Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is a new documentary about the outrageous humor magazine The National Lampoon. We asked M.K. Brown, the brilliant cartoonist who contributed many works to the magazine from the very beginning to write about the film and her experiences. Paul Krassner set the stage for anything-goes satire with his magazine The Realist. He also knew the players and was part of the comedy scene. We couldn’t have found a better pair to offer you their impressions.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is playing in theaters everywhere and is available on iTunes and On Demand.
|A Fine Chronicle of the Outrageous and Stellar
by M.K. Brown
Having been a contributor to the National Lampoon for many years as a cartoonist, it is impossible to be objective about this film, so I just enjoyed it, as most folks will. Seeing the young faces of the editors and art directors, the brains behind its huge success, and learning more about their personal struggles, satisfies a curiosity I’ve had since the early ’70s when I started with the magazine. Continue reading →
|The Rise and Fall of the National Lampoon
by Paul Krassner
The spoiler alert of this documentary appears right here in the title itself, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. And, though the National Lampoon was a satirical magazine, full disclosure reveals that virtually every issue included photos of bare-breasted attractive young women in various situations, often with speech balloons. Continue reading →
DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON – A Fine Chronicle of the Outrageous and Stellar
Having been a contributor to the National Lampoon for many years as a cartoonist, it is impossible to be objective about this film, so I just enjoyed it, as most folks will. Seeing the young faces of the editors and art directors, the brains behind its huge success, and learning more about their personal struggles, satisfies a curiosity I’ve had since the early ’70s when I started with the magazine.
Living 3,000 miles away from their New York offices, I could enjoy the warm welcome they extended to me, without being privy to the drama, or worse, a participant. I would never have gotten anything done.
My first visit to Lampoon‘s New York office was filled with trepidation since I’d told them in phone conversations that I looked like Chaka Khan. One by one, editors peeked into the room where I was talking with Brian McConnachie. We all smiled and got the joke. (I don’t look like Chaka Khan, but wanted to.)
During that visit, I was invited to a recording in progress for Radio Hour, and came away wondering how they survived a daily input of such intense wit, such absurd fun. The stimulation alone must have made for many sleepless nights. Well, sadly, of course, some didn’t survive that pressure, as is well documented in this film along with a lengthy description of the magazine’s ultimate decline.
Vogue‘s comment, “the magazine tended to treat women either as pornographic objects or collateral damage on the way to a punch line,” describes one problem I have with the film, not with the magazine itself, especially in the early years. In my estimation, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead focuses more on the admitted sexist editorial stance with not enough appreciation for the many courageous political and humorous essay pieces National Lampoon published. I was glad to see the Hitler spread included. It is both political and absurd, and I wish there were more of that present in the documentary.
The titles of categories also bothered me because I didn’t always know when I was seeing an original page from the magazine, or a title card for the film. The lettering was similar, the drawings familiar, and sometimes I resented it as I resent most reenactments; they look sort of the same, but they’re not.
These titles were well done, however, and actually worked fine to introduce the different chapters and moods. With all the splendid original graphics in the Lampoon, something bold was necessary to introduce each segment, so, my irritation with the titles would probably not be shared by many viewers.
From the first batch of cartoons I submitted in the early ’70s to the last batch a couple of decades later, most were published. During the years when the magazine took a bitter turn, I dropped out. In the film, I learned that many editors were also leaving, for SNL and other venues. But early in our relationship, it was pure creative fun. From a safe distance I was doing whatever I wanted, with almost always an acceptance and appreciation.
I still hold these founding fellows in great regard, as I did at the beginning, and remember phone conversations with fondness because they were unlike any you’d ever have with most magazine editors or art directors.
Recently, while talking with former art director Michael Gross, I reminded him of a comment he had made about a cartoon strip I was submitting. His reply had been cheerfully X-rated as he gave me the go-ahead for the piece. His reaction now was, “Did I say THAT?” Yes, he did.
An important benefit of working with the Lampoon was to have a place to sell work that was personal; part therapy, part entertainment, and with no required theme. Most magazines wanted cartoons to echo their own general stance. Lampoon had no agenda, and was a fine receptacle for varied messages.
Here’s one example: A Lampoon cartoon editor called to see if I had any ideas for new cartoons. I replied that I’d just come from the dentist and had had an awful time and was going to draw something about it. The editor said, “Hold on.”
He peeked into head editor Larry “Ratso” Sloman’s office and said, “MK had a terrible time at the dentist.” Ratso said, “Three pages.” And that’s how “Revenge and Forgiveness” came about.
Working with the National Lampoon was a great experience. I cherish my distant yet close relationship with such a brilliant nest of people. This documentary is a fine chronicle of that outrageous, stellar time in publishing history.
P.S. Rick Meyerowitz’s book of the same name is a treasure of further details and fascinating dramas at the National Lampoon.
In lieu of a bio, here is “Self Portrait,” first published in Arcade Comics, later in Lampoon.
You can enjoy much of M.K’s work online. Her collection of cartoons, Stranger Than Life, was published last year and is available at local booksellers, Fantagraphics Publishing, and Amazon.
Included in this collection are cartoons from National Lampoon, Playboy, The New Yorker, Mother Jones, and other magazines, both over and underground.
Here are a few examples:
DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON – The Rise and Fall of the National Lampoon
The spoiler alert of this documentary appears right here in the title itself, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. And, though the National Lampoon was a satirical magazine, full disclosure reveals that virtually every issue included photos of bare-breasted attractive young women in various situations, often with speech balloons.
For example, one such woman asked another such woman featuring what Donald Trump would now describe as a huge bosom, “Are you Eleanor Roosevelt?” The reply was “Yes.” This incongruity was likely borrowed from the context of a Lenny Bruce fantasy about a forbidden sight: “Eleanor Roosevelt had the prettiest tits I had ever seen or dreamed that I had seen.”
There were several editors at different times, each projecting his own personality. Doug Kenney wrote “My First Blow Job” whereas Henry Beard wrote “Practical Jokes For the Rich.” Tony Hendra wrote “How to Cook Your Daughter.” Michael O’Donoghue wrote “Children’s Letters to the Gestapo.” He was a reader of my own satirical magazine—The Realist, which had begun in 1958—and he invited me to write a monthly column for the Lampoon, “The Naked Emperor.”
The contributors all had outrageous imagination. Sam Gross lived up to his name. He was an accountant but wanted to be a cartoonist, so he moved to New York. I published his first attempts in The Realist, from a miniature Nazi oven to a full-page montage, “Humor of the Handicapped.” It was no surprise that years later he would become a regular artist in the Lampoon. Samples: A character dipping a bloody tampon in her tea—no caption necessary. Also, a character with a wire hanger inserted in his head – “No, lady,” he explains, “I’m not a Martian, I’m just an unsuccessful abortion.”
Another contributor, Anne Beatts, was a dazzling writer. Her coup de grace was a fake Volkswagen ad. The illustration was accompanied by her headline: “If Ted Kennedy Drove a Volkswagen, He’d Be President Today!” Which actually is true. The senator was doomed never to inhabit the White House, because he accidentally drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick island off Massachusetts into the water, and managed to swim free, leaving behind his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned, but not if he drove a Volkswagen Beetle that floated.
Volkswagen filed a $30-million lawsuit for violation of copyright. Although the movie doesn’t disclose the verdict, shrewd Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons put out a press release acknowledging that they were being sued, aware that it would boost sales. He agreed to travel around the country and tear the page-in-question out of every issue, but the issue sold out. There were none left from which to remove the fake ad. He then agreed to admit in the next issue that the ad was a parody, and the lawsuit was withdrawn.
Another controversy occurred when the editors ran an illustration depicting a baby in a blender, with a Satanic hand on the pulse button. The Christian Coalition of America, a right-wing group of religious zealots, began a crusade against the Lampoon, and almost all of its national advertisers jumped the Titanic ship. Thus, when I submitted my account of snorting cocaine with the pope, the editors told me that they loved it but were afraid of an organized letter-writing campaign to their advertisers.
There were internal squabbles at Lampoon headquarters. It was bad enough when Michael O’Donoghue learned that Tony Hendra had slept with his then-girlfriend, and O’Donoghue demanded that Matty Simmons fire Hendra. Of course, he wouldn’t, but instead he gave him the Lampoon radio program reaching 600 stations. The other feud developed concerning O’Donoghue and his new girlfriend, Anne Beatts. They were a romantic couple bound together by a mutual sense of absolute irreverence.
According to the film, Matty Simmons gave Beatts’ desk to his son Michael, and she was furious, complaining, “It had taken me all that many years to get a desk, and suddenly I didn’t have it any more.” O’Donoghue called Matty and threatened that “Anne Beatts must have an office at the radio show. If you don’t do this, I’m gonna quit.” Simmons: “Well, if she doesn’t like it she can quit, and if you don’t like it you can quit.” O’Donoghue: “I quit.” And that was it. The anarchistic pair departed and never returned. Ironically, Michael Simmons was O’Donoghue’s assistant for a couple of years, an interesting job for a teenager, and he had a desk outside his office from which he would do his bidding.
However, Michael Simmons says: “Being the boss’ son has never been the easy ride some may think. Lampoon contributor Anne Beatts claims in the documentary that her boyfriend Michael O’Donoghue quit because Matty ‘gave’ me Anne’s desk in early 1974—an utterly absurd fallacy. She’s been repeating this canard for 40 years. I was living in upstate New York at the time and didn’t have an office at the Lampoon. Matty was the Chairman of the Board—not the Chairman of Desks.”
When Matty originally launched the Lampoon in 1970, his son was 15. Like many kids, Michael worked after school and summers at “Dad’s store.” He was the first “True Facts” editor, among other gigs. As the magazine expanded into show-business areas, so did Michael Simmons’ participation. By 1973, he was the doorman at the Village Gate, where National Lampoon Lemmings played, and for which he handled underground/rock press and radio PR. In 1974, he was company manager for their second stage show, The National Lampoon Show, with John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray.
When NBC conceived of doing a Saturday night satire show, they approached the Lampoon, but Matty Simmons turned them down–too busy. Instead, NBC hired Lorne Michaels, who proceeded to snatch away some of Lampoon’s brightest talent. Belushi, Radner and Chevy Chase joined Saturday Night Live, as did Michael O’Donoghue, who became the show’s head writer. And eventually Michael Simmons would become an editor of Lampoon at age 29.
Meanwhile, Doug Kenney was a co-screenwriter with Chris Miller and Harold Ramis of Animal House. It was a fucking blockbuster hit. Doug enhanced his happiness with cocaine. But then he made Caddyshack with Chevy Chase. It got such awful reviews – a 5-star failure – that he enhanced his bottomless depression with more cocaine than a dozen popes could snort. He was beyond addiction. He would place coke along his arm and sniff it all away, then lead a Lampoon meeting. The folks there urged Chase to take him away for a week in Hawaii.
In 1980, when I was living in San Francisco, I got a call from Kenney. He was on his way to Hawaii and wanted to get together with me. I was the head writer for an HBO special about the presidential campaign, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the White House, and since I was deep into the final throes of material, Doug and I agreed that we would get together on his way back.
But an extremely unfunny thing happened in Hawaii. Doug fell off a cliff. Chevy thought he was hiding somewhere and decided to leave, unaware that Doug, his best friend, had died at age 33. There were rumors that he had committed suicide. I didn’t believe it. Not only had we planned to meet, but John Landis, the director of Animal House, said Doug also wanted to see him back in Los Angeles when he returned from Hawaii.
Chris Miller, co-screenwriter of Animal House and prolific Lampoon contributor, once proclaimed that Doug wanted to insert his penis in any woman’s ear. He quotes Doug as saying, “Chris, I hope I’ll go to heaven and stick my dick in the ear of Eleanor Roosevelt,” adding, “Probably right now, Doug is sticking his dick in the ear of Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Rex Weiner – my old friend who was one of the writers for that HBO show – and I attended a memorial wake for Doug on the rooftop of the Magic Castle in Hollywood. There was an all-you-can-eat buffet provided by a Japanese restaurant. Rex and I considered starting a food fight, inspired by that scene in Animal House, in honor of Doug – “He would have wanted it that way” – but we decided it would be in terrible taste, and out of respect for all the other mourners, we resisted the temptation.
It was there that I first met another friend, Michael Simmons. He reminisces: “It was a heady, exciting atmosphere for a hippie teenager in the early 1970s—the funniest, edgiest and smartest people I’ve ever known, concentrated under one roof. At the same time I’ve wondered if the Lampoon’s ‘everything’s a target’ philosophy set the stage for the post-irony we’ve endured for the last twenty or so years.
“Not that I’d have it any other way—one can find the absurdity in most endeavors. But when everything’s equally absurd, what’s left to satirize? A world in which Donald Trump is considered a serious presidential candidate is a self-parody, and I’m not sure satire can out-do reality in a case like Trump’s. I was a Lampoon editor from 1984 through 1989. We knew the golden era had passed.”
Nonetheless, the timing of Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead succeeds in presenting the war on taboos that contrasts so blatantly with the current reincarnation of political chickenshit correctness.
We thought you’d enjoy seeing some of the outrageous satire from The Realist that inspired the National Lampoon.
Read all of “Roseamerica’s Baby” http://www.ep.tc/realist/93/23.html
Often considered the most outrageous issue of The Realist.
Full Issue: http://ep.tc/realist/74/
Visit The Realist Archive Project to see more.
Paul Krassner’s latest book is an expanded edition of his 1993 autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at http://www.paulkrassner.com/ along with the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster.
His most recent collections are “Who’s to Say What’s Obscene: Politics, Culture and Comedy in America Today,” with a foreword by Arianna Huffington; In Praise of Indecency: Dispatches From the Valley of Porn;” and One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist,” with a foreword by Harry Shearer and an introduction by Lewis Black.
Krassner’s FBI files indicate that after Life magazine published a favorable profile of him, the FBI sent a poison-pen letter to the editor, complaining: “To classify Krassner as a social rebel is far too cute. He’s a nut, a raving, unconfined nut.”
“The FBI was right,” said George Carlin. “This man is dangerous – and funny; and necessary.”
When People magazine called Krassner “Father of the underground press,” he immediately demanded a paternity test. He had published The Realist magazine from 1958 to 1974. He reincarnated it as a newsletter in 1985. “The taboos may have changed,” he wrote, “but
irreverence is still our only sacred cow.” The final issue was published in Spring 2001.
Krassner’s style of personal journalism constantly blurred the line between observer and participant. He interviewed a doctor who performed abortions when it was illegal, then ran an underground referral service. He covered the antiwar movement, then co-founded the Yippies with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. He published material on the psychedelic revolution, then took LSD with Tim Leary, Ram Dass and Ken Kesey.
He edited Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,and with Lenny’s encouragement, became a stand-up performer himself, opening at the Village Gate in New York in 1961. Ten years later – five years after Lenny’s death – Groucho Marx said, “I predict that in time Paul Krassner will wind up as the only live Lenny Bruce.”
Follow @paulkrassner and explore PaulKrassner.com.