Imagine if Donald Trump wasn’t real. If he wasn’t really bidding to become the next American President. If all his hideous proclamations and morally reprehensible political and social statements were in fact an elaborate prank, being played by a disguised comedian. Well, since 2012, that precise argument has been gathering momentum among conspiracy theorists.
Annoyingly, the theory has one glaring flaw: the comedian in question, cult New York performance artist and master of disguise Andy Kaufman, died of lung cancer aged 35 in 1984. But wait, before abandoning all hope that Trump is merely a horrible prank, know this: many believe Kaufman actually faked his own death. So perhaps the idea that he’s still alive and pulling pranks isn’t all that ridiculous.
Surely, the believers say, if anyone could pull this off it’s Kaufman. This is the man who transformed himself into an inept comedian called Foreign Man (later adapted into the Latka Gravas character in sitcom Taxi), created an abusive lounge singer called Tony Clifton and persuaded an elderly woman to fake cardiac arrest onstage during a show so he could don a Native American headdress and ‘revive’ her. He’s been immortalised in song by R.E.M.’s ‘Man On The Moon’ and Jim Carey played him in the 1999 film of the same name. Kaufman blurred boundaries – it was never really clear where his characters ended and he began. Here’s a breakdown of the argument for Trump being Kaufman’s most grotesque creation yet.
Quite a lot of people seem to believe it
A brief check of Twitter will tell you that a hell of a lot of people are busying themselves speculating about this. It all started with this tweet from comedian John Mulaney in November 2012.
Donald Trump is remarkably similar to Tony Clifton
A cornerstone of the conspiracy. Kaufman’s Clifton creation just looks vile. Then you get to the insults, gesticulation, chewy New York accent and nastiness. If the comedian could create Clifton, subscribers reckon, him cooking up an abhorrent presidential candidate with such extreme traits is a logical next step. This is Kaufman’s kind of character. Science writer and keen believer Erik Vance even thinks Kaufman created his Trump persona as far back as 1972. Sounds mad, but is it?
People Kaufman actually knew aren’t denying it
Or should that be people he knows? Either way, university friend Al Parinello recently told Newsweek, “If there’s any human being on the face of this earth who might be able to pull it off, it would be Andy.”
Kaufman also pursued and quizzed funny man Alan Abel – who actually did fake his own death in 1979 – about how to do it. “He wanted to know every detail,” says Abel today.
Also quoted in Newsweek, producer and Kaufman collaborator Bob Pagani says, “If he were Donald Trump, that would be the best gag ever in the history of gags.” In the same article, comedian Elayne Boosler – who dated Kaufman – says, “I think it’s a great tribute to Andy that a character such as Trump is credited to him.” What she says next exposes the frightening difference between comedy and reality: “Like Andy’s creations, Trump boggles the mind in such a way that leaves people saying, ‘This can’t be for real.’ In a performance artist, that is genius. In a presidential candidate, it’s unimaginable.”
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It’s rumoured Kaufman faked his own death
When he was alive, Kaufman often said faking his own death would be the ultimate gag. 2013 saw the publication of a book by Kaufman’s friend Bob Zmuda that said he really had duped everyone. Surely if a man can do that he’s capable of anything?
It’s not the only ridiculous US election conspiracy theory
From another angle, Kaufman as Trump is just one of many fantastical suppositions about the US election. Some think Trump will refuse to actually become President if he wins, or is trying to sabotage his own campaign on purpose. Others reckon he’s seeking revenge against businessmen he bears grudges against, that he’s doing all this for TV ratings or that he’ll choose daughter Ivanka as Vice President. Or maybe, just maybe, this whole debacle is just Trump’s way of launching a TV channel. Hilary Clinton, meanwhile, is apparently gravely ill or being played by a body double.