No joking matter.
Correction (published Feb. 6, 2013): An Oregon Life story Friday about Eugene comedian Andy Andrist quoted court testimony from Florida that Andrist and fellow comedian Doug Stanhope have "made a habit of making outrageous videos to shock and offend people." The lawyer quoted gave examples of hidden camera videos. The story failed to specify that the hidden camera videos cited in the examples were made by Stanhope. The two comedians are defendants in a defamation and slander suit in Florida.
Here's one version of the story you're about to read:
Eugene stand-up comic Andy Andrist heads for Florida last fall and does an videotaped ambush interview with the man who molested him three decades ago. The comic plans to put the resulting video online on Super Bowl Sunday.
The man, says Andrist, admits on tape to being a child molester.
Here's a completely different version of the same story:
Andrist, a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking comic who is known for outrageous video stunts, heads to Florida with two other comics to extort a car - or is it money? - from a man who was a friend of Andrist's family in California more than 30 years ago.
The man - who did not respond to an interview request through his lawyer - absolutely denies being a child
molester, the lawyer says.
Which story is fiction and which is true is the subject of a slander and defamation lawsuit filed in a Florida court in December by the man who Andrist claims molested him.
Here are some facts not in dispute.
Andrist and two comic friends - Eugene comedian and videographer Chris Castles and Bisbee, Ariz., stand-up comic Doug Stanhope - went to Port St. Lucie, Fla., in November to confront a man Andrist claims molested him three decades ago in California.
When they arrived, Stanhope - who self-published a book in 2006 titled "Fun With Pedophiles: The Best of Baiting" - telephoned the man, pretending to be a private investigator who wanted to discuss sensitive knowledge about the man's college-age daughter. He asked the man to meet him outdoors at a hotel.
The man - we're not identifying him here, given the slender evidence against him - showed up for the meeting with his wife and a sheriff's deputy in tow.
Meanwhile, Castles videotaped the confrontation between Andrist and the older man.
At Andrist's request, we met at a bar in south Eugene, where he consumed two bloody marys in the course of an hourlong midday interview and talked about a drinking problem that may have begun when he was in middle school.
"He was plying me with booze," he says. "He was grooming me."
A teenage encounter
Andrist, 47, is a native of Coquille who now lives in Eugene. He has written for Comedy Central's "The Man Show" and was a member of Stanhope's comedy group, the Unbookables.
Andrist's style is definitely hard core, with language and subject matter each trying to outdo the other for offensiveness. He jokes, for example, about military veterans' need for "amputee porn."
In our interview, Andrist described a relationship with his molester that began when the man - who had met Andrist's father when they both were patients in a veterans hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area - invited him to help him produce videos.
Soon, he says, the young teenager was the subject of the videos, wearing only his underwear.
Eventually, in his account, things progressed to the man's touching Andrist's genitals, although he says there was never any penetration.
"I consider it soft molestation," he says.
It was the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal in 2011 that finally provoked Andrist to confront his molester, Andrist says.
"After the Sandusky thing I walked around sad and depressed for weeks," he says.
He tracked down the man through the Internet, enlisted the help of his two friends and headed for Florida.
Before they left, Stanhope tweeted: "Guy who molested @AndyAndrist said he'd buy him a car. 33 years later, Andy's tracked him down and we're going to FL to collect. #Ambush."
In a Florida court
That kind of thing was like a gift-wrapped present to J. Garry Rooney, the Florida lawyer representing the man Andrist says molested him.
"I hate to say the word 'extortion,' " Rooney says in a phone call. "I didn't hear the sound of the victim in Mr. Andrist when he related his story. What I heard was, a lot of things along the lines of, 'I want a car. I want to get some money or notoriety.'
"Those are the things that struck me."
Andrist says his references to a car are because his molester once promised him a car.
Rooney described a podcast the comedian did after returning from Florida.
"It also said in the podcast, Mr. Andrist said he was going to put out fliers to all the neighbors," Rooney says. "He was going to contact the daughter, who was in college.
"I'm not really sure what he hopes to gain out of it. Is this the way a victim behaves?"
On his client's behalf, Rooney filed a defamation and slander suit against Andrist and Stanhope in Florida court.
Rooney also sought and received a judge's order temporarily blocking publication of the video.
The judge overturned the restraining order a few days later when Andrist went back to Florida and showed up in court with his own lawyer.
"All we have to show is that (Andrist) is telling the truth," says Jay Kirschner, Andrist's lawyer in Florida. "In Florida, that's a defense of constitutional magnitude."
An "abrasive" comedian
Proving the truth one way or the other may be difficult.
The events Andrist alleges happened many years ago. There were no other witnesses. Andrist never has filed criminal charges against his alleged molester.
The video itself doesn't shed much more light.
Andrist says it shows the man admitting guilt and apologizing. But in the video excerpts Andrist played at our interview, the man, who is facing away from the camera, simply says "uh-huh" several times when accused of molesting Andrist.
He could have been agreeing. He could have been saying "yeah, right."
In court papers, the alleged molester's lawyer notes that Andrist has made a habit of making outrageous videos to shock and offend people.
"They do a lot of hidden camera jokes on people," Rooney said at a hearing. "They pretend to be a paraplegic and ask people to stab them in the leg. They go to a deli and pretend that there was some sort of toxic contamination in the food.
"It's very shock driven."
Andrist, who admits to being "a little abrasive sometimes," says he's being attacked simply because of his line of work. "They are trying to discredit me because I am a stand-up comic."
"And that's what it's going to come down to," says Rooney, the alleged molester's lawyer. "Credibility."
Call Bob Keefer at 541-338-2325 or you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.