The words “National Lampoon” might mean different things depending on your generation: a magazine, Animal House, Saturday Night Live, a still-ongoing spate of raunchy films, that publication that you always get confused with Mad Magazine.
Many successful comedians and comics are incubated in nurturing, yet deeply competitive environments. The various comedy clubs on the East and West coast of the US spawned many of the post-war titans, such as Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and George Carlin, bathing them in the blood of occasionally hostile, alcohol-fueled, combative audiences.
“This shit’s pretty flat, bro.” So sayeth the rudest man in the world, who just happened to be sitting behind me at the screening for Hot Tub Time Machine 2. He began the evening sitting in front of me; deliberately stealing a seat marked ‘Studio Representative’ so he could talk to the beautiful publicist. Shockingly, she rebuffed his drunken advances. “Whatever, bro,” he dismissively burped, and then ambled to the seat behind me. Yes, he’s the guy who calls both men and women ‘bro.’ He’s also the guy who talks through the entire movie, eats handfuls of popcorn with his mouth wide open (ostensibly, so he can still breathe), and kicks the back of the seat like a bored child. In other words, he’s the target audience for Hot Tub Time Machine 2. It’s a bad sign, then, that he laughed a grand total of two times during the entire film. That was exactly two more times than I laughed.
The new documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon takes us back to the birth of the ultimate problem child, the National Lampoon magazine. Arrested development and controlled substances aside, the Lampoon crew shepherded comedy from its antiseptic television roots through the youth counterculture and back into the mainstream again. It was unfiltered anarchy; vulgar, subversive, and hilarious. Get ready to laugh, feel ashamed for laughing, and then laugh some more.
Chevy Chase is something of a mystery. In the mid-1970s through the late-1980s, the quirky comedian starred in a number of well-known films. Many of said films highlighted Chase’s strongly unique comedic style. Cynicism and goofy charm were the actor’s best attributes and this very appealing personality even seemed to inspire actors today like Jason Lee and Ryan Reynolds. This suave funnyman persona suited Chase well, but as the 80s started winding down, audiences and critics seemed to have grown tired of the actor’s predictability and somewhat stale brand of humor. He did manage, however, to squeeze out one fun little performance in 1992’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man.
Possibly (and very arguably) the most influential television show of all time, Saturday Night Live (SNL for short) is American comedy (albeit with a bit of Canadian help) exemplified: irreverent, absurdist, made for short attention spans, and continually being both panned and lauded by critics. Whether you still lock your door in fear of Land Shark, turned the show off in 1980 and never looked back, or are in need more cowbell, you know the magic that is SNL.