Why Did Andy Kaufman Wrestle 400 Women?

1983: Caitlin Clarke inflicts pain on Andy Kaufman while Debbie Harry looks on. The three were involved in a wrestling-themed play called 'Teaneck Tansi.' (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Comedian Andy Kaufman did some wacky stuff in his day -- and the "wrestler" persona Andy Kaufman adopted was perhaps the wackiest of all. And that's because it was real -- it wasn't a "joke" per se, it had no punchline. He waded into the world of wrestling as a type of performance but not, necessarily, a funny one.

Kaufman said that he liked the carnival aspect of wrestling, and felt mainstream entertainment -- like comedy -- had lost the anything-goes, unpredictable element that made wrestling so appealing. But Andy Kaufman had a problem, as a wrestler: He wasn't big, or strong, or athletic at all.

He landed on the idea of wrestling women. Against women, he could be dominant. He could talk trash like the big wrestlers did. And the boos and hate from the crowd was even more intense because of the gender taboo. When he announced the plan to a national audience one night in 1979 on Saturday Night Live (although he had already been wrestling women before then), he was met with the expected animosity. This seems to be just the encouragement he wanted.

It was a spectacle, for sure -- it was hard to watch, but you couldn't look away.