It was the perfect place and the
perfect time to work out. The sun would be rising shortly at
Joe Gold’s legendary World Gym in Santa Monica, California. By
7:00 am, there would be at least seven Mr. Universe, Mr.
America, and Mr. Olympia champions present. Rowdy Roddy Piper
and I would be training alongside such living legends as Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Lou “The Incredible Hulk”
Ferrigno, Tom Platz, Frank Zane, Kalman Szkalak and Ms. Olympia,
It was “chest day.” I was doing
bench presses and Roddy Piper was “spotting” me. The sixth
rep was going up slowly. “Good one, Rock,” Roddy acknowledged.
“Now, give me two more reps!” I went for repetition number
seven, and the weight seemed to stop halfway up. “Push it,
Riddle. You can do it … I’m not going to help you. You’ve got
to do this one on your own.” Roddy turned slightly. He wanted
me to think he was going to walk away, leaving me to either
successfully complete the rep or die when the 275-pound bar came
down across my throat. I reached down deep inside for that
extra inner strength, let out a 110+ decibel scream, and with
great difficulty but tremendous intensity, slowly pushed the
weight to its top position. I had nothing left. I was glad
Roddy was there to help me lower the bar onto the rack. “One
more rep!” Roddy demanded. “You’re out of your mind, Piper,” I
whispered, not having the strength left to say it louder. Roddy
grinned and said, “One more rep!” The bar went down to my
chest. I gave a major effort which lifted the bar nearly two
inches before it came back down. Roddy grabbed the bar. “I’ll
help you, Rock, but I’m not going to do all of the work.” That
last rep left me with a major muscle “burn.” When I sat up, my
hands were dangling by my side, and I needed some recovery time
to regain control over them.
Roddy approached the bench, ready
for his set. “Hold on,” I said. “I need a minute before I spot
you.” “No, don’t worry,” Roddy said. I don’t need a spot for
my warm-up set.” He sat down on the bench. “He’s
not going to warm up with the weight that just defeated me!”
I said to myself in disbelief. Roddy was on his back on the
bench. He measured the bar with his hands, slid back under the
weight, and took a deep breath. He looked at me and smiled.
“Just kidding,” he said as he got up off the bench. “I’ll take
a couple of quarters off so you won’t feel so bad.” Quarters
are 25-pound weights. Roddy probably could have warmed up with
275 pounds, even though we usually did our warm-up sets with 225
After his set, Roddy motioned for
me to take the bench again. “Do you want the quarters back on?”
he asked. “No,” I responded. “Just add a couple of dimes. We
do have to wrestle tonight, you know.” “Okay,” Roddy
acknowledged. “Hey, Rock. You know who Andy Kaufman is,
right?” “Sure,” I said. “That guy has our sense of humor.
He’s really good. I like his stuff.” “Well, that’s good,
Rock,” Roddy said, “because he has a message for you.” I wasn’t
sure what was coming. Roddy didn’t seem to be setting me up for
a joke. He explained, “I had dinner with Andy yesterday. You
know he’s a huge wrestling fan. Anyway, he saw you on ‘Fernwood
2Night’ and he wanted me to tell you that he thought you were
great.” “Really? Seriously?” I asked. “Yes, Rock,
“Fernwood 2Night” starred Martin
Mull and Fred Willard and was a hit prime-time TV series. I
played a comedic version of myself as “Rock Mondo” on the show.
I sang (badly), broke boards with my hands, and beat up a dummy
as a part of a “show business act” for the program. Although
the entire show was scripted, I had done an improvised
videotaped audition in order to get the job – and the writing
crew used my audition words for the script. Isn’t it
interesting how show business works?
I was sincerely flattered that
Andy Kaufman liked my work. I looked at Roddy Piper and said,
sincerely, “Please tell Andy Kaufman that I love his work. He
is a comic genius who is so far ahead of everybody else. Now,
that’s humor!” I watched Andy Kaufman every time I knew he was
appearing on television. I was blown away with his Elvis
impersonation. It was brilliant. His routine with the Mighty
Mouse theme was very funny. For months, every time I talked
with Roddy Piper, there was another complimentary message
delivered from Andy Kaufman to me. And, for months, every time
I talked with Roddy Piper, I sent a sincere message of praise
and admiration to Andy Kaufman. We had a great mutual
admiration society going.
No wonder Andy Kaufman wanted to
be a wrestler. He had a wrestler’s extreme sense of humor.
Andy was “putting on” the world and having great fun doing it.
His movie “My Breakfast With Blassie” was a classic. Now,
there’s a team: Classy Freddie Blassie and Andy Kaufman. The
film was a “put on” – and still, many people never got it. The
“Fridays” TV show was, from this professional wrestler’s point
of view, a classic. That’s right. “Fridays” was a LIVE
television show. If you’re a regular reader of this column, you
know how I, and many professional wrestlers, feel about that
topic. You’ve read my quote a number of times: “Life doesn’t
get any better than live television.” Andy Kaufman certainly
shared that truth.
I ran into my old friend Roddy
Piper again at a Cauliflower Alley Club Annual Wrestling Reunion
Banquet. We talked about the good old days. “Those were fun
times,” Roddy reminisced. “They sure were,” I added. “Do you
know the one thing I regret from those years?” I asked Roddy.
He shook his head. “Andy Kaufman and I had that ‘mutual
admiration’ thing going. You would pass the ‘You’re wonderful,
you’re great’ messages between us. We knew we would meet each
other eventually, but we never did. I miss Andy Kaufman. I
felt as though I knew him well, and it’s so strange that we
never met. I miss not meeting him in person.” Roddy looked
down slightly, with a little sadness in his eyes. “Yeah, Rock,
Andy was an amazing guy. We lost him way too soon.”
So, this column is a salute to
Andy Kaufman, a comic genius who understood the wrestling
business -- a man who lived his dreams, including working in the
professional wrestling ring. To understand Andy’s brand of
comedy is to have greater insight into the wonderful world of
professional wrestling. To thoroughly understand professional
wrestling is to gain much greater insight and appreciation of
the wonderful person and the comic genius Andy Kaufman was.
Until next week, please keep those e-mails coming.