While making the documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, I pored over the magazines, special editions, radio shows, albums, and films, looking for content that could help illustrate just how radical this publication was. At one point, I wondered to my producers if we could actually put some of this in a documentary in 2015—but if we really wanted to do the Lampoon justice, we just had to go for it.
The people who worked at The Lampoon didn't censor themselves, so it would be unfair to their story if we censored their history. Here are ten of the many things the National Lampoon did that would be hard to imagine someone trying to get away with today.
10) COLORIZING THE CLASSICS
The National Lampoon used one of the most horrific and iconic images from the Vietnam War to make fun of Ted Turner’s colorizing of classic black and white films. The parody also points to the exploitation of blood and guts for ratings. When was the last time a joke used something this gruesome to make its point?9) HIGHWAY TOES CHRISTOPHER GUEST AS JAMES TAYLOR
In the early seventies there were several musicians revered not just for their music, but who they were as people and activists. No one would ever consider making fun of them. In 1972, the Lampoon put on a live stage show called Lemmings that parodied the Woodstock generation and became an Off-Broadway hit. The cast included John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest, who did a brilliant parody of James Taylor. While today we routinely see imitations of musicians, they don't usually include lyrics that talk about the musicians’ heroin abuse, sleeping with someone else's wife, and wanting publicity and to make a lot of money. Legend has it that one night James Taylor and Carly Simon came to the performance. Taylor did not see the humor and abruptly left.
8) PENIS PUPPET PARTY
In this comic two boys create a shadow puppet show by shinning a flashlight on their erect penises. Kids/Penis Puppets. What could be wrong with this combination?7) THE KENNEDYS
Some of The Lampoon’s favorite targets were Nixon, the Catholic Church and Canada, but they also seem to have had it in for the Kennedys. To this day, with the exception of Howard Stern’s imitations of the Kennedys, people just know you don't make fun of America’s Royal Family.
6) THREE PRETTY GIRLS DOING JUST WHAT YOU WANT SO YOU CAN MASTURBATE
By the second year of the magazine, National Lampoon had nudity in every issue and while a lot of it seemed to be used in a way to be making fun of adolescent boys and men in their pathetic pursuit of sex, it would be untrue to not at the same time say that it helped sell magazines. This was an era where pornography meant Playboy or going to Times Square to see stag films. The Lampoon was the fastest way to see nude women. This awesomely titled piece by Ed Subitzky is one of my favorite examples of the Lampoon making fun of them themselves as well as calling our their own readers.
5) “CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO THE GESTAPO”
Many feel that the magazine first got its voice from Michael O’Donaghue (who later went on to be the first head writer at Saturday Night Live). “Children’s Letters to the Gestapo” is an example of how far his parodies could go. You don’t often hear people making jokes about the Holocaust as a way of pointing out anti-Semitism and turning innocent children into little Nazis.
4) BILL MURRAY'S EVIL SANTA
The National Lampoon radio show was syndicated to over 600 stations. In 1974, John Belushi took over the show and during that time performers included Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner, Joe Flaherty, Brian Doyle Murray, Richard Belzer, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Chevy Chase. In this segment, Bill Murray plays the original Bad Santa, and Gilda Radner playing a young girl sits on Santa’s lap and asks for different gifts. Somewhere during the exchange, Santa seems to be getting turned on. Yikes!
3) “FUCK HER, FUCK HER BRAINS OUT”
Earlier this year there was an excellent documentary called The Hunting Ground that exposed the epidemic of rapes on college campuses. In 1978, during the iconic Toga Party scene, arguably the nicest character in Animal House considers raping his date. After freshman pledge Pinto brings his date to a bedroom and she passes out drunk, we see an externalized debate in Pinto’s head of weather to have sex with her while she is unconscious. There’s a devil and angel on each of his shoulders to advise him, with the devil anxiously yelling at him, “Fuck her, Fuck her brains out.” Luckily, Pinto does the right thing at least in Lampoon terms—he leaves his date in a shopping cart in front of her parent’s house. Good thing, too. It turns out she's only thirteen. 2) NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION - THE ENTIRE FILM
In this clip from our documentary, Beverly D’Angelo, also known as Mrs. Griswold, breaks down the original “Vacation,” and how it might not be the family film everyone thinks it is. She explains "Vacation" is very much National Lampoon, and not just because it was written by John Hughes, directed by Harold Ramis, starring Chevy Chase and produced by Matty Simmons - all people who worked at the Lampoon at some point during their career.
1) BUY THIS MAGAZINE OR WE'LL SHOOT THIS DOG
In an era when there were many more magazines on newsstands fighting for our attention, the Lampoon stood out for its amazing covers. This image of a dog with a gun to its head is one of the most iconic magazine covers of all-time. Art director Michael Gross explains why people in the magazine business loved it: “The cover said what all of us were thinking: please just buy the fucking magazine!” I don't think anyone would dare try this today. I imagine even just for including this on my list an animal rights group is organizing a boycott.