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Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 97 minutes.

Not for children.

The National Lampoon was the magazine that satirized virtually everything. This documentary tells how it was started from scratch by Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, just a couple of Harvard schoolboys with an idea who are laughed out of every office in New York until Matty Simmons liked the idea and made a deal with them. That deal included a promise by Matty to buy them out after 5 years at 21 times earnings, something that would come back to bite Matty when, five years later, Kenney held him to it.

The National Lampoon spawned the careers of The Saturday Night Live players John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and others, who were part of the National Lampoon Show before moving on to SNL en masse.

The story is told with archival pictures and interviews with people like Chase, Tim Matheson, and John Landis and lots of other writers and actors who were there. It is a fascinating tale.

Just as examples of its irreverent humor, from one of its early segments, entitled, “Children’s Letters to the Gestapo” by Michael O’Donoghue:


Dear Heinrich Himmler,

How do you get all those people into your oven? We can hardly get a pork roast into ours.

Respectfully, Uta Grotewohl 


Under a picture of a Volkswagen floating on water was this caption,

“If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be President today.”


A couple of guys wrote an article “How to Talk Dirty by Thurgood Marshall.” Marshall, an Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, was so incensed he called the FBI and asked what he could do and the FBI said, “Well, there’s this thing called Freedom of Speech, Mr. Justice.”

Tony Hendra was an early Lampoon contributor. He is described by Danny Abelson, a Lampoon contributor, as “he has this extraordinary educated Cambridge accent and was very literate and worldly, and yet behaved like a delinquent of 12 or 13.”

Hendra said, “Writing for television was like firing on one cylinder. Writing for Lampoon was like firing on all six cylinders. You could talk about anything you wanted.”

Henry Beard as the editor was described as someone “who could take this ragtag bunch of material from different types of personalities and brilliantly merge it together to produce a magazine that was surprisingly coherent.”

When Belushi, et. al. moved to SNL, one person explains, “Suddenly what the National Lampoon offered was available to a much larger audience. The Lampoon lost its exceptionalism.”

The film shows how rampant were drugs and sex at the Lampoon. When Peter Kleinman replaced Michael Gross as art director, he was asked three questions by Doug Kenney: 

  1. Can you get us drugs?
  2. Can you get us nude models?
  3. Do you have some place where we can go with the drugs and the nude models?

When the answer was yes to all three, Kenney said he had no other questions and Kleinman got the job.

After Doug Kenney was bought out by Matty Simmons (pursuant to the deal at the beginning), he got up on a desk and told everyone, “I hated every minute of this. F--- you.”  And walked out.

This just touches on the mass of anecdotes and information in this film. I haven’t even mentioned the making of the films “Animal House” and “Caddyshack,” which are among the many other things covered in this fast 97 minutes.

If this seems disjointed, then it reflects the magazine. I was captivated.

The film opens at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West LA with Q&As opening weekend with writer/director Doug Tirola and Chris Miller (former writer at the National Lampoon and co-writer of Animal House) on Friday, October 2 following the 7:30pm show (w/Doug intro’ing the 9:50pm show) and on Saturday, October 3 with Doug Tirola following the 7:30pm show (w/Doug intro’ing the 9:50pm show).