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  • 10.05.15

Tracing The Influence: 9 Ways National Lampoon Shaped Modern Comedy

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead director Doug Trivola and friends reveal how deep National Lampoon’s comedy influence goes.

Before they were on Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase and John Belushi lent their voices to National Lampoon, the humor media empire that spanned a magazine, as well as several comedy albums and movies. The show’s first head writer, the demented genius, Mike O’Donoghue, also hailed from NatLamp. Ditto Bill Murray. But the original SNL didn’t merely share personnel with the wide-ranging humor emporium–the show bore the mark of its influence, which would eventually come to adorn a high percentage of comedic properties over the next several decades.

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National Lampoon was a magazine and a brand that thrived on intelligence as much as audacity. Despite how pervasive casual violence has become in our media–um, have you seen The Walking Dead or Hannibal?–it’s hard to imagine a magazine cover running today featuring a picture of a dog with a gun to its head and a caption that reads “Buy This Magazine Or We’ll Shoot This Dog.” Much like that Velvet Underground record that launched a thousand musical careers, many people who saw National Lampoon and realized you can do the kind of things that became the magazine’s bread and butter, went on to great success in the funny business. Many of these connections are chronicled in the new documentary, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, based on the book of the same name.

Garry Goodrow, Peter Elbling, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, John Belushi, Mary-Jennifer Mitchell and Alice Peyton, who worked on National Lampoon’s albums

Aside from avowed fans like Judd Apatow, who appear in the film to lend testimonial, the crew’s reach is evident everywhere. People who worked at or for the Lampoon went on to found or contribute to other influential outlets of humor that basically shaped modern comedy. In advance of the movie’s recent release in theaters and on iTunes, Co.Create spoke with director Doug Tirola, former writer for NatLamp as well as The Simpsons, Mike Reiss, and former editor in chief, Sean Kelly about comedy back then and today. Look through the slides above to see how basically everything that makes you laugh owes a debt of gratitude to National Lampoon.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.

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