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The Andy Kaufman Award™ Backgrounder

Andy Kaufman’s death from lung cancer at age 35 shocked and stunned both the entertainment industry and the public. His apparently sudden, dramatic and final departure from public life on May 16, 1984, was met with both sorrow and disbelief. In keeping with Kaufman’s persona and previous performance antics, the disbelief surrounding Andy’s death took on a life of its own, perpetuating his legacy in a somewhat unique way. Speculation surrounding the possibility that Kaufman staged his own death continues today as a popular legend.

History of The Award

Kaufman’s family, however, wanted to preserve Andy’s legacy in a more enduring way. Kaufman’s father, Stanley Kaufman, considered a university scholarship that would bear Andy Kaufman’s name and encourage promising performing arts students. This was eventually deemed unsatisfactory because, while supporting students in the performing arts, the scholarship would not bring the wide-spread visibility and lasting recognition to the Andy Kaufman name that was so important to the elder Kaufman and his family.

In 2004, the idea for an annual award in Kaufman’s name was created and, with the help of his lifelong manager George Shapiro, came to fruition 20 years after Kaufman’s passing. The inaugural Andy Kaufman Award Show, hosted by actor/comedian Richard Belzer, took place on November 11, 2004, at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York. The original goal of The Andy Kaufman Award, to recognize original new talent in the spirit of the comic legend, remains its driving philosophy.

The Award Criteria

The Andy Kaufman Award is a showcase for promising cutting-edge artists with fresh and unconventional material, for those who are willing to take risks with an audience, and for those who do not define themselves by the typical conventions of comedy. It seeks to recognize a performer who lives and works outside the ordinary, as Kaufman did. Although labeled a comedian, Kaufman referred to himself alternately as a performance artist and song-and-dance-man. He was interested in provoking a variety of responses from his audience. Frequently, Kaufman would lead an audience through laughter, confusion, disbelief, anger, delight, misunderstanding and bewilderment, all within a single act. The criteria for The Andy Kaufman Award is consistent with his legacy, and is comprised of the elements of originality, creativity/inventiveness, spirit and commitment.

The Program

The Andy Kaufman Award is structured as a nation-wide talent competition. Contestants submit a video of their original performance material on the website Contestants’ entry submissions are then reviewed by a panel of judges, selecting a group of the most promising as semi-finalists. The semi-finalists’ videos are then posted on the website. The public will then be able to vote for their favorite semi-finalist to help determine the finalists who will perform in The Andy Kaufman Award Show at UCB – East before a live audience and judges. Specific details of the entry process including official rules are available on

The Award

A single winner will receive a cash prize of $2,500.00, a personalized artistic memento commemorating the event, exposure to entertainment industry professionals (agents, managers, casting directors, booking agents, media and journalists), post-event publicity (nationwide press release and media interviews as available), a featured position in The Winners Hall of Fame on the website

Previous Winners

2014: Dru Johnston

Dru Johnston performs sketch and improv at the UCB Theatre in New York and is a performer and head writer at The Chris Gethard Show on Manhattan Public Access. He’s toured the country with the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company and performs at the UCB Chelsea every Saturday night with his improv team Grandma’s Ashes. As an actor Dru has appeared on Broad City, the Chris Gethard Show pilot for Comedy Central and for various videos at College Humor, Above Average and others.

2013: Harry Terjanian

Quickly becoming one of New York’s best alternative comics and has toured clubs, colleges, and theaters across America, playing to audiences of hundreds and thousands. His YouTube channel has over half a million views.

2012: Marcus Monroe

Marcus Monroe is taking a strong lead in the new generation of variety performers. Star of the award winning Off-Broadway show La Soirée. He has appeared on dozens of national TV shows including The Late Show with David Letterman.

2011: Nick Vatterott

In 2010 the Hollywood Reporter named Nick one of the “breakout stars” of the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. Since then he has performed on Conan, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and has a half hour special on Comedy Central.

2010: Harrison Greenbaum

One of comedy’s hottest rising stars, touted by Comedy Central as “comics to watch.” His high energy electric stage presence combined with his razor sharp wit, hilarious insight and magic finale, had the audience and judges roaring with laughter.

2009: Blaine Kneece

Upcoming creative Performance Artist who blew the judges away with his absurdist film integrated into his live performance. Blaine uses multi media applications in his act usually in the form of preiously produced films that tie into his on-stage routine.

2007: Brent Weinbach

Weird, physical and absurdist comedy. Creator and star of the web series, “Weinbach in Wonderland.” Has performed at numerous comedy festivals.

2006: Reggie Watts

International touring comedian with an eclectic mix of music and cultural anthropology, Reggie was handpicked by Conan O’Brien to open nightly on Conan’s entire North American “Prohibted From Being Funny on Television” tour. and has been starring in Comedy Bang! Bang! since 2012.

2005: Kristen Schaal

Off-beat comic performance artist, starring  in Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, Bob’s Burgers, 30 Rock,  Gravity Falls, The Hot Wives of Orlando, Weird Al Yankovich’s “Tacky” video, and her hilarious shows.  Schaal credits the award as the major catalyst for her now successful career. Also won HBO’s “Best Alternative Comedian” award.

2004: Suzanne Whang

Wacky Korean character performer, politically incorrect, former star of HGTV’s series “House Hunters,” Whang is on the ballot as an Emmy nominee contender for her role as Divina in “From HERE On OUT” on HERE TV!  It’s in the category Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

For more information about these winners, please visit their pages in the Winners Hall of Fame.