Elvis-Andy Kaufman Meeting Revisited

Tony Clifton.

• Tony Clifton’s appearance at the Las Vegas Wranglers midnight game last weekend against the Bakersfield Condors was a rousing success. Rousing in that he was almost booed off the ice between the second and third periods. He toted an admirably flexible dancer named Phoenix to his Orleans Arena gig, opened with a few racially themed jokes, then tumbled into a very obviously lip-synched version of “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

In interacting with Clifton in the second period of the Wranglers’ 5-1 victory, he seemed to share many of the same physical characteristics as comedy writer Bob Zmuda.

Zmuda has portrayed Clifton over the years, picking up the character invented by the late comic Andy Kaufman after Kaufman happened to catch a bellicose lounge comic on Fremont Street during a 1969 pilgrimage to meet Elvis Presley at the International. To make that famous summit possible, a teenage Kaufman sneaked into the service entrance of the International in the afternoon, hiding in a supply closet until Presley and his bodyguards (Red and Sonny West, in this instance) cut through the kitchen to the stage. Kaufman had with him a box of crackers and an empty plastic bottle, which he used as a urinal for what would be a five-hour stakeout.

As Elvis and the boys made their way past, Kaufman emerged from his hiding spot and introduced himself. Kaufman said, “Mr. Presley, I am your biggest fan, and some day, I want to be famous like you.” Elvis put his hand on Kaufman’s shoulder and said, “I believe it will happen.” Bang. A career is born.

Then, Kaufman hit Fremont Street because he couldn’t afford to actually see Elvis perform. But within two years, Kaufman was the hottest cabaret act in New York.

As for Clifton’s show, the entertainer is looking for a room in Las Vegas to put on a production that has played to sold-out audiences for 15 weeks this year at the Comedy Store in L.A. Clifton is joined by a 24-member cast and crew, including a full band and backing dancers. His friend and Palace Station headliner Louie Anderson has been trying to get Clifton connected in the city, and UD Factory founder Seth Yudof was at Clifton’s side during Clifton’s appearance at the Wranglers’ game. Yudof is working on booking acts into the Sin City Comedy Theater at Planet Hollywood.

Clifton’s best prospects for moving his show to a Las Vegas also is the least appealing: leasing the space himself. But he says that he wants to put a bunch of Vegas musicians and dancers in his act if he can find such a venue. If he can stage such a production, it would be an effort to applaud.