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.
T'ank you veddy much." The audience would be torn between outrage at seeing such a bad act, and empathy for the hapless entertainer, who would cry on stage once heckled enough.
At that point, Foreign Man would announce "And now I would like to imitate the Elvis Presley," turn around, take off his jacket, slick his hair back, and launch into an Elvis Presley impersonation so good that Presley himself described it as his favorite.
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.
He might speak in a fake accent, and say "I would like to imitate Meester Carter, de President of de United States." He would continue in the same voice, "Hello, I am Meester Carter, de President of de United States.This kind of performance art—not stand-up comedy—is a hallmark of Kaufman's career.(In the bio-pic Man on the Moon, this event was shown to be planned and performed after Kaufman was diagnosed with cancer, when in fact it took place almost four years before.) The Taxi deal with ABC included giving Kaufman a television "special." He came up with Andy's Funhouse, based on an old routine he had developed while in junior college.The performance is most famous for Kaufman ending the show by actually taking the entire audience, in 20 buses, out for milk and cookies.He invited anyone interested to meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning, where the show continued.After the wild applause that almost always came after his Elvis impression, he would take a simple bow and say in his "Foreign Man" voice, "T'ank you veddy much!" The audience would realize they had been tricked, which became a trademark of Kaufman's comedy.As a requirement for Kaufman accepting the offer to star on Taxi, he insisted that "Clifton" be hired for a guest role on the show as if he were a real person, not a character.After throwing a tantrum on the set, Clifton was fired and escorted off of the studio lot by security guards.News programs interviewed Clifton as Kaufman's opening act, with the mood turning ugly whenever Kaufman's name came up.Kaufman, Clifton insisted, was attempting to ruin Clifton's "good name" in order to make money and get famous.