Satire, parody, racist skewerings of racism, sacred cows slaughtered, silly slides down the slippery slope into Anti-Semitism.
And breasts. Lots and lots of breasts!
That was National Lampoon in its heyday, an R-Rated Mad Magazine, a pervier Playboy (all in good fun), an Esquire with laughs.
The writers who started it kicked off “Saturday Night Live” and conquered Hollywood. The actors cast on their stage shows, albums and “National Lampoon Radio Hour,” almost to a one, became the superstars of a generation.
“They became all of modern comedy,” Judd Apatow, a childhood fan, puts it. And he’s right.
And a lot of them finished with a flourish. They died, young. Or young-ish. — Belushi and Kenney, Radner and Chase.
Well, not Chevy Chase. He’s still around. And he’s never been more humble, heartfelt and self-effacing than he is in “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon.” It’s where his best-friend Kenney was co-founder and drug-addled guiding light. It’s where Chase got his big break.
It was a magazine — remember those? A humor mag for clever collegians, or collegians who thought they were clever, a 1970s through 1990s spinoff of The Harvard Lampoon.
Douglas Tirola’s laugh-out-loud documentary earns its laughs the old-fashioned way. It borrows them from others. He replays the classic “Radio Hour” bits, the profane and profoundly silly LP riffs, and blasts of unfiltered wit from the cast of the Woodstock-parody stage show “Lemmings,” along with the movies that spun out of magazine essays (John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58 led to all those “Vacation” movies).
Chevy Chase remembers his best-friend, Doug Kenney, the drug addled Ivy Leaguer who co-founded the magazine in 1970. Kenney’s youth was later recycled into “Caddyshack,” but that came later.
First came a magazine that took an Adolf Hitler look-alike to the Tropics for a photo essay, “Stranger in Paradise,” found humor in The Greatest Story Ever Told by revealing “The Story of Jessica Christ,” that repackaged and rebranded the KKK as “The Ku Klux…Can!”
Original “SNL” writer Michael O’Donahue (“Mr. Mike” in the early years) is remembered as “an angry bunny” during his Lampoon years. Art director Michael Gross earns his due as the designer who made it all look so grownup, slick and sophisticated.
Tirola, building his film on the 2010 Rick Meyerowitz book, makes the connection between Second City improv comedy and the Lampoon players, and how they all — the Murray Brothers,Chase, Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner, Belushi, et. al. — graduated to “Saturday Night Live”, “SCTV”, “The Simpsons” and the movies.
Kevin Bacon, Tim Matheson, John Landis and Ivan Reitman (along with Sean Daniels of Universal) remember the road to “Animal House.”
And every so often, a female writer who worked at the mag reminds us it wasn’t ENTIRELY the frat boys’ club it most certainly came off as.
Tirola misses some context. The surrealistic Lampoon brand of comedy popped into being, magically, AFTER San Francisco’s surreal Firesign Theatre and Britain’s Monty Python. With established comics like the Brit Tony Hendra on board at the founding, that’s a major omission. This sort of comedy was in the air in that era, and Lampoon owed more to those two companies than its stuffy Harvard incarnation.
But the film traces the magazine to its peak, follows it into the P.J. O’Rourke era (decline) as much of its talent was siphoned away by Hollywood.
And the genius behind the scenes gets his due. Matty Simmons, the newspaper, magazine and TV veteran who published the magazine tagged many of its best ideas for film treatment, and moved the “comedy empire” into radio, albums and stage productions. He built a brand that outlived — a bit — the magazine that spawned it.
But hey kids, who remembers any of that now?
MPAA Rating: unrated, with drug use, profanity
Cast: Tony Hedra, P.J. O’Rourke, Beverly D’Angelo, Chevy Chase, Judd Apatow, John Landis, Ivan Reitman,
Credits: Directed by Douglas Tirola. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:37