Man, I leave this thread for a few hours and look what happens!
I think Kaufman was really more a performance artist than a comedian. He liked to push boundaries and screw around with people and sometimes it was funny, sometimes it wasn't. But he was always successful in the way that a modern artist might be successful in making people talk about their paintings, but not create a work of "beauty." I'd be angry, probably, if I was a Kaufman fan and found out I'd paid to see him and it wasn't really him. But then again, if I dug his whole schtick, maybe I'd have thought, "Hey, good one, Andy, you got me." Hmmm, it's interesting to think about.
As to the second question, I'm not sure you could be intentionally unintentionally funny, b/c by drawing people's attention to your "performance," you're creating a higher level of expectation. First, you'd feel a pressure and self-consciousness that you wouldn't feel if you were singing (or whatever) in perfect seriousness. Second, it would probably create a feeling of pity/uncomfortableness in the audience, b/c they wouldn't know you were in on the joke. In order to laugh at people intentionally, we have to know they're in on the joke. If things just happen, all bets are off, and anything is fair game to laugh at. I'm not sure any of this is making sense--I'm running on very little sleep. :-)
Tallulah, I totally agree that Kaufman was probably more a performance artist than a traditional comedian. I still struggle with whether he dealt in bad faith with the audience though. It's funny to me in retrospect, but I didn't buy a ticket. I suppose you have a point when you say as a fan of his, it's probably the kind of thing you would admire.
As for the second question, I'm not sure I was clear. I wasn't referring to the audience knowingly watching me sing sincerely and poorly...I agree that it's not funny if the audience doesn't know you're in on the joke. I was referring to a situation in which a skit may include a character that is a bad lounge singer or maybe a skit that includes karaoke singing. I wondered what to make of the decision to sincerely try to sing well in that skit, knowing that you are an awful singer and that your efforts would feel more genuine than mimicking a bad singer. As I type it a second time, I really think that the question is moot. The audience will never know which way you're doing it, and as long as they laugh I guess it's valid.
And you don't get to cite lack of sleep as an excuse...I never went to bed last night!
Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.