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
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
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:
Can you get us drugs?
Can you get us nude models?
Do you have some place where we can go with the drugs and the nude
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
Nuart Theatre in West LA
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).