National Lampoon started as a small, rather unprofessional looking magazine at its birth, but its humour, wit and brilliance was there from the get-go. Co-founded by Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard, the magazine, on finding its feet, became ground zero for some of the biggest names in comedy both on-screen and off.
The documentary follows the creation and the history of the magazine, intercut with interviews with some of the big names to be associated with it over the years. It was amazing to see this tiny magazine, a spinoff of the Harvard Lampoon garner attention as its magazine took on all subjects, nothing was taboo and couldn’t be made fun of. From there, it spread to radio, where a number of familiar faces began to appear in the mix, James Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, John Hughes, John Landis, Ivan Reitman…
From there, it seemed any forum was open to the National Lampoon brand as they expanded into stage shows, albums, and movies.
But not everything runs smoothly, Kenney while being seduced by the celebrity culture of the 80s, embraced his addictions, and the ease with which they were obtained. His tragic, personal story is shared alongside, part and parcel, an integral part of Lampoon.
Interviewees share tales of Kenney, or the wild existence that seemed to revolve around the rock’n’roll party feel of the magazine. There are candid moments with Chase, Landis, Tim Matheson, Kevin Bacon, Beverly D’Angelo, and all of them are aware of the debt comedy owes Lampoon. The film is filed with the articles, pictures, animation that helped bring the magazine and its other arenas to life, and they all seem bold, brash, occasionally immature, but always, almost without exception, funny.
It’s a fascinating look at a magazine, in a time before the prevalence of social media, the seduction of celebrity, and the pain of addiction. And like all other subjects that National Lampoon have taken on over the course of its 249 issue run, its ripe for joking about.
An extremely enjoyable documentary, that will serve as a perfect companion piece to Live From New York! also playing at the festival this year.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of National Lampoon screens twice more during the festival, today at 3:15pm at the Hart House theatre, and Saturday, 2 May at 9:45pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.