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Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (2015)

January. 25,2015
| Comedy History Documentary

A look at the history of the American comedy publication and production company, National Lampoon, from its beginning in the 1970s to 2010, featuring rare and never before seen footage, this is the mind boggling story of The National Lampoon from its subversive and electrifying beginnings, to rebirth as an unlikely Hollywood heavyweight, and beyond. A humour empire like no other, the impact of the magazines irreverent, often shocking, sensibility was nothing short of seismic: this is an institution whose (drunk stoned brilliant) alumni left their fingerprints all over popular culture. Both insanely great and breathtakingly innovative, The National Lampoon created the foundation of modern comic sensibility by setting the bar in comedy impossibly high.


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Charles Herold (cherold)

The edgy, twisted, often outrageously funny Lampoon died years ago, although I recall it continued as the walking dead for a few years. This documentary follows the magazine from its pre-creation with the Harvard Lampoon through its early success and then just the tip of its long, slow, painful decline. It is a talking heads documentary, but the talking heads are witty and illustrated with pages from the magazine that work as a Greek chorus and are often cleverly animated.I probably started reading the Lampoon in the mid-70s - my favorite writers were Ellis Weiner and P.J. O'Rourke - but the documentary is most concerned with what it considers the magazine's glory days in the early 70s. Truthfully, the little bits of Lampoon stuff I've read by the early writers like Beard and O'Donoghue haven't really appealed to me, but the movie tells me they were amazing geniuses and perhaps they were.The story the movie tells is a fairly superficial one. It gets into some of the drama and gives some nice background, but it sticks very closely to the geniuses-working-hard-and-having-fun. The decline is portrayed as the loss of geniuses to SNL and the movies, which seems simplistic, and there's not really much attempt to put the Lampoon into a larger societal context.Which is fine, because it's an entertaining documentary, but for me it means people giving this 10 stars just have lower standards for a great documentary than I do. This is just a nice little history that fans of the magazine will enjoy. And it's probably pretty fun even if you don't know the magazine.

Angus T. Cat

I've given National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead a 5 out of 10. It's entertaining to watch: I was happy to find it on the Sky Arts channel here in the UK. But while the film traces the history of the magazine and its creators, and richly describes how the success of the magazine led to its expansion into radio comedy, comedy albums, stage shows, and movies, its images and interviews fly past quickly without the film explaining what factors led to the creation of the magazine and how it was related to other magazines, newspapers, comics, and cultural products of its time.As the documentary pointed out, the magazine grew from the Harvard Lampoon, a Harvard humour magazine that didn't reach a national audience. In the 1920s there were nationally published magazines that collected articles and cartoons from universities around the US: "College Humor" was probably the largest, and was published from 1920 to the 1940s. These college humor magazines were aimed at a young but mainstream audience. It surprised me that Drunk Stone Brilliant Dead didn't mention Mad magazine. It was Mad. first published in 1952, that brought radical and subversive humour that poked fun at authority figures to a country wide audience. Without Mad, there probably wouldn't have been a National Lampoon. It also surprised me that the documentary made no mention of the Underground press and Underground comics of the 1960s. The art style of the first issues of the Lampoon looked very reminiscent of the style of Robert Crumb and other artists from Zap. I didn't like National Lampoon very much in the 1970s. I read my older brother's issues. Even back then, I thought they were indulging in printing pictures of naked girls and making jokes about drugs and sex simply for the sake of it. They didn't have the force of the Underground comics, which were breaking ground in discussing subjects that before then couldn't be mentioned, and were using the archaic spirit of Mad to take apart the establishment and cultural heritage of the era. I remember the issue of National Lampoon that printed a spoof of Mad, taunting that Mad was stuffy, middle aged, and had long forgotten the meaning of satire. I thought that while Mad didn't print cartoons of naked women and guys smoking pot and snorting coke, it still featured strips that aptly commented on society: strips that have been reprinted and discussed in many studies about US history and the growth of graphic novels. I thought while I was watching the documentary that National Lampoon branched out very quickly into other media and became a brand: while Saturday Night Live wasn't officially associated with National Lampoon the show clearly stole their talent and their style of satire. I think the magazine pulled its punches keeping an eye on their advertising revenue and growing empire. I'm not saying it wasn't funny- I thought the record albums and movies were funny- but I think the humour of the magazine was aimed at pleasing its creators and audience of liked minded readers, rather than exposing the darker aspects of its targets. The publisher of Mad, William M Gaines, didn't allow advertising in the magazine because he said a satire magazine couldn't make fun of an advertising campaign and then print an ad a few pages later for the same product or a similar product. He also saw it as a practical issue, saying that the magazine would then try to attract more advertisers, and if it started losing some of its advertisers and the advertising income, the readers would still expect the same fancy package, but without the advertising income to pay for the higher production costs, the magazine was sunk. Which it seems, along with loss of readership, was what ultimately happened to National Lampoon.


If you were living in your late teens and early 20's during the 70's, male (in most cases) there is a good chance you may have been a regular or semi-regular reader of the "National Lampoon" an outrageously funny monthly periodical of the time. A good description is that the NL was a natural progression for teenage boys when they were outgrowing "Mad" and developing some intellectual chops. The NL was screamingly funny, absolutely hilarious satire. I'll admit that when I first started reading in high school some of the stuff went over my head but one thing about the 'Poon compared to the lightweight so-called satirists of today, the overwhelming majority of whom are promoting a far left agenda - the NL was truly an equal opportunity satirist. I'm sure that most of the writers, being in their 20's and most with an Ivy League background were politically left but the 'Poon went after politicians and causes of conservatives and liberals with an equal vengeance, with Nixon and Ted Kennedy being 2 prime examples. While the NL made great sport of right wing iconic institutions like the military, big business, police, Christianity, the NRA and right to life, they also satirized virtually every ethnic group, liberal elites, homosexuals, the entire counter-culture movement, and women (plenty of tits!) Indeed, if someone would try to revive the NL in the spirit of the 70's I'd think the PC police would immediately begin to try to abolish its existence for being racist, sexist and homophobic. For those under about age 50 the National Lampoon is remembered for the movies that began in 1978 with the classic "Animal House" and then the series of "Vacation" movies, plus some others over the years not worth mentioning. The success of AH would continue the siphoning of the NL's most talented writers and performers (the NL Radio Show, which ran on Saturday evenings on a syndicated network, mostly AOR stations. Included Belushi, C Chase, Radner, Ramis and the Murray Bros.) which had begun with NBC's SNL. The NL couldn't compete with the money, fame and women that movies and TV offered their creative talent and the magazine died a slow death in the 80's. "DSBD" is a great look at this quick rise and fall of a comedy empire.

Larry Silverstein

This well presented documentary, directed by Douglas Tirola, gives us a good inside look at the highly satirical magazine National Lampoon. Founded in 1969 by 3 Harvard graduates, Doug Kenney, Henry Beard, and Rob Hoffman, the magazine published from 1970 to 1998.In its heyday in the 1970's, National Lampoon presented dark and scathing social and political satire, where seemingly nothing was off limits. That would include its now infamous 1973 cover where a revolver is being placed against the head of a dog with the caption "if you don't buy this magazine we'll kill this dog". The magazine would spin off into various other media avenues including radio, live theater, comedy albums, and finally movies, where its initial film presentation was the classic comedic gem "Animal House". An enormous list of talented comedians and writers would contribute to the success of National Lampoon over the years. However, this success would eventually lead to much of the talent moving on to other venues, such as SNL, leading to the eventual downfall of the publication.Overall, the viewer should be prepared to see tons of female breasts in this movie, as well as all kinds of explicit sexual references and stories. Also, they'll be many references to the darkest kind of humor, on topics that would be considered strictly taboo by many. I thought the documentary gave me a solid inside look at an important part of American satirical humor history.