Andy Kaufman, the big-deal comedian and woman-wrestler who has (and has been) a pain in the neck, is out of the hospital now and sorry he ever got into the ring with professional wrestler Jerry (The King) Lawler.

Kaufman says: "It was stupid of me to go into the ring with him. The whole wrestling thing was stupid. Even wrestling women was stupid. What happened was that after beating all those women I actually began to believe my whole act. I thought I was a champion wrestler, an athlete, a macho guy."

Jerry Lawler, who wanted to hurt Kaufman and doesn't regret having twice pile-driven him to the canvas, nonetheless hopes the public won't misinterpret what happened in Memphis last Monday.

Lawler says: "He came here to have a lot of fun at everyone's expense. He said that wrestlers never actually get hurt, that wrestling was a joke, that I was a joke. I told him, 'This is my opportunity to show you what it's really like.' I could have just pinned him. But if I had, he'd have said--'No big deal. I wrestled a pro and he couldn't even hurt me.' So I felt I had to hurt him for the credibility of wrestling and for my own credibility."

Paula Lawler has mixed feelings. On one hand she feels Kaufman, a costar of TV's "Taxi," deserved it because of the way he made fun of her husband and his profession, calling Jerry "a hick" and wrestling "phony." On the other hand she feels a little bad for him, since he was hospitalized for three days. But what she mostly feels is excited. Her husband is becoming famous, and she says he loves it; he's just going crazy, he's so happy. Newspaper, radio and television reporters have been calling their home in Hendersonville, Tenn., every five minutes since Monday.

And she says: "The most exciting thing now would be for Jerry to go on the Johnny Carson show."

Which sort of says it all, doesn't it?

Kaufman, at 165 pounds a pencil-necked geek by wrestling standards, wanted to work a deal with the 234-pound Lawler, one of those push-me/pull-you deals where nothing--not even the blood--is real, and the fans go home happy and the wrestlers go home healthy. "I thought it was all phony anyway, so I figured we were going to work something out," Kaufman said in a telephone interview. "But whenever I called, I couldn't get through."

Kaufman and Lawler met for the first time the morning of the match, on a Memphis TV show. Instead of the usual pre-match Messianic hype that wrestlers indulge in (". . . I want all my fans out there to come to the arena tonight and see me take this wimp's head and twist it and shake it and squeeze it until it looks like an empty toothpaste tube . . ."), Kaufman asked Lawler to take it easy on him, and Lawler, the most popular wrestler in the mid-South, said, "I'm not playing. This is for real."

Having been, by his own admission, "scared for a whole week," Kaufman then began to get "real scared." He went into the ring with his customary bravura, jumping up and down like an ape, ranting and raving at Lawler. "My plan was to run from him for the time limit--jump out of the ring every time he got near me," Kaufman said. "I ran for five minutes, but it was getting monotonous."

Lawler then offered the headlock gambit.

"C'mon, get me in a headlock," the spider said to the fly.

Kaufman, thinking this could be the deal he hoped for, accepted. As Looie DiPalma might say to Latka Gravas on "Taxi": "Smart move, fish brain."

Lawler immediately hoisted Kaufman into the air, turned him upside down and dropped him on his head. Ka-Boom! Once. One pile-driver like that would surely have gotten the message through even to a brain-dead Kaufman, but, in true romp-stomp-whomp-bomp pro wrestling spirit, Lawler said he "couldn't take the chance" that it was enough. And so, Ka-Boom! Twice.

"I know it sounds callous," Lawler said yesterday. "But I don't think Andy Kaufman cared one bit about the 10 years I've put in building my reputation as a pro wrestler. I've got a wife and two kids. I don't think he cared one bit about how he was hurting my career--he could have killed my credibility in one night."

So you thought you had to hurt him?


Did you want to seriously hurt him?

"I just wanted to hurt him; I wasn't thinking about how seriously . . . Look, I could've hurt him in a lot of ways. I could've hit him in the face and broken his nose; I could've ripped out his eye; I could've ripped off his arm. But then they'd have helped him out of the ring, and he'd be walking around all bloody, and he'd have gotten a lot of sympathy. But I knew that if his neck was hurt, they wouldn't move him. They'd have to come into the ring and cart him off on a stretcher--and that's what I wanted. I wanted him to have to be carried out."

And how does that feel?

"I'm hesitant to tell you. Truth is, there was a feeling of satisfaction. I mean 9,000 people came to see Andy Kaufman get what he deserved, and that's what they wanted. If they hadn't seen him get carried out they wouldn't have come back the next week."

Which sort of says it all, doesn't it?

Paula Lawler did not telephone Andy Kaufman in the hospital. "I wouldn't know what to say," she said.

Jerry Lawler did not telephone Andy Kaufman in the hospital. "Why should I? It's not like he's my friend," he said.

Andy Kaufman, after three days in St. Vincent's Hospital, was released on Thursday. On the phone Kaufman sounded quite meek, no doubt another of his many rehearsed personalities. When asked if he thought he might have deserved being hurt in the ring, Kaufman said, "Well, I've made somewhat of a career of playing with people--taunting them. If you look at it that way, maybe I did."

It says here that pro wrestling, if not all phony, is certainly not all real. And it says here that Andy Kaufman, one of the strangest acts going, is usually about a quart low. You put those together, and you wonder whether all of this--the match, the hospital, the act, the react--hasn't been calculated, whether Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman didn't just get together and indeed work their deal and just spun it a little different?

"I guess some people might think that," Kaufman said, meekly and mildly a la Eddie Haskell. "I mean, I've been known to pull stunts."

Which sort of says it all, doesn't it?