Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

US | 2015 | Directed by Douglas Tirola

Logline: The history of the controversial and influential American satirical company and its flagship magazine.

Taking its bastard cue from a snobbish academic publication, The Harvard Lampoon, a couple of socio-political cowboys created a rag that wiped the dirty ass of America and smeared it under its nose like a dirty Sanchez. The National Lampoon loved to shock and offend, that was its primary agenda, but its spine was very much its funny bone, and nothing was published unless it made its editors laugh.

Henry Beard and Doug Kenney were the mad men behind the Lampoon grin. Beard was a studious workaholic, Kenney was a creative genius. They were chalk and cheese, but together they were magic. They garnered a sensational team of talent, especially writers and illustrators, including P.J. O’Rourke and Michael O’Donoghue, and young Mike Reiss and Al Jean (who would go on to produce The Simpsons).

Outrageous wit, transgressive satire, filthy, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic jokes filled the pages of the magazine, along with all manner of political degradation. This is what National Lampoon prided itself on, and it existed during a period when there was nothing else quite like it. This was the late 60s and the 70s. In the 80s the magazine began to experience trouble, and more so in the 90s. By the new millennium the Internet had pretty much ruined the party for everyone.

When The Lampoon decided to incorporate a live show it recruited numerous performers from Second Avenue, chiefly John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Gilda Radner. Later, Saturday Night Live pilfered the lot of them, much to the magazine editors chagrin. Later the magazine was seduced by cinema, and the first of several Lampoon movies emerged becoming instant cult favourites: Animal House, Caddyshack, and, of course, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

This is one hell of a fascinating documentary. If only the walls of the chaotic animal house that was the Lampoon’s offices could talk. Never mind, we’ve got this doco and numerous survivors to tell their tales and spill the fruity beans!

Tirola’s snappy pace and the cartoon style elements that punctuate the narrative add much colour and flavour to the documentary. The archival footage is hilarious, and the portfolio of mischievous artwork that graced the Lampoon covers.

Drunk, frequently. Stoned, oh, definitely. Brilliant, that goes without saying. Dead, well, some of the key players are, but the Lampoon legacy lives on. For anyone remotely interested in American satirical comedy, this is essential viewing. Oh, and Rest In Peace Doug Kenney, who “slipped while looking for a place to jump.”


Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is screenings as part of the 62nd Sydney Film Festival, Fri 5 June, 8:45pm & Mon 8 June, 2:15pm – Event Cinemas 9