The all-time classic 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack revels in raunch, rock, booze, dope, illicit hook-ups, monumental insults, ethnic humor, gross-out gags, combat against woodland animals, and overall “bad” behavior the likes of which defined the American teenage summer job experience for decades.
Alas, times have changed, but the explosive hilarity and pure jovial joy of Caddyshack have not—and they never will.
So, for Millennials who may blanch at Caddyshack’s coarser comedic edges, as well as feel baffled by a few of its undeniably dated specifics, here’s an eight-pointed explanation of just some of what makes Ghostbuster Harold Ramis’s directorial debut such an endlessly enduring triumph in the annals of gut-buster cinema.
Tee up and have at it!
Caddying Was a Common (and Pretty Cool) Teenage Summer Job
Prior to the Internet and the prevalence of unpaid internships, a paid high school or college-age summer gig frequently meant working retail or, oftentimes, laboring outdoors.
For many a suburban teen from the 1950s on into the ’90s, that meant lugging golf gear at country clubs. Among such fairway veterans was actor and comedian Brian Doyle-Murray, who caddied at a Chicago area course throughout his adolescence right alongside his brother (and Caddyshack co-star) Bill Murray. Director Ramis also carried golf bags at a nearby club.
Together with National Lampoon co-founder and Animal House co-writer Doug Kenney, Doyle-Murray and Ramis penned the Caddyshack script based on their coming-of-age hot weather moneymaking experiences.
Teens still caddy, of course, but they’re more likely to play Tiger Woods PGA Tour on Xbox than to ever hit any actual links—especially just to schlepp around somebody else’s irons for tips.
Chevy Chase Ruled as Comedy’s Cutting-Edge King
If Millennials think of Chevy Chase at all, it’s almost entirely for his role as Clark Griswold in the Vacation movies (Christmas Vacation most especially). Some cultists might also bring up Pierce Hawthorne on Community.
Circa 1980, though, Chevy Chase figured along with Steve Martin and Robin Williams as comedy's hugest new subversive superstars. Chevy had been Saturday Night Live’s first breakout sensation and then successfully transitioned to movies via the smashes Foul Play (1978) and Seems Like Old Times (1980).
Hip, hilarious, and beyond hot, Chevy naturally took top billing (and garnered the biggest paycheck) among Caddyshack’s ensemble cast.
That status didn’t last forever, of course. Nonetheless, we will always have Caddyshack’s Ty Webb to remind us just how great Chevy Chase got in his prime (and Chevy will always have him, too).
Rodney Dangerfield Was Alt-Comedy’s First Hipster
Stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield endured a long, storied, stop-and-start career over the decades leading up to Caddyshack. He’d created his luckless loser persona and beloved catchphrase—“I don’t get no respect!”—in the 1960s and enjoyed a good degree of success playing the usual rounds for comics of the era.
Then, in 1969, Rodney virtually invented the Do-It-Yourself approach to stand-up by opening Dangerfield’s, his own Manhattan comedy club where he could work under his own rules and book his own favorite funny peers without having to answer to any higher-ups. Amid New York’s myriad contemporary comedian-run venues and events, Dangerfield’s remains open and active today.
Rodney’s style also predated such alt-comic concepts as taking on an ironic persona. Dangerfield originally hailed from the vintage stand-up era of cornball one-liners such as “Take my wife—please!”, but his writing and delivery was so brilliant and so unique, that his performances functioned at once as both straight-up joke-telling and commentary on the old style of straight-up joke-telling.
After Saturday Night Live brought the ’60s and ’70s comedy counterculture to the mainstream, comics of that generation embraced Dangerfield as one of their own. As he filmed his riotous, almost entirely improvised scenes in Caddyshack, Rodney’s co-stars Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, as well as the National Lampoon and Second City talent associated with the movie, stood in awe of the master at work.
Bill Murray Had Been Fine-Tuning Carl Spackler for Years
If Bill Murray’s cracked, gopher-loathing assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler seems like a unusually complete character from the get-go, it’s because the funnyman had been performing a version of him for years.
Specifically, Carl Spackler began life as “The Honker,” a burnt-out, mush-mouthed, presumably vagabond big talker that Murray first performed on stage at Second City. The Honker also made his way to The National Lampoon Radio Hour and, years later, a couple of Saturday Night Live sketches.
As a result, Carl felt familiar to Murray fans who had long loved The Honker.
And yes, Millennials—you who think of Bill Murray as your own after all those precious (treacly) and adorable (infantile) Wes Anderson cinematic confections (diabetic defecations)—your hero concocted a full-blown comedy trope out of mocking and imitating the brain-damaged, the multiply-addicted, and the homeless. And it will always be freakin' hilarious.
Drugs Were Cool; Underage Drinking Was (Almost) Cooler
“Do you take drugs, Danny?” Chevy Chase, as philosophical golf ace Ty Webb, asks Caddyshack’s youthful hero, Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe).
“Every day,” Danny replies without batting an eyelash.
“That’s good,” Chevy assures him.
Please imagine, now, the 21st century prospect of a adult male of power in a trust-driven business setting casually inquiring of an underage employee if the youth enjoyed consuming illegal intoxicants.
Really—just imagine the apocalyptic reactions.
Then picture what might go down if somebody supplied teenage caddies with beer, as Rodney does from a tap that emerges from his ultra high-tech golf bag.
The Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie Pays Homage to Caddyshack’s Sandy McFiddish
Throughout much of the past century, numerous Japanese immigrants built their American dreams by way of landscaping businesses, especially in Southern California, from where movies and TV shows typically originate. As a result, many old Hollywood features contain Japanese gardeners, no small amount of who are comically stereotyped.
In more recent years, Mexican and other Latin-American landscape workers have become a familiar sight, although—¡Dio mio!—you’re not likely to see cartoonish (mis)representations of them that stress ethnic characteristics in contemporary entertainment.
Why, then, did The Simpsons go Scottish with Groundskeeper Willie, the show’s wildly exaggerated master of lawn care? In tribute to the hotheaded, impenetrable-accented Sandy McFiddish from Caddyshack, that’s why.
For Decades, Caddyshack Lingered in Animal House’s Shadow—But Now Seems to Have Surpassed It
Harold Ramis and Doug Kenney’s first screenplay collaboration, National Lampoon’s Animal House, exploded box office records and instantly reinvented both the possibilities and the very concept of uproarious comic filmmaking.
For many, many years, Animal House also topped comedy surveys and was largely perceived to be the public’s all-time favorite funny movie.
Doug Kenney set out to blow away the impact of his previous effort with Caddyshack and, if you compare its popularity against Animal House today, it does seem as though his dream came true.
Back in 1980, though, that certainly wasn’t the case.
Tragically, Doug Kenney did not live to see his ultimate triumph—he died after a still mysterious fall from a cliff in Hawaii while vacationing with Chevy Chase. Doug took the trip, in part, to get over the initial negative reactions to Caddyshack.
Critics loved Animal House on first impact and audiences jammed theaters for round-the-clock screenings. With Caddyshack, reviewers not only railed against the movie itself, they seemed to blame it for all the lesser lowbrow comedic gross-outs that Animal House had wrought.
That angry, unfair, and, frankly, inaccurate sentiment influenced society’s consensus as well. Caddyshack didn’t bomb financially, but it paled next to Animal House’s historic earnings, and audience word-of-mouth wasn’t nearly so ecstatic.
What shifted Caddyshack’s position, then, was its nearly nonstop airing on multiple cable networks throughout the ensuing decades, whereupon multiple generations discovered the movie and went gaga over it—and they still do.
The cultural importance and comedic brilliance of Animal House has not diminished. What has decreased, though, is that original shockbuster’s universally beloved status in comparison to how people generally glow whenever anyone, anywhere brings up Caddyshack.
In terms of Millennials, screening Caddyshack for them will bring on the requisite moans about “White Male Privilege” and “Female Body Objectification,” but they likely won’t be able to keep from cracking up fairly consistently.
When it comes to Animal House, though… Godspeed to any foolhardy scribe who attempts a mere listicle to “old-splain” that carpet-bombing of Political Correctness to today’s "I'm Offended, Therefore I Am" Generation.