My co-workers and I were discussing Caddyshack at work the other day—how much we enjoy the scene where Bill Murray tells his story of caddying for the Dalai Lama–so I couldn't help but press "play" last night when I noticed the film was available to watch on Comcast's free movie list. While the performances by Chevy Chase and Bill Murray have gone on to be legendary among fans of the genre, it's the dichotomy of Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight that I have grown to appreciate. Knight's portrayal of Judge Smails—the pedantic, elitist, classist, nit-picky, cheap, hot-tempered, insecure know-it-all of Bushwood Estates—is so well done that I can't help but laugh out loud every time I watch it. Working in the wine and spirits industry you encounter a lot of similar personalities and Judge Smails is the epitome of that type. To see Rodney Dangerfield come in and mock that mentality right to its face creates what are, to me, the ultimate feel-good moments of Caddyshack.
When I first started working at K&L I was way too over the top for many of my co-workers. I was loud, outspoken, carefree, and I didn't care about letting people know if I liked something—i.e. showing emotion or enthusiasm. That's a big no-no in the wine and spirits world. You're supposed to be tempered, reserved, studious, and guarded. That way you'll appear more knowledgeable and people will take you seriously. My views were completely the opposite, however. In my opinion, if you were open, not too serious, fun, and generally positive you could help people who may have been a bit nervous about the wine experience feel comfortable. Respect would come later based on whether you gave them good advise or not (if you didn't, they wouldn't come back). Most people are weary of walking into a fancy booze store and making a selection for themselves. I definitely wanted to be more like Rodney Dangerfield's Al Czervik; using humor to make the whole experience a party that everyone could be invited to and making sure we weren't catering purely to Bushwood members.
As you watch the film you can see Dangerfield simply getting off on Knight's anger. The madder Judge Smails gets, the funnier Dangerfield thinks it is. That's because the more angry Knight becomes, the more he reveals what an utter asshole he is, embarrassing himself in front of his counterparts. I have to admit I have a bit of the same desire inside of me. The more uptight and rigid a person is about wine or spirits, the more I want to loosen them up. I can't help but be drawn into the opportunity.
And Czervik can't either. Dangerfield's carefree character continuously antagonizes Knight's stuffy temperament and it drives the poor guy mad. While Judge Smails is out on the fairway trying to impress his golfing buddies (after moving the ball around with his foot), Al Czervik is drinking beer out of the mini-keg in his golf bag and blasting the radio. While Smails wants to have a structured dinner with proper attire and civilized conversation, Dangerfield turns it into a rock and roll dance floor. What ultimately sends Smails through the roof is the idea that a man like Czervik would be accepted at Bushwood by the other golfers. That's where most of his anxiety stems from, in my opinion.
But there are people out there who enjoy wine and spirits (and golf) who don't want to lectured. They don't want to feel small. They don't want to argue about little details or compete with one another. They're too busy enjoying themselves—or at least they're trying to without their own version of Ted Knight telling them what they can and cannot do with their own bottle of whiskey. And that's where I feel the new generation of drinkers will take the hobby. We're seeing edgier labels, bolder flavors, and less conservative approaches to single malt marketing. Younger aficionados care less about having the proper glassware and more about having fun with their new pastime. I see it in the store every day and it makes me very, very happy. They're not reading "The Ten Best Whiskies" list, they're not reading blogs, and they're not chasing points or trophy bottles; they're simply asking questions and taking chances.
That type of behavior makes people like Judge Smails very angry. As a judge, he wants respect for the rules. As an elitist, he wants his superior understanding and acceptance of those rules to make him important. The fact that someone would just not care about his ideals is beyond him. Yet, it's happening in the whisky world right now and, while it's making the professorial-minded a bit uncomfortable, it's putting a smile on my face.
That's the Caddyshack effect: fun changing the face of rigidity. It makes for a funny movie and even funnier whisky encounters, if you find antagonizing that type of person amusing. Which I do.