New Wave Theatre was a show on the USA Network in the early eighties, the very start of cable TV. For a brief while, it was the most vital, cutting edge show coming out of Los Angeles, showcasing dozens of local bands like the Blasters and the Dead Kennedys who didn't have a chance of exposure anywhere else. The show was hosted by Peter Ivers, a singer/songwriter performance artist whose biggest claim to fame was having composed "In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)" from David Lynch's Eraserhead. He wore outlandish clothing and spouted intellectual Zen Buddhist philosophy in between the punk bands, asking them questions like "What is the meaning of life?" instead of "Tell us about your latest recording." He came off a bit smug, so the bands tended to hate him, but his peaceful rantings lent an interesting yin to the extreme violent yang of the music on the show, which was written, produced, shot, directed, and edited by a madman named David Jove.
Peter Ivers on New Wave Theatre
New Wave Theatre came to an end when Ivers was bludgeoned to death in his home in downtown L.A. The murderer has never been caught, though many suspect it must have been a member of a band who had appeared on the show and got pissed off at Iver's hippy-dippy questions.
The Plugz on New Wave Theatre
David Jove Reacts to Peter Iver's Murder
The Peter Principle immediately came into play, and I'm not talking about Ivers. Jove, who worked well with his underground crew and punk bands, editing in his own private bay in his cave-like home, was totally out of his league in the real world of television. New Wave Theatre was shot guerrilla style, and he was in charge of absolutely everything. Faced with an actual production staff, he found himself completely incapable of delegating authority, preferring instead to boss everyone around, telling them specifically what he wanted them to do, and ordering them not to do anything else. He literally ran around stopping people from doing their jobs. It was nuts. Everyone hated him.
I was hired as head writer because Ramis insisted that he hire a head writer. Jove made it quite clear to me that every single word uttered by anybody on the show was to be written by him and him alone. I pointed out that Chase, Dangerfield, Murray, and Aykroyd were pretty funny guys, and he might want to give them some leeway to do their own material, but he would have none of it. No one would do any of their own material. They would only say what Jove told them to say. I was welcome to attend every conference so that it would look like I was earning my pay, but I would not be allowed to actually write anything. Thus I got to personally witness one of the greatest self-destructs I've ever seen.
At the first writer's meeting, there was me, Jove, Chase, and Ramis. First Ramis introduced everybody and told his version of what the show should be, the version he thought would make the network happy. Then Chase got up, walked around the room talking, and for fifteen minutes was the funniest human being I had ever seen. At this point he hadn't done any television since Saturday Night Live, and he clearly found his role as movie star stifling. He was simply bursting with hilarious ideas. I took copious notes and saw my career ahead of me in bright lights as the head writer of Chevy's comeback show, which would clearly be one of the funniest on television.
Then it was Jove's turn. One by one, he shot down every single one of Chevy and Harold's ideas. He made it very clear what the show was going to be. Despite what Ramis had told the network, it was going to be the David Jove show. He then ran through HIS list of ideas, like constantly cutting back to the control booth, which would be run by animals. Like the talk show portion of the show which would feature nothing but baby ducks. Like his wife and child performing a song. One by one, Chevy and Harold shot down every single one of David's ideas. There was a horrifying silence. Chevy threw out another idea. David turned it down. David threw out another idea. Harold turned it down, throwing out another idea of his own. David turned it down.
Finally, Chevy said "Why don't we satirize Thriller?" which was Michael Jackson's latest video that had just started airing that week. This was my cue. Just before the meeting, I had told David my idea for satirizing Thriller with Chevy Chase, replacing the words "it's a thriller in the night" with the words "it's a Chevy in the night," and having Chevy turn into a Chevy instead of a werewolf. Chevy and Harold looked at me and I said "That's a good idea," but just as I was about to tell my concept and justify my presence in the room, I felt a kick under the table. I looked at Jove, who surreptitiously lifted up his shirt to reveal a revolver in his belt. The message was pretty obvious: if I told my idea, which Chevy and Harold would clearly like, he would shoot me. I kept my mouth shut. The meeting ended in stalemate and a death threat.
Angry Samoans on New Wave Theatre
Finally, it was time to shoot the opening episode with a live audience. The rehearsal with the bands had gone well. Jove had scored quite a coup getting Cyndi Lauper to perform Time after Time. She was fantastic. The audience packed in, full of punks who were fans of the original New Wave Theatre, and expecting more of the same. Jove, who was used to actually being on the stage as the main hand-held camera operator, found himself stuck in the booth in back, having no idea how to give orders to the crew on the stage. As it turned out, he wouldn't need to.
There was a fanfare, an announcer said "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's THE TOP!" I had written Chevy several opening monologues. Chevy had written himself an opening monologue. But right before he went on, Jove had gone up to him and made him put on a punk costume with a spiked wig, telling him to just go on stage as a punk and wing it. Chevy came on stage in his punk costume, looking pretty uncomfortable since he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do next.
The opening music kept playing. He stood there. A bunch of punks in the front row, aroused by the music, jumped on stage and started slam dancing.
A word here about slam dancing. Slam dancing consists of jumping up and down like you're on a pogo stick while bouncing off of those near you. That's it. It works particularly well on a VERY crowded dance floor with VERY loud music; everyone caroming off each other like a million balls in an insane punk pinball game. Unless you know that slam dancing is a dance, you would have no idea that you were witnessing something other than a riot.
The network was still owed a show. Harold Ramis took charge. He arranged for a second taping a week later, getting Andy Kaufman to fill in as host. He threw out Jove's script and got a pair of handcuffs to keep him in his seat in the production room during taping. During one production meeting, he took a phone call, walking around the room, stretching the cord of the phone as he walked. When the conversation ended, he was on the other side of the room, and he simple let go of the phone, which flew across the room hitting David Jove smack in the middle of the forehead. It was the funniest moment of the whole production.
The second shooting was much more controlled. No punks allowed. Backstage before the show, Kaufman was as friendly as could be. There was not a hint of star ego as I hung out with him in the dressing room, taking his picture as they put on his make-up. As head writer of the show, I had absolutely nothing to do with the words that were to come out of his mouth, so I asked him what routines or characters he would be doing. "None," he said. "Just myself."45 Grave do "Evil" on New Wave Theatre
There was a fanfare and Dan Aykroyd's voice came over the loudspeakers: "Under no circumstances attempt to watch this show without a working television set." The monitors showed rapid, one frame cuts of star fields (one of Jove's specialties), then cut to the control booth, which was manned by three guys wearing big paper mache animal masks. A deep announcer's voice filled the room. "And now, from Hollywood California, the entertainment capital of the world, we welcome you to The Top!"
The list of guests followed: Cyndi Lauper, The Romantics, The Hollies, special guests Dan Aykroyd, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, Lili and Lotus, and Robert Roll as George Gerkon. "This is your suicidal announcer, Bill Martin," he concluded as the screen showed a baby duck walking around a miniature talk show set. Cut to a living room full of aliens watching a TV set. "And now your host, Andy Kaufman."
Finally, he went on stage, doing an opening that wasn't written by me, but contained remnants of Jove reworked by Ramis. It was nothing special. "Hi everybody" he waved.
"Hi Andy" the whole audience replied. Then a phone rang and Andy answered it. On the monitor, we saw a tape of Rodney Dangerfield on the phone saying "Andy, what's going on? When are you going to show Rappin' Rodney? I gotta go to the bathroom."
Andy did a double, a triple, a quadruple take looking at the phone. The screen cut to a little old lady saying "Now you stay tuned to The Top." A multi-colored fright wig appeared on her head. "Do you hear me?" she said shaking her finger at the screen. Cut to commercial.
During the rest of the show, Andy did little more than introduced the guests and take calls from Rodney. Aykroyd and Murray were wasted in a pre-taped segment which looked like Jove just got them stoned and babbling at each other. Dangerfield's segment consisted of the phone calls to Kaufman and his Rappin' Rodney video. The closest thing to comedy was supplied by Robert Roll doing a totally incomprehensible commercial satire written by Jove.
When the show was aired, there was no writing credit. During the final credits, which were shown over a rather sweet performance of a song about heaven by Jove's wife and daughter, Lotus Weinstock and Lili Hayden, I was called a "Creative Consultant."
Kaufman's performance in The Top seems to be unique in his career. He wasn't playing a character. He wasn't putting anyone on. He wasn't trying to be funny. There was an absolute lack of irony. It actually wasn't a performance; he was simply being himself, doing a favor for a friend, dropping every facade he had ever used, dropping any attempt at being clever or cute or even entertaining. Other than the remarkable circumstances leading to his filling in for Chevy Chase, it wasn't even worth writing about. He smiled a lot and just came off as a totally nice guy, without pretense, someone you could share a beer with. Anyone tuning in to see any of his trademark idiosyncrasies would have been pretty disappointed.
At the time, I saw it as a complete waste of his phenomenal talents, but looking back now, I see it as a moment of incredible clarity. He probably knew he was dying. He didn't have anything else to prove to anybody. He could afford to just be himself, and that was good enough. "I'm sorry, but that's the way it goes," he said. "Good-bye from The Top." He put his hand over his heart, looked at the audience, wide-eyed and innocent, and said "We love you" before walking off the stage. He died four months later. It was his last public appearance.
All of Andy Kaufman's Scenes in "The Top"
The following reply to this article was posted to alt.fan.andy-kaufman.
From: Mel Morgan
I PERSONALLY HATE TO SEE A GOOD MAN MALIGNED
PARTICULARLY IF THE GUY HAS HELPED A LOT OF PEOPLE
(ME BEING ONE OF THEM)
AND SOME PRIK LIKE THIS DARE GUY
-who wrote that BS "kayfman's last performance"
I KNOW THAT scammer FOR A FLANNEL-MOUTHED LIAR
SAYIN BAD STUFF ABOUT THIS FRIEND OF MINE
who the liar makes look like a whacko in his stupid delusion
--far from it!!!--
SO IM POSTING THIS TO SHINE A BIG WHITE LIGHT OF TRUTH ON
THIS scourge MICHAEL DARE
THE FRAUDULENT B.S. HE MAKES UP
CUZ HE'S SUCH A TOTAL LOSER
BUT HE'S WAY WORSE
HE'S A SQUEALER,
Y'KNOW A RAT...
AS IN TREASON!!
THIS SCAB-FACED DARE IS
THE SAME RAT-SCUM WHO SOLD OUT PRIVATE INFO TO BOB WOODWARD- (the book
WIRED about BELUSHI) years back
AND SCREWED SO MANY INNOCENT CAREERS
ITS PURELY EVIL-
THE GUY DOESN'T CARE WHO HE HURTS OR RIPS OFF
BUT LOOK WHERE IT'S GOT'M huh??
THIS Lyinphk HAS GOT AWAY WITH CONVINCING A LOT OF PEOPLE OF HIS
DELUSIONAL RAMBLINGS--for a long time
BUT NOW --OH YEAH!!--NOW
IT'S CRIMINAL LIBEL,defamation etc etc
(for which this a-hle is currently being PROPERLY set up for)
THIS PACK OF LIES
ABOUT ANDY'S LAST SHOW"-TOTAL BULL!!!
I WAS THERE-
HE HAD PHKALL TO DO WITH THAT SHOW PERIOD
I CAN PROVE IT!!
I CAN PROVE IT TO ANYONE WHO REALLY WANTS TO KNOW--
cuz my best pal was the main guy-
end of story
MICHAEL DARE IS
THE SAME RAT-SCUM WHO SOLD OUT PRIVATE INFO TO BOB WOODWARD- (the book
WIRED about BELUSHI) AND SCREWED/ruined SO MANY INNOCENT CAREERS
enough to make ya cry
THIS LOW-LIFE ACTUALLY RATTED OUT SO MANY PLAIN HARDWORKIN PEOPLE IN
H'WD THAT THE DIRT-BAG HAD TO RUN FOR HIS LIFE AND NOW HIDES OUT IN
THE HIGH DESERT.
-i mean seriously dont most people have a life to lead without harming
THIS GUY IS A VERY VERY BITTER ANIMAL
AS ANYONE CAN SEE BY READING THE ARTICLE CLOSE--
A CLOSER LOOK FOR YOURSELF
THEN TELL ME!
HOW MUCH ACTUALLY is there in the article about andy??
like WHAT??...one paragraph???
--the rest is just vengeful and viscious lies..whoops..sorry--forgot
to mention his pretending he had something to do with the the thing--
IT WAS IN FACT ACTUALLY ANDYS LAST SHOW
that's the extent of truth in the piece)
BUT FOR SURE THAT DICK NEVER SPOKE A SINGLE WORD WITH ANDY-
HE WASNT EVEN THERE--
HE WAZNT PART OF IT AT ALL PERIOD
NOR (like his stupid delusionary raps with the heavies)
EVER SPEAK WITH
AKROYD OR MURRAY
OR LAUPER ETC
I WAS THERE AS THE BEST BUD OF THE DIRECTOR
THE PRODUCER WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF THE SHOW (DJ)
WAS THE ONLY PERSON (OTHER THEN THE EXEC-PROD WHO ARRANGED HIM TO COME)
TO EVER SPEAK WITH ANDY
AND THAT, VERY BRIEFLY
BECAUSE THE GUY WAS SERIOUSLY VERY ILL--
I WATCHED FROM A DISTANCE--COUGHING EVERY FEW MINUTES
HE ONLY ARRIVED 5 MINZ B4 THE SHOW AS A FAVOR TO THE EXEC-PROD
BUT I SAW HIM AND MY FRIEND SEZ HE WAS BEAUTIFUL AND HOLY TILL THE END
IN FACT MY FRIEND HAS SOME OFTHE LAST FOOTAGE SHOT OFHIM
SLOWLY DISINTEGRATING AFTER ALMOST 20YEARS!!..
IT'S TRULY UNFORTUNATE THAT SCUM LIKE DARE HAVE NOTHING FURTHER TO
OFFER OUR DWNWARD SPIRALING WORLD
BUT THE PROBLEM OF THEIR OWN INSIGNIFICANT UGLY EXISTENCE.
THIS PITIFUL SAD POSEUR AND IMPOSTER...
SCAMMING PUBLICITY JUNKIE INTERLOPER,
THIS LIAR IS
ABOUT TO BE SUED I HEARD
BY THE DIST ATT. OF RIVERSIDE CNTY, CALIF.
FOR CRIMINAL LIBEL
WHICH WITH SOME LUCK WILL PUT HIM AWAY AND OFF THE WEB.
NO MORE TO SAY EXCEPT
I'M GLAD TO SPEAK UP IN DEFENSE OF MY PAL WHO THIS DARE GUY HAS
MALIGNED ALL OVER THE WWW--
but i believe this stuff comes around to visit-
but he's a scorpio I heard and they like to off themselves
ANDY WAS A DEEP CARING MAN AT HEART
AND FOR THE VERY BRIEF MOMENTS I WITNESSED
FROM A SHORT DISTANCE AWAY,
HE TOOK A REAL LIKING TO THE BEAUTIFUL GUY WHO PUT THE WHOLE THING
TOGETHER--IT WAS A 'HEART' THING
THEY EXCHANGED A LONG HUG TILL ANDY STARTED TO COUGH AGAIN
THIS GUY HE HUGGED--IS THE SAME GUY THAT THIS SCOUNDREL DARE HAS MADE
OUT TO BE A WHACKO --WHAT A TOTAL DIK!
nuthin cld be further from the truth--nuff sed
SO THANKS FOR LISTENING AND allowing me to clear this up
Everlasting Peace to Andy and let us take what we loved about him
into our own hearts
to keep his memory with us always..
SIGNED MM--- someone who cares about the truth.
heyo derryo phatphuk probobly you thought you'd never get around to REALLY stinging yourself reallly bad burn daedalus melt 3rd degree-- but you were ALL wrong---you just drowning started--DED starting up bleed yourself in show really gonna with spades
were toast warned you now are you all pleasure yours is
they're academy love gonna you best all and places too scrap keep better you're book off sprang
hell enjoy me self-undo
Yet Further Communication from "Mel Morgan"
YOU UGLY VISCIOUS SCUM
u blight--you scourge on all that is good and graceful
--you low insect motherphkn son of a bitch--
may god preserve me
to find a way fitting to
u out of existence-
METAPHORICALLY speaking of course
strike this beast
u DARE are the embodiment of all that is wrong with this world
you bloodsucker cheating rip-off prick-- i pray this is the year you contact a fatal illness and die a horrible and agonizing death commensurate with your lies.
i really hate you - you bastard
you ugly n'eer do well--you phoney untalented low life buffoon scum of the earth--my wish for u is for u to get what u deserve--a slow and horrendously painful death just like lotus experienced--
you have shit in my life one time too many and may all harm come your way you interloping gutter rat.
god i fear will not help u in the heavy karma you have invoked---
in the name of the powers on HIGH please cripple this sob the sooner the better---
may this year be filled with sorrow and the worst of all things possible for you---
you have singlehandedly prevented me from WORKING on now a half dozen 'could have been's because of your lying article--you have killed my future--hard to believe one lying article by a scumbag like u could do this but there it is--
people are fickle and u have
BLACKENED MY NAME EVERYWHERE
DO U REALLY THINK U ARE GONNA GET AWAY WITH THIS
YOU DIRTY FUK?
BY THE WAY THIS IS THE YEAR I AM TAKING U TO COURT and i'm told for what you've done i can put u behind bars where u belong
The Circle Jerks do "Wild in the Streets" on New Wave Theatre