I mailed it on a Wednesday, and we did the show Thursday nights at 11, live. So we get down to the studio the day after I mail the letter. It’s Albin and I, and he had two friends—Rick and Debbie, who were a couple. We had them on occasionally. They would play this couple, The Nunemakers, who were supposed to run a group called Americans For Moral Decency, a sort of moral majority kind of group…they were these very very uptight conservative Christians. They were both actors so they were pretty good at it. They happened to be with us that day and we get in the elevator, we’re going up to the second floor, to the studio, and Rick says “Did you see who was getting out of the cab outside?”

I said, “Who?”

He says, “Andy Kaufman.”

“Oh, fuck you, what am I stupid?”

He says “What?!”

“Albin must have told you I sent that letter yesterday.”

He says, “I don’t know anything about a letter.”

Albin says, “I didn’t tell him anything about the letter.”

I still figured they were just yanking me so I said “okay wait right here, I’ll be right back” I get back in the elevator, I go down to the first floor. The doors open and there’s Andy Kaufman standing there with his parents. I go “Andy! What are you doing here?” He looks at me and he goes “uh… I came here to be on a show.” I’m like “I just sent you a letter.” He goes “I didn’t get any letter” and I say “you couldn’t have, I mailed it to LA yesterday.”

It turns out there was a guy who did a show before from 10:30 to 11, the show right before us, named John. John did a show featuring martial artists on Thursday night. He had met Andy completely by accident on Broadway, the day before, in Times Square. He was walking one way, Andy was walking the other, they get to talking, he tells Andy he’s a fan, blah blah blah. They’re hanging out, and then John says, “I gotta go.” Andy says, “Where are you going?” John says “I’m going to visit my mother, she’s in the hospital.” Andy says, “Can I come with you?” So he goes to visit John’s mother in the hospital. She’s so out of it that she thinks Andy is her nephew. Andy plays along and pretends to be her nephew. [laughs] Finally, I guess she has a moment of clarity and realizes Andy isn’t her nephew, and she gets mad at John and Andy and kicks them out of the hospital room for fooling her.

John says to Andy, “I do a couple of cable access shows. I do one on Thursdays with martial artists and I do another one on Saturday. You’re welcome to come down but don’t come down on Thursday because these people have no sense of humor. They’re very very serious about their art and they will not appreciate you being there. Come down on Saturday morning, that’s an anything goes show, you can do anything you want, it doesn’t matter.” Andy, either through misunderstanding or just on purpose, showed up for the Thursday show.

Now, it’s 10:15. John’s going to go on at 10:30, and he’s standing in the hallway going, “I told you not to come on Thursday, I told you to come on Saturday. These people, they’re not going to be happy about this.” He goes, “But I’m here! I’m with my parents.” And I looked at my friends who were standing a few feet from me. This isn’t one in a million; this is one in a billion. This will never happen again. He is coming on the show with us. I’m not taking no for an answer.

So I went over to Andy. I said, “Listen, we do this show at 11, you have to come. You have to. I really did send you a letter yesterday. This is amazing.” Andy says, “Well, I do kinda believe in cosmic coincidences and stuff.” I said “This is one of those man. If anything qualifies, this is one.” He goes, “What would we do?” and I said, “Well, these two people are supposed to be this couple that represent this organization, Americans For Moral Decency…”

There was just this big article about Andy in Rolling Stone the week before; they did a big profile. I said, “What if they said you were ruining America, you are the problem with America and you’re leading children down the wrong path when you’re wrestling women?” He goes, “Yeah! Yeah! That’s great! That’s great! Could my parents come on, too?” and I said, “Yeah,” thinking I didn’t care if he had a bus full of lepers he wanted to bring on. I was game for anything.

I met him at about 10:15 p.m. and at 11:00 I was doing a live TV show with him and his parents. That literally happened, as insane as it sounds.

Had he gone on the [martial arts] show before you?

He did, very, very briefly. John just had him do a walk-on, and then me and another guy came in and dragged him off, just for a gag. That’s where it gets funny—this is the part I never knew until a couple of years ago.  The martial artists were not amused at all. [Andy] interrupted their thing, and they were really pissed. Now at 10:58, there’s two minutes for them to leave the studio and us to get into the studio. It’s just the station ID up on the screen. They were out in the hallway, right outside the studio, and what I didn’t know until two or three years ago was that they were super pissed. One of the martial artists was the women’s heavyweight boxing champion. She wanted to beat the shit out of Andy.

If you see the video of the show, the show started off with a pre-recorded bit, but you don’t see it on the screen. You hear the audio, but you don’t see it. The reason for that—which I never knew until 2013—was that William, the director, was out in the hallway trying to calm these lunatics down and tell them to leave; they were being too noisy. So he wasn’t in there to push the button that made the picture appear on the screen. [laughs] He’s out in the hallway, trying to calm down a potential riot! Now we’re in the studio with Andy, and you can hear us talking over the recorded bit. At one point you can hear me go, “Okay, very straight. We’re going to do this really straight.” We don’t know that there’s no image up on the screen, and we don’t know that our audio’s up. That’s why it is the way it is, because those people wanted to beat Andy up, which he never knew. As far as I know, he was never told about that. That’s just the lunacy that was going on.

So this video—my wife, in the late ’90s, figured out how to digitize it which was tough to do then. She had to make it really tiny and low-resolution to get it up on the web. It was still in the dial-up modem days. So she got it online and people found it. I had no idea about this until a couple of years ago, too—people were grabbing it and using it. It turns up in a couple of documentaries about Andy, one called The Passion of Andy Kaufman. Actually, there’s a documentary coming out next year called Kaufman Lives that I’m in. I did an interview for [the documentary] in L.A.

As you know, people think that he faked his death and I introduced him, the night after I met him, to Alan Abel who did fake his death. All of a sudden I figure into the conspiracy. “Well that proves Andy faked it because he talked to a guy who did fake it! He learned how to do it…” It’s like, yeah but that’s really just a bizarre coincidence.

What happened was, after the show I was talking to Andy, maybe before I forget, but I said “I know you want to fake your death.” I’m not sure if that was in the Rolling Stone piece that had just come out, but I read it somewhere. Andy said, “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that, that would be the best gag ever!” I told him I had a friend who did that a year ago, and he goes, “Really?!” I told him about Alan, and he said, “I think that name sounds a little familiar to me…Can I meet him?!”

Alan and I went to the Hilton where Andy was staying the next night and met in his hotel room. They had a long conversation about how Alan was involved and what the reaction was—a whole big conversation about it. So that did occur. It is true that he did meet a guy who had done it, but that doesn’t prove he therefore faked it. Alan and I were Andy’s friends going forward for the next couple of years, until he died in ‘84.

Are you in the camp that doesn’t think he faked it?

Yeah, I know people find these weird little connections that seem to prove it. Gee, I’m the guy who introduced him to a guy who did fake his death, and I still think he didn’t.

Lynne Margulies, who was his girlfriend at the time of his death—she lives down the road from where I live actually, with her husband—and she has said on many occasions that she was at his hospital bed when he died. She has no reason to lie about it. That’s good enough for me.

If he did it, it would be the greatest prank of all time. If it’s true. Wow. So many wasted opportunities though, so many things he could’ve done.

OBITUARY-1
Alan Abel’s Obituary in the NY Times

I know a lot of people would be curious about this—and you can share whatever you feel comfortable with—but can you tell us more about that meeting between Alan and Andy?

Oh yeah, there’s no secrets to it. I got there first, Andy was eating dinner, and a few minutes later Alan showed up. I introduced them. Andy said, “Obviously, you faked your death.” Alan had faked his death the year before; he got his obituary in The New York Times. It was the only time in its history that The New York Times has had to retract an obituary. Andy was really fascinated with that and wanted to know how he did it. So Alan explained what he did.

The story was that Alan was skiing in Utah—I don’t know if Alan’s ever been skiing in his life, but that was the story. He had a friend in Utah who put in a second phone or something. If that phone rang he knew it had to be someone from the press and he would answer it as the funeral home. That was supposed to be the funeral home that handled Alan’s arrangements. Alan’s wife or one of his female friends went into the New York Times office on 41st St. in New York and presented herself as the widow and was sobbing, gave them information about his life and that he had died and so forth. They called the supposed funeral home, and the guy, of course, confirmed all the details

AndyPagani Edit

Andy was very interested in those details: “How did you do it? How did you get in the New York Times? How did people react?” He was very curious about the reaction. It’s the one hoax that Alan ever pulled that his wife, Jeanie, really didn’t want him to do. She tried to talk him out of it, because she thought it was just going to piss off friends. I guess it did—it did upset some of his friends. There were people who didn’t talk to him for sometime afterwards; they were so upset that he made them think he died. Andy was very interested in those details and how it worked, how he wrapped it up in the end.

The way he wrapped it up was a press conference that I was at, a lot of members of the New York Press were at, including the obituary writer for the Times. This is really funny because obituary men never have to leave the office; they’re not covering breaking stories. So they sent this poor bastard over there to be at this thing and I remember the funniest part of it was – You’ve got to understand in New York, at least at the time, a lot of people in the Press Corp saw the New York Times as looking down its nose at them. The New York Times thinks they’re hot shit and to have the chance to rub the New York Times’ face in a fuck-up is heaven for these guys.

At the end of the press conference some of them turned to the obituary writer and asked, “Does the New York Times have an official statement on this?” and he says “Yes. As far as the New York Times is concerned, Mr. Abel is still dead.”

Andy wanted to know every detail of the thing, which he got. So I understand how people put two and two together and get five…I think they’re getting five.

Did he ever speculate with you and Alan as to how he might do it?

Not as I recall. That’s the only time the three of us were ever in a room together. I spent time with Andy after that, and I know Alan did, too.

Alan has stories about walking down the street with Andy, Alan trying to put on Andy just to see if he could. But that’s the only [conversation] I ever witnessed and I don’t remember him discussing exactly how he was going to it, if he was going to do it. I have a vague recollection of him saying if he were to do it he wouldn’t do it on a Friday and come back on a Monday, he would keep it going. Which perfectly fits with his methodology. He and I were having a conversation one time about “Candid Camera,” and Andy said he always felt that they cut the joke off too soon. Right at the point when the person was really getting livid or frustrated, that’s when Allen [Funt] would pop out and go, “It’s candid camera!” Andy thought they should keep it going. Let it play out, let the person get really pissed or baffled or walk away in disgust. If you know [the character] Tony Clifton or when [Andy] would read The Great Gatsby to the audience, you know he would take things as far as they would go. He would not have pretended to die on Friday and come back on Monday. He would play it out to 10 years, and apparently he said that to Bob Zmuda. He said, “If I was going to do it, I would do it for 20 years.”

That’s what I had heard, I was wondering if Zmuda had been at that meeting or not because I had never heard him talk about it.

Zmuda? No he was not. It was just the three of us in the hotel room at the Hilton.

I met Zmuda once at SNL. When Andy was hosting SNL he invited me and my then-wife; we were guests and Zmuda was there. It was kinda funny to see the dynamic between them. Susan Saint James, from Kate and Allie—she was married to a guy who was a big executive at NBC, and they were walking down the hallway. Zmuda says [to Andy], “Do you know who that is?” Andy goes, “No” and Zmuda’s like, “C’mon Kaufman, that’s a big executive at NBC! That’s the kind of person you should talk to, move your career along, talk to a guy like that.” Andy’s like, “I don’t know who these people are. I don’t care about stuff like that.” Zmuda says, “You should! He’s married to Susan Saint James, a big actress, that could do things for you.” Some of it seemed like a put-on, it was like Zmuda was being Bud Abbott. It was a funny dynamic between them: Andy playing the total naive innocent while Zmuda’s going, “You have to think of your career! C’mon, what’s the matter with you?!”

I’ve talked to [Zmuda] once on the phone, but that’s it. I don’t know him at all, except for what I’ve read about him. He’s an interesting character too. He’s still maintaining that Andy’s coming back any day now.

And still doing Clifton.

TonyCliftonStill doing Clifton—which, by the way, Michael Kaufman does not like. He made that really clear: He hates Zmuda’s version of Clifton. He thinks Zmuda leans way too much on dirty jokes, and he kind of has a point. When Andy did it, he really didn’t do that kind of thing. Clifton was just boorish and untalented. When Zmuda does it, it’s almost more like Andrew Dice Clay. So Michael very much doesn’t like Zmuda doing Clifton. He really despises it.

You said you were at the Carnegie Hall show before you met Andy. What was that like?

One of the best live shows I’ve ever seen in my life. It was crazy. They had a 20-piece band that played an overture that was a medley of cartoon themes.

Oddly enough, when I went to L.A. a year ago to be in the Kaufman Lives documentary—I was only there for 36 hours—I had nothing to do after I did my interview, so I asked the director and the cinematographer if I could hang out with them and they said, “Yeah, why not?” So we went to West Hollywood to meet a guy who was Andy’s friend from high school—I can’t remember his name, he’s a musician—and he was the one who wrote the overture.

It was just a great show. They had this band, The Love Family, that Andy saw on the beach in Malibu. They were one of these Christian family bands; Andy had them in the show. There was a crazy homeless black guy he had met who was just hopping around Times Square singing, “Happy New Year! Happy New Year!” Andy went up to him and said, “Someday I’m going to play Carnegie Hall and you’re going to be in the show.” The man went, “Yeah, okay, man, sure,” probably thinking it ain’t gonna happen. But when Andy was setting up the Carnegie Hall show he went back to Times Square and found the guy! Had him come out on stage and do that. Do you know about the amazing Robin Williams thing he did?

Yeah.

The grandmother bit? That blew everybody away. Nobody saw that coming at all. [Andy] brings out his grandmother and say,s “Y’know, Grandma, I always said one day I would play Carnegie Hall and you’re going to have the best seat in the house.” He brings the grandmother down, and she sits in a chair stage right through the whole show. Every time an actor got near she’d flinch like they were going to bump into her. And then at the end of the show he goes, “I’d like to thank all these people and Santa Claus, blah blah blah, and my grandmother…Robin Williams!” Robin Williams pulls off the prosthetics and the audience was like, “What?!”

 

Kaufman PaganiEdit

And then he took everyone out for milk and cookies.

Yes! They didn’t believe him. You could tell most people in the audience wasn’t buying it, but I knew he had done a dress rehearsal in a theater in L.A., and he took the audience out afterwards. I had read about that so I said, “No, there’s going to be busses outside,” and we went outside and there were all these busses lined up on 57th Street. Everybody goes, “Holy shit! There’s really busses.” They went over to the High School of Printing on the west side, and there were milk and cookies. They were doing a second show in the auditorium, but it was so crowded I couldn’t get into the auditorium to see that. It was so crowded. I didn’t see that part but I know after [milk and cookies] he said, “Meet me at the Staten Island Ferry tomorrow and we’ll all go for a boat ride.” Fifteen people showed up and he bought them ferry tickets; it was literally a nickel to ride. He paid for them all and bought them ice cream. That was the final end of the show.

People are selling programs for that on eBay these days. Original programs for the Carnegie Hall show. I wish I still had mine, it was one of the best live shows I had ever seen. There was something for everybody, no matter how crazy it was.

Andy told me he lost $40,000 on that.

He funded the whole thing by himself, didn’t he?

No, I think Showtime recorded it and they aired it, but I guess they paid him 40 grand less than it cost him to produce it. I told that to Michael, and he said he didn’t know that. But Andy didn’t care. He said it was a great show.

When Taxi was getting cancelled I said, “That’s a shame,” and he goes, “It’s just my job, I don’t care about that. It just gives me the money to do things I want to do.” That was his attitude, and he was making something like 40 grand a week on Taxi. But that was his attitude: “That just pays me so I can do the things I want to do.”

That’s one of the things I always loved about Andy. He never seemed to be in it for the money; he just wanted to play with the system.

Exactly! One thing the musician who wrote the overture said was that Andy’s got to be the only guy in the history of television to actually negotiate to do fewer episodes. After a couple of seasons on Taxi, he went up to them and said, “I want to do fewer episodes.” He wanted more free time. Anybody else would’ve wanted to be on every episode. I think he took a pay cut to get that concession, which is crazy. That’s just completely unheard of in show business.

Bob Portrait

Bob Pagani is working on a project he can’t plug. He says it exists on the internet, and there are 71 episodes: “A parody of something you’d be familiar with in a strange way and if you could find it, you would laugh at it.” He’s become a Grand Prize winning artist at the county fair.

Interview Conducted by Kevin Cole
Artwork by Kevin Cole & David Luna

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