New doc takes T.O.’s Lorne Michaels to the comedy woodshed
notes, ”Anyone could come to the office and show their stuff. If it was funny, you were hired on the spot.”
The Lampoon became big business, branching out into stage shows and movies like Vacation and Animal House, a game changer on the level of Jaws. By the mid-’70s, the National Lampoon had disrupted the tame and timid world of the American laughter machine.
The magazine was enjoying some success with its stage shows, Radio Dinner and then Lemmings, a spoton satire of Woodstock, complete with precise and hysterical imitations of Joan Baez, Joe Cocker and others. What a cast they had assembled: John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Chris Guest and writers such as Anne Beatts and Harold Ramis.
Michaels, casting the first season of Saturday Night Live, scooped them all up, all but destroying the Lampoon show.
Of course there’s nothing illegal about this, and there’s nothing wrong about performers trading up to a better opportunity. But for decades, the official story has been that Michaels somehow found all this great talent from nowhere, but this documentary insists: he got them from National Lampoon.
Michaels also, to be fair, found his cast and writers from Second City and elsewhere. But history is written by the winners, and the Lampoon ceased publication in 1998. Saturday Night Live soldiers on, having the last word by dint of its survival. But Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead serves as a brilliant epitaph for a humour magazine that refuses to be written off. MARK BRESLIN