Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

National Lampoon—the magazine and its spinoffs—helped set America’s comedy agenda for the latter part of the 20th century.

In Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon, the main players in the saga—the ones who are still alive—share insight into what made it a big deal in the 70s and beyond. Director Douglas Tirola and his crew have assembled a stylish, quick-moving documentary that is far more than just a stroll down memory lane.

Co-founders Doug Kenney and Henry Beard shopped their idea around to magazine publishers in New York but got no takers until Marty Simmons stepped up to deliver investment money. Kenney and Beard included a provision in the deal that their 25% interest would be bought out in five years. This provision made both men rich at an early age.

The magazine had early troubles. An inconsistent graphic style and a lack of quality advertisers threatened its success. A new graphic designer and an important ad buy from José Cuervo led to increases in subscribers and revenue.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon details outside projects beyond the magazine: the National Lampoon Radio Dinner comedy album, the stage parody of Woodstock called Lemmings, the National Lampoon Radio Hour and the Animal House and Vacation movies. Interestingly, it is revealed that NBC called to ask if they wanted to participate in the TV show that became Saturday Night Live, but Lampoon passed. (Many of its alumni became part of the SNL cast and crew.)

DSBD features sound bites from magazine staffers as well as persons involved in the Lampoon story, along with those who were influenced by the work: P.J. O’Rourke, Tony Hendra, Chevy Chase, Judd Apatow, John Landis, Tim Matheson, Kevin Bacon and others. Along with these comments Tirola presents a huge sampling of Lampoon content, such as the classic cover featuring the man who led a massacre in Vietnam, U.S. Army Lt. William Calley, as Mad’s Alfred E. Newman with the caption “What, Me Lai?”

DSBD offers tribute to those who fall into the Dead category including Michael O’Donoghue, John Hughes, John Belushi and, especially, Doug Kenney.

I was a National Lampoon subscriber for much of the 70s and am familiar with how outrageous the magazine was. The underlying truth of this shameless material was… it was hilarious! I enjoyed a nostalgic rush revisiting Foto Funnies, Son O’ God comics, the John Lennon parody on Radio Dinner, among other bits.

Henry Beard refers to an “attic” of postwar American culture and says, “we basically looted it.” Lampoon’s success came from ripping holes in popular culture and in the sacred counterculture. Dead Stoned Brilliant Dead chronicles an era of humor whose influence is still strong. Baby Boomers may be the prime audience for the film, but Gen-Xers and Millenials will enjoy seeing what brought us all to where we are today.