Latka Gravas  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Andy Kaufman first used a version of the Foreign Man character as Andy the Robot in the pilot for the sitcom Stick Around in 1977. The character was then morphed into Latka Gravas, for ABC's Taxi sitcom, appearing in 114 episodes from 1978 to 1983. The producers of Taxi had seen Andy's Foreign Man act and, according to producer Ed Weinberger, "We weren't considering Andy for the show before we saw him. Then we wrote a part for him." Bob Zmuda confirms this: "They basically were buying Andy's Foreign Man character for the Taxi character Latka." Andy's long-time manager George Shapiro encouraged Andy to take the gig. "My feeling was that it would be a nice boost for his career... and he would be playing a character that he knew very well, the Foreign Man - this particular character speaks poor English in Taxi and his name is Latka Gravas."

Kaufman hated sitcoms and was not thrilled with the idea of being on one. In order to allow Kaufman to demonstrate some comedic range, his character was given multiple personality disorder, which allowed Kaufman to randomly portray other characters. In one episode, Kaufman's character came down with a condition which made him act like Alex Reiger, the main character played by Judd Hirsch. Another such recurring character played by Kaufman was the womanizing "Vic Ferrari". Latka's wife in the series was named Simka, who was portrayed by comic actress Carol Kane. His role did lead to two Golden Globe nominations, in 1979 and 1980. His appearance on this show included a sketch of him supposedly rehearsing for a Taxi episode but ended up being a made-up gag sequence.

Taxi was an award-winning show with a large audience and Kaufman was widely recognized as Latka. On some occasions, audiences would show up to one of Kaufman's stage performances expecting to see him perform as Latka, and heckling him with demands when he did not. Kaufman would punish these audiences with the announcement that he was going to read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to them. The audience would laugh at this, not realizing that he was serious and would proceed to read the book to them, continuing despite audience members' departure. At a certain point, he would ask the audience if they wanted him to keep reading, or play a record. When the audience chose to hear the record, the record he cued up was a recording of him continuing to read The Great Gatsby from where he had left off.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Latka Gravas" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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