Drunk Stoned Bril­liant Dead

DRUNK STONED BRIL­LIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NA­TIONAL LAM­POON, not rated, doc­u­men­tary, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

“Some peo­ple might find this an egre­gious com­par­i­son,” says Tony Hen­dra, a lit­tle apolo­get­i­cally, “but my years at the Na­tional Lam­poon were not un­like the Paris in the ’20s that Hem­ing­way de­scribed in A

Move­able Feast.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: war rag­ing in Viet­nam, protest marches in the streets, a coun­try in tur­moil over race and in­equal­ity, old so­cial stan­dards on the run, a sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion ex­plod­ing, trust in gov­ern­ment crum­bling, and a new gen­er­a­tion kick­ing over the traces and seiz­ing the con­trols.

And along came three smart kids from Har­vard: Doug Ken­ney, Henry Beard, and Robert Hoff­man. They’d run the Har­vard Lam­poon, a ven­er­a­ble col­lege hu­mor mag­a­zine, and they thought they could take it na­tional. And they were right.

The mag­a­zine — and its spinoffs in books, ra­dio, record­ings, stage shows, and movies — rev­o­lu­tion­ized Amer­i­can hu­mor. It didn’t ar­rive by stork. This doc­u­men­tary by Dou­glas Tirola pays no trib­ute to the com­edy rev­o­lu­tion al­ready launched by such leg­ends as Mad mag­a­zine, Fire­sign Theater, Ernie Ko­vacs, Ge­orge Car­lin, Sec­ond City, and Monty Python.

But the Na­tional Lam­poon of­fices were as much the lo­cus of the new com­edy cul­ture in its best years as Andy Warhol’s Fac­tory was for the art world of that era. It was a frat house, a naughty boy’s club, a deliri­ous and bril­liant bar­rage of in-your-face satire that took no pris­on­ers and held no cows sa­cred. Fu­eled by youth, booze, and drugs, it was an equal-op­por­tu­nity of­fender. It took on sex, racism, re­li­gion, me­dia, gov­ern­ment, so­ci­ety, pop cul­ture, and did I men­tion sex? It turned out bare breasts like bagels at a bak­ery. It ran such mem­o­rable fea­tures as a photo spread on Adolf Hitler in the trop­ics and Viet­nam mass killer Lt. Wil­liam Cal­ley as Mad’s Al­fred E. Neu­man with the caption “What, My Lai?” The fa­mous cover of its “Death” is­sue showed a gun pointed at the head of a dog and de­manded: “If You Don’t Buy This Mag­a­zine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

Beard was the brains and Ken­ney the heart of the op­er­a­tion, and the staff in­cluded Hen­dra, Michael O’Donoghue, P.J. O’Rourke, and even a few women, like Anne Beatts. When it branched into per­for­mance, it fielded fu­ture stars like Chevy Chase, Gilda Rad­ner, Bill Mur­ray, John Belushi, Christo­pher Guest, and plenty more.

The movie fol­lows the Lam­poon from its launch in 1970 to its peak in the mid-’70s, de­cline in the ’80s, and demise in 1998. But its first taste of mor­tal­ity came with the exit of its found­ing tri­umvi­rate when they cashed in the buy­out clause in their con­tract in 1975. An ugly mo­ment comes with an ac­count of Beard, check in hand, stand­ing on a desk and telling his stunned min­ions, “I’ve hated ev­ery minute. F— you!” and head­ing out the door. In the same year, the launch of NBC’s Satur­day Night Live leached much of the out­fit’s top tal­ent.

The mag­a­zine con­tin­ued, and the em­pire grew, but an­other ar­row to its heart was the death of Ken­ney in 1980 in a fall from a cliff in Kauai. His close friend Chevy Chase gives a mov­ing rec­ol­lec­tion of the ac­ci­dent — or what­ever it was.

There’s a lot of hys­ter­i­cal laugh­ter in the clips and sto­ries on dis­play here and in the rem­i­nis­cences of the play­ers. But ul­ti­mately, if you were around at all for that Camelot of com­edy, this doc­u­men­tary will leave you feel­ing more re­minded than en­light­ened.

— Jonathan Richards

Na­tional Lam­poon

Show me the funny: The staff of the

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