Latka Gravas is a fictional character on the television sitcom Taxi portrayed by Andy Kaufman. A sweet-natured and lovable-but-goofy mechanic, Latka was based on a character Kaufman created known as Foreign Man.
In 1977, the producers of Taxi saw Kaufman's Foreign Man act at The Comedy Store. They had already created the main characters for the pilot but they enjoyed Kaufman so much they immediately offered him a role based on the character. Kaufman wasn't a fan of sitcoms, but his manager, George Shapiro, convinced him that this would rocket him to stardom, where he would make a lot of money which he could then put into his own act, which became Andy's Funhouse. Kaufman agreed to appear as Latka in fourteen episodes per season, approximately half of the entire series. One of Kaufman's conditions was that one of his other characters, Tony Clifton, be allowed to guest star in the series, but Clifton, who the producers did not know was Kaufman himself, was thrown off the set after causing havoc and enraging Judd Hirsch and Jeff Conaway.
In the show, Latka's home country is never disclosed (only referred to as "[Latka's] country" or "the old country"), and his native language is essentially gibberish. Some fans have theorised that Latka may be from a fictional country-island named Caspiar, which Kaufman claimed "Foreign Man" was from, but it has not been confirmed. In the first season, Latka's knowledge of the English language is extremely limited, and almost all of his lines are in his own language, to the point that he speaks his own language to the other characters when they answer him in English as if they understand what he is saying (but for comedic purposes, as the others do not understand him). From the second season onwards, his English has greatly improved and he is able to speak fluently with the other characters, but still with a heavy accent. In the second season, Latka becomes acquainted with Simka Dahblitz, a woman from his home country, and despite being from different ethnic groups who despise each other, Latka falls in love with Simka and they eventually get married (although in the first season, Latka falsely marries an American prostitute so as to avoid being deported back to his home country). Latka is also shown being visited by his mother, who develops an attraction to Alex Rieger, much to Latka's annoyance. Latka also becomes particularly close with fellow cabbie Reverend Jim "Iggy" Ignatowski, given that they are both eccentric men.
Latka's dissociative identity disorder was conceived late in the series as a result of Kaufman expressing boredom at portraying Latka. This allowed him to broaden his comedic abilities with alternate personas such as the womanising American Vic Ferrari, the cowboy Harlow, the elegant Englishman Sir Geoffrey, and even Alex Rieger himself. In these episodes, Latka's different personas have no idea that they are the same person, and Vic even talks about Latka as if he knows him personally. Comically, while he is Alex, Latka experiences Alex's problems in life and at one point even finds the right solution to them, but comically reverts to Latka before he can tell the real Alex. Around the same time as his marriage to Simka, Latka's alternate personalities are completely eradicated and do not appear again for the remainder of the series, although in the fifth and final season, Latka makes very few appearances, with some episodes even featuring Simka but not Latka. At one point, Latka is forced to have sex with a woman to stop her from dying of hypothermia with his body heat, and Simka contemplates doing the same to Latka in order to "repair" their marriage. When she cannot, they comically divorce and subsequently marry again with a "clean slate".
Kaufman was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Latka. Latka is briefly portrayed by Jim Carrey in the Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, in scenes redone from the original Taxi series, as Carrey was portraying Kaufman himself. Carrey won a Golden Globe Award for his performance.
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