National Lampoon

From Academic Kids

The National Lampoon is a humor magazine that began in 1970 as an offshoot of the Harvard Lampoon. Harvard graduates and Lampoon alumni Douglas Kenney, Henry Beard, and Rob Hoffman licensed the "Lampoon" name for a national publication.

After a shaky start, the magazine quickly grew in popularity during the 1970s, when it regularly skewered pop culture, the counterculture and politics with recklessness and gleeful bad taste. Notable cover images include:

  • The court-martialed Vietnam War murderer William Calley affecting the guileless grin of Alfred E. Neuman, complete with the catch phrase, 'What, My Lai?" (August 1971);
  • The iconic image of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevera, being splattered with a cream pie (January 1972);
  • A dog looking worriedly at the revolver pressed to its temple, with the famous cover blurb "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog" (January 1973);
  • A replica of the starving child from the cover of George Harrison's charity album "Concert for Bangladesh," rendered in chocolate and with a large bite taken out of its head (July 1974).

Like the Harvard Lampoon, individual issues were devoted to a particular theme such as "The Future," "Back to School," "Self-Indulgence," or "Blight." The magazine also took a cue from MAD Magazine by regularly reprinting its material in a series of collections.

The magazine produced and fostered some notable writing and comic talents, including (but not limited to) Kenney, P.J. O'Rourke, Michael O'Donoghue, Sean Kelly, and Tony Hendra. Many important cartoonists also appeared in the magazine's pages, including Gahan Wilson, Rick Meyerowitz, Shary Flenniken, Vaughan Bode, Edward Gorey, Ed Subitzky, Arnold Roth, Jeff Jones, and Neal Adams. Hendra's book on 1950s-1970s humor, "Going Too Far," contains much information about the magazine's early days.

The Lampoon's heyday was roughly 1972-74, with its national circulation peaking at just over 1 million copies sold of a single 1974 issue. Most fans consider the glory days to have ended in 1975, when the three founders took advantage of a $7.5 million dollar buyout in their contracts. Also, some of the magazine's contributors left to join the NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live around the same time, notably O'Donoghue and Anne Beatts. The most comprehensive Lampoon website doesn't even bother chronicling the magazine's content after its January 1975 issue. Even so, the magazine still made money and continued to be produced on a monthly schedule until the early 1990s.

The magazine also spun off an off-Broadway hit (Lemmings), a series of popular record albums, a radio show and a line of motion pictures, most famously Animal House in 1978. One National Lampoon movie, National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), spawned a series of several sequels, including National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), Vegas Vacation (1997), and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (2003).

The magazine's last print publication was November 1998. An on-line version of the magazine was started. Some success was achieved but the creative staff were laid off unexpectedly and replaced with freelancers. Eventually, in a move that seemed like a classic National Lampoon parody but was not, Brian "Kato" Kaelin was hired to work and write for National Lampoon. [1] (http://www.gawker.com/news/media/page-six/news-corp-everybody-loves-kato-kaelin-026730.php)

Though the magazine essentially exists today only as a logo and copyright, its comedic influence on a previous generation of writers and performers was seismic. Fully half of Saturday Night Live's first 8 featured performers-- John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray-- first came to semi-prominence as part of the Lampoon's stage/radio shows.

As Henry Beard described it years later, "There was this big door that said, 'Thou shalt not.' We touched it, and it fell off its hinges."

Other National Lampoon movies:

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