In idly searching about for current assessments of National Lampoon‘s continuing influence, I came across a few relatively recent stories of interest.
In this New York Times article from 2005 (written by Jake Tapper, now the rather well-known CNN correspondent), Stephen Colbert and others discuss the role of the Lampoon in the development of their own satiric visions. Like myself, The Simpsons executive producer Al Jean (born 1961), Jon Stewart (born 1962), and Colbert (born 1964) read the Lampoon as teenagers, perhaps one generation younger than the Lampoon‘s editors and writers. But despite that generational gap, something stuck:
Al Jean, executive producer of The Simpsons on Fox, talks about the subversive power of [Michael] O’Donoghue’s “Vietnamese Baby Book” of 1972, which chronicles a child’s first year in My Lai with dark wit (“baby’s first word: ‘medic”‘). Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s Daily Show quotes from O’Donoghue’s influential 1971 essay sending up hackery, “How to Write Good.” (“All too often the budding author finds that his tale has run its course and yet he sees no way to satisfactorily end it, or, in literary parlance, ‘wrap it up,”‘ O’Donoghue wrote. “Observe how easily I resolve this problem: ‘Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck. The End.”‘)
Mr. Jean, who worked for the magazine in the 1980’s, added that Saturday Night Live, which absorbed writers, performers and attitude from the Lampoon, often received the credit for changing comedy that the Lampoon truly deserved. … Mr. Colbert credits the Lampoon with introducing satire that not only eviscerated its subjects, but also did so in the style of its target, like the magazine’s letters to the editor, none of which were ever real, or myriad magazine parodies.
A few years ago in Counterpunch magazine, satirist and editor of The Realist Paul Krassner reviewed Douglas Tirola’s documentary about the magazine, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, with a few idiosyncratic observations of his own. But first, he quotes Michael Simmons, the son of Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons, who edited the Lampoon for a few years in the 1980s, a decade after its glory days had come and gone:
[Simmons:] “I’ve wondered if the Lampoon’s ‘everything’s a target’ philosophy set the stage for the post-irony we’ve endured for the last twenty or so years. Not that I’d have it any other way — one can find the absurdity in most endeavors. But when everything’s equally absurd, what’s left to satirize? A world in which Donald Trump is considered a serious presidential candidate is a self-parody, and I’m not sure satire can out-do reality in a case like Trump’s. I was a Lampoon editor from 1984 through 1989. We knew the golden era had passed.”
Nonetheless, the 2015-release timing of Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead succeeds in presenting the war on taboos that contrasts so blatantly with the current reincarnation of political fucking correctness.
So sayeth Krassner. More on the Lampoon — which deserves a closer look — to come.