Homily for Randy Hackett
February 8th, 2020
Ascension Memorial Church
Good day to you all–and welcome–family, friends, and fans of Randy Hackett. We are here to do what we need to do–to acknowledge a great loss, to share what we love about Randy, to laugh, to cry, to feel deep gratitude, and to take home with us some Randy mojo.
The work we do here today is important, but what’s needed is a light grip. Life works better that way. If we insist on being serious all the time, we will miss kind invitations, by those who love us, to put down what we are doing and join them by entering a kinder, gentler, more playful, more expansive world than the one we are holding onto tightly. It behooves us to loosen our grip on the safe, the ordinary, the familiar to risk tasting something transcendent. Experiences of transcendence, of tasting what lies beyond our grasp, bring us alive every time. And with every taste, we can hardly keep from laughing.
I hope you’ve seen Randy’s 31-second Vonage commercial. It can’t be justly explained in words, but here I go: a woman is at home speaking to an off-camera interviewer. She is pleased to say how easy it was to change her phone service to Vonage. As she is speaking, at some distance behind her—at the far end of the house—a man appears in a wide doorway, he’s in his pajamas—her husband?—he’s clearly enjoying a middle-age version of the Loony-Goony,…and he’s really good, he’s bringing it, he is in the groove.
The woman takes a look over her shoulder, then, with her face back to the camera, you know from her wistful expression that this is by no means the first time Mr. Pajamas has danced the Loony-Goony around the house—nor can he be expected to put a lid on it for the sake of company.
[Quick side bar comment: Could be just me, but I’m thinking this scenario has a real-life Randy/Binni feel to it.]
Every time I play this 31-second video it makes me laugh….and I’m the kind of person who wonders why it makes me laugh? Randy knew. Randy knew the chemistry of humor. He knew it so well he could teach it, which can’t be easy, to explain why humor works. So let me try, for Randy’s sake, because I suspect it may helps us understand him better, and admire him all the more.
There’s something important at work in Randy’s performance-driven comedy that can be seen also in his crazy practice of swimming in the ocean. “Wild swimming” they call it in England. The term covers any form of swimming done in a natural setting, especially during the winter. People swim in the wild for various reasons, mostly related to physical health. The best reason I have heard is this, that diving into a wild body of water has a way of transporting you out of your normal world—its like taking a condensed holiday.
Brilliant comedy, like a swim in the Atlantic Ocean, has the power to take your breath away, and then give it back to you. In either case, we suddenly, almost against our will, find ourselves plunged into a new and wider world, where our horizon is now vastly expanded, and that pressure we’d been feeling–pressing down on us for so long that we’d come to accept it—that pressure is suddenly gone, and the difference in barometric pressure sucks the breath right out of us, making us giddy and light headed, making us feel ever, ever so much alive.
I wonder about Randy, toward the end of his life. He was so accustomed to the spiritual highs of entering vastly wider worlds by means of comedy and physical activity. I can appreciate how frustrating it had to have been for him, as life became so serious and painful, for him to begin to lose sight of life’s invitations to transcendence. Were the invitations there at all, or could he not see them?
Randy was not afraid of pain, not afraid of adventure, not afraid of cold ocean water, not afraid of dying; he was afraid of not being alive. He was afraid of being confined to an ordinary world without room enough to do the Loony-Goony, a world in which he was not be at liberty to dive into new and expanded worlds of transcendence, a world in which he could no longer make us laugh, no longer make himself laugh, and so taste the joy of having his breath taken away, and given back again.