As chaotic and bold as its focal point, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon gives a defining group of comedy pioneers the homage they so richly deserve, while introducing an unknowing generation to the legends behind some of the most beloved films of all time. Expanding on the standard documentary outline, director Douglas Tirola strings a series of in-depth interviews together with original National Lampoon magazine artwork, album excerpts and stage show footage — providing enough tits, drugs and comedy to satiate fans young and old.
From its humble beginnings as a satirical college gazette (The Harvard Lampoon), to its rise into international prominence and college movie hall-of-fame, the National Lampoon has a far more storied past than its more recent films (The Legend of Awesomest Maximus, Endless Bummer) would perhaps suggest. More than introducing comedy legends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis and Chevy Chase to an adoring nationwide audience, National Lampoon provided a fed-up generation with an outlet for their confused, desperate isolation. More than a means to channel laughter and teenage angst, the magazine let its readers know they were not alone (a salient point made by Billy Bob Thornton) in a world that had previously silenced its weird, quirky and darkly hilarious elements.
As the member of a generation that worshipped films like Vacation, Animal House, and Caddyshack, but one who was forced to endure modern iterations of the classic tropes (Van Wilder and Vegas Vacation come to mind), the history behind the logo on the VHS/DVD case was largely a mystery. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is an important record of a magazine that changed comedy (and by extension culture) for the better. Paving the way for modern online publications like The Onion (and subsidiary ClickHole), spawning an entire genre of film and even getting a live Saturday night sketch show up and running (according to founder Robert Hoffman), National Lampoon was an unfiltered outlet for its writers’ creativity and a beacon of light for some of the best comedy performers of the 20th century.
By incorporating visualizations directly from the magazine, Tirola captures the distinctly funny voice of National Lampoon while deconstructing why it was so brilliant. Extractions from the “Foto Funnies” section infuses a sense of time and place unique to the Lampoon‘s offices and the real-world antics that went on behind-the-scenes. While some of the quotations and article titles are imbued with external significance, Tirola’s intentions are clearly from a place of love and admiration. This is perhaps the crux of the documentary — no one has anything negative to say about National Lampoon, including the once-discontented founder, Henry Beard.
Populated by work from some of the most creatively funny people of an era, National Lampoon was a once-in-a-lifetime juggernaut that was more than just a sum of its many extraordinary parts. Counterculture heightened by sex, drugs and the vibrance of youth defined the magazine that began a revolution that is still raging. Uncompromising in vision and unwilling to apologize, National Lampoon was an incredible piece of American history whose legacy deserves better than half-hearted remakes and straight-to-DVD college debauchery.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.