National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead
When I was a junior in high school a new magazine quietly infiltrated our consciousness spreading quickly by word of mouth; The National Lampoon. Similar to the satirical magazine most of us enjoyed only a few years before, ‘Mad’, National Lampoon was a mature form of puerile humor. Yes, that does sound like an oxymoron and it is but it remains one of the more accurate ways to try to define it. The magazine was a compendium of short stories, comics and parodies of other magazines and newspapers; in short, nothing was spared from the exceeding cleaver and insightful eyes of its writers. Now it is best known, at least by the generation following ours as the purveyors of ‘R’ rated raunchy comedies most notably the ‘National Lampoon Vacation’ franchise featuring Chevy Chase. I was pleasant surprised when I received the screener announcement for a documentary examining the formation and early years of the Lampoon; ‘National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead’. Even the cover art of the Blu-ray remained true to the iconoclastic tradition of the group depicting the Mona Lisa with a simian model. Before expanding into movies National Lampoon gave off-Broadway a try with their hysterically funny and scandalously non-politically correct ‘Lemmings’.
What most famous features of the magazine were how was able to devote an entire issue to the satire magazines ranging from Time to National Geographic. The is always some of the most enjoyable issues for example in a parody of Ebony magazine called ‘Ivory’ It Included a Feature story ‘Lady Sings the Scales’. In another issue they targeted medical journals right down to the numerous pharmaceutical ads. One was for the hypochondriacs that help keep the doctors in business placebos marketed under the names Uselase and Futol while another ad was targeted towards people who offended you happen to come into your office, Reprisatol. Each of these specialty issues were so close to the original look and feel that the satire produced incredibly well done and exceptionally memorable.
In 1974 I took my wife and her two sisters to show none of us have ever forgotten the experience. Is was a satire of the Woodstock Festival only as the name implies it sought to embrace a community dedicated to ‘Peace, Love and Death’. Like all the endeavors of the Lampoon its craftsmanship is near-perfect targeting some of the best-known moments of the real festival. There are even stage announcements such as "the Brown strychnine has been taught with acid". The voice providing the announcements was none other than the late John Belushi. He was joined by his future Saturday Night Live cast mate, Chevy Chase and the man who made the documentary and art form, Christopher Guest. This is an opportunity to watch some of the funniest people while they were still in the formative years of their careers. This production also showcased musical talent of these comedians with Chevy Chase doing a spot on take-off on a John Denver like singer John Belushi performing his famous impersonation of Joe Cocker. There is even a group named ‘Freud, Marx Engels and Jung’ standing in for ‘Crosby, Stills Nash and Young,
The documentary by filmmaker Douglas Tirola, traces the origins of the National Lampoon to a comedic group one of the great Ivy League universities, The Harvard Lampoon. Three of this fine institution graduates, Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman founded the National Lampoon in 1969 the first magazine published a year later. While many documentaries come across as something for the reserve sensibilities of PBS, this film captures the unique exuberance that was always ingrained in the Lampoon. At a time when political correctness is insinuated itself into every aspect of life this movie helps us remember a time when there were humorists who are unafraid of taking on society’s most sacred institutions. As the original editorial staff expanded the magazine by hiring a number of young comedians such names as Harold Ramis, Bill Murray John Belushi and Chevy Chase were added to provide content. Many of the people who were a part of the National Lampoon for organization and extended family of provide an opportunity to share their recollections with the viewers. One of the most notable interviews was with one of the early editors of the magazine, Tony Hendra. He possessed a background in satiric standup and had been featured on the Ed Sullivan show. Those who are too young to remember that so was hosted by a very stiff gentleman who despite his appearance introduced some of the greatest comedians and rock acts in the world. I remember seeing Mr. Hendra on that show but regrettably I was too young to fully grasp the subtleties of his humor. Recently in preparation for this review I dug up some videos of his routines are some of the political references are dated the inherent finally honed satire remains viable. This is the caliber of people who so freely gave their talents to the magazine and his subsequent endeavors. In each of the interviews it is obvious that their participation in the Lampoon remained one of the most transformative and invigorating times of their careers.
As the title of the film states such a straightforward manner quantities of alcohol and various psychotropic substances were prevalent in the offices of the National Lampoon. In the early 70s the counterculture that began in the 60s was in full effect. The Vietnam War was in full force and the generation gap is exemplified by a general distrust for ‘adult’ concerns such as big business and politics were completely distrusted by the generation just coming-of-age. This film captured just how the National Lampoon was a natural reaction to such an environment and not only was it only possible during this commonplace there is an undeniable need for publications such as this. I have noticed object to the fact that the movie does not follow through to help the National Lampoon brand came to be diluted, straying far from the nuance brilliance of the humor degrading into the equivalent of juvenile jokes. Perhaps this could be the focus of a sequel to this film but it didn’t have a place in this one. This movie celebrated the birth and early years of the National Lampoon. Matter what happened to it as a brand-name in subsequent years the National Lampoon always remembered as the fertile ground that so many of our wittiest performers, directors and writers receive their start. There is even an interview with Kevin Bacon who fondly recalled one of his earliest roles as Chip Diller, the ROTC loyalist in ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’. Anyone who was a fan of this magazine and lived during those times is certainly going to have a nostalgic glow when watching this film. Some of the most controversial moments such as the infamous, of a gun pointed to a dog’s head, worried eyes turned to the side with the caption "by this magazine or to this dog" or the infamous fake advertisement for Volkswagen that boasted "if Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen be president today", reminding us open the senator over young lady home over the Chappaquiddick Bridge. The many moments such as this remind us not only of how much we love this magazine couldn’t help but admire the dedication and creativity that went into every issue but it brought us back to how its humor made it possible to cope with one of the most turbulent times in American history and the most crucial period in our lives.