This guy. Right here. Totally the best.
Sorry, all other dads out there. I'm sure you're pretty good, too.
It will come as no surprise, then, when I say that my father and I agree on most things. In fact, the older I get, the more we agree. I hope this is a sign of advancing wisdom on my part, but it's possible I'm just getting crankier as I age.
One thing we do not agree on, however, is Andy Kauffman.
See, Daddy thinks Andy Kauffman was a comic genius. And I think he was an asshole.
Yup. Totally an asshole.
The two aren't actually mutually exclusive, but you might say that what we really disagree on is which is the defining characteristic of the man. His ability to be funny? Or his complete disregard for the feelings of others?
I think it's easy to see why my father finds Kauffman so funny. He certainly was a visionary, and much of what he did, even when it wasn't necessarily intended to be amusing, was, in the end, completely hilarious. And the fact that Kauffman frequently chose to do this by challenging people's perceptions, making them uncomfortable, and outright offending them probably doesn't phase Daddy all that much. After all, he has a lifetime of social justice work under his belt, and a huge part of that work is challenging people's perceptions, making them uncomfortable, and outright offending them, if that's what it takes to get the job done. So I can see why Kauffman's own brand of humor doesn't bother my dad. The methodology is a lot like what he does on a daily basis, although the results are a bit different.
aka How to Make Waves to Good Effect
For me, the difference lies in the purpose of his actions. I fully support my father's habits, knowing that he is challenging people in order to help build a better world. I feel like that's a worthy goal, and in the grand passage of time, no worthy goal has been accomplished without pissing off a pretty large number of people. As far as I can glean, though, Kauffman was just needling people because he wanted to entertain himself. In one of his most famous interviews, he admitted that he wasn't in it for any deep reason. "I just like messing with people's heads."
Look. We all make pacts with one another for a certain amount of discomfort, mostly implied pacts, but occasionally spelled out. In my family we like to play rough, and you know we really like you when we make the effort to level a sick burn in your general direction. I've got a friend who adores horror movies, for reasons I cannot fathom, but I know that she and others like her go to these movies with an inherent willingness to have the crap scared out of them. Don't even get me started on the kink community, where their main jam is making each other uncomfortable under very controlled circumstances.
But in each of those scenarios, the participants have agreed to play along. I don't think anyone goes to a BDSM party expecting to have a mild evening with wine and cheese. I don't think anyone goes to a horror movie thinking it's about puppies and rainbows. And I know for damn sure no one hangs out with my family that hasn't been appraised of the rules. Hell, my siblings and I actively WARN people when they're entering our familial home.
There be dragons here.
The rules are different when you're in public, or playing on an unwitting mass of people. At least, I think they are. In public we have different rules for how we play, because in public there are innocent bystanders who might actually get hurt, or scared. And while I'm willing to risk that hurt or fear if there is an actual worthy good to be gained, I'm not willing to risk it just to be amused. Which is why I'll never really change my mind about Andy Kauffman. He didn't care about the innocent bystanders, as long as he pulled off his prank.
In case you're wondering, yeah, this is relevant to my life. Just today on Facebook I posted the following sentence, and I think it pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter:
Our intention should never, ever be to wound someone else purely for our own amusement.
So, seriously, don't be Andy Kauffman. Be Mike Woodard, if you can manage it, because (just to reiterate) he is one amazing human being. But don't be Andy Kauffman.
Even though Daddy likes him.
** It is worth noting that, like all other great achievers, Daddy did not do this alone. Anyone who claims they managed something magnificent all by themselves is either a liar or very, very stupid. My father just happened to be the most visible member of a very dedicated group of people, which is why he got his name on the check, but they are all stellar human beings.