Published Apr 30, 2015For years, the cultural institution The National Lampoon stood poised on the cutting edge of comedy while also teetering perpetually on the boundaries of good taste. In keeping with the spirit of the magazine and all of its later endeavours, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon celebrates its many achievements in a documentary that's irreverent, profane and, most importantly, side-splittingly funny.
Initially conceived in the early '70s within the elitist walls of Harvard, the Lampoon first began to make waves in the publishing community when founders Doug Kenney and Henry Beard hooked up with adventurous publisher Matty Simmons. After working through some growing pains with the magazine's art direction, it eventually gained traction when a parody issue of Mademoiselle led to similar ventures with other popular publications.
Soon the offices became a haven for daring writers and artists who didn't shy away from taking topics down the darkest and most controversial avenues in service of a good joke, while issues typically revolved around central themes such as "Death" or "Back To School." With the rambunctious Kenney and the more mild-mannered Beard navigating the magazine through prosperous times, they also started branching out into recording Grammy-nominated albums, and handpicked members of The Second City, like John Belushi and Gilda Radner, to perform in successful live shows.
Helped by interviews with many of the surviving contributors that shed light on the lively but occasionally volatile environment in which they all operated, the film does an exemplary job of bringing the pages of the magazine to life to show just how subversive it truly was. As it delves into the years of the Lampoon's greatest proliferation, we're treated to candid glimpses of rehearsals with comedians who would soon be poached by Saturday Night Live to become stars and a thorough dissection of how the classic Animal House was developed and very nearly squashed by its financier before it could find an audience.
This raunchy history of National Lampoon is one that's not nearly as widely known as the origins of SNL, which is especially unfortunate considering that it's probably more interesting, if only because of the extent to which drugs and debauchery played a part of it. It also presents a golden opportunity to learn more about the role the late Kenney played in influencing an entire generation of comedy. He made such an undeniable impact that even the notoriously prickly Chevy Chase shows surprising vulnerability in speaking about his departed friend. (4th Row Films)