Tales of Lower Middle Earth

Bored of the RingsIn 1969, not long before founding National Lampoon, Doug Kenney and Henry Beard wrote a parody of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings called Bored of the Rings (published by the Harvard Lampoon). A few years ago I acquired a copy. I had long wanted to read this classic parody, but, never having read the original Tolkien books, I set it aside.

Earlier this year, after thoroughly enjoying the first two installments of the movie adaptation, I finally got around to reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was pretty good (better than the movies, in fact), but, more importantly, I could finally sink my teeth into Bored of the Rings.

I don’t think I would call it the funniest thing I’ve ever read, but I found myself giggling constantly as I read it. It captures Tolkien’s style perfectly, while at the same time mocking it. All the character and place names are re-cast as familiar brand names (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin become Frito, Spam, Moxie, and Pepsi). Well, familiar brand names in 1969, anyway. In fact, so many brand names are used in the book, I think it would be impossible to make into a movie today. The legal costs would be prohibitive. It follows the plot of the original at least as closely as the movies, and in only 160 pages.

Not surprisingly, there are some drug references and sex, but not nearly as much as I expected. My favorite parts turned out to be my least favorite parts of the Tolkien books: the songs. In the original, I found the songs to be tedious and self-indulgent, and mostly skipped over them. Maybe because of this, in Bored, they are the highlight. Here is a sample (in ancient “elvish”):

A Unicef clearasil
Gibberish ‘n’ drivel
O Mennen mylar muriel
With a hey derry tum gardol
O Yuban necco glamorene?
Enden nytol, vaseline!
Sing hey nonny nembutal.

Anyway, it’s all pretty silly, so anyone who takes Tolkien too seriously will likely be offended. But if you’ve read the original, it makes a nice dessert. And thanks to the renewed interest brought on by the movie adaptations, it’s available again. So you shouldn’t have to hunt around for a copy of the original paperback like I did.

Tony Scheuren CD Released

Tony ScheurenTony Scheuren was a multi-talented artist who performed on and wrote music for numerous National Lampoon projects, including the road show cast of Lemmings (1973), The Missing Whitehouse Tapes (1974), National Lampoon Radio Hour, Goodbye Pop (1975), as well as some of the later albums. Despite his talent, the fame and fortune acheived by some of his fellow performers eluded him. Alcoholism led to his untimely death at the age of 45 in 1993.

Many of you reading here, if you know his name at all, probably only know him for his uncanny parodies of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Neil Young and others. But he was also involved in several rock bands, including a group called Chamaeleon Church which had a young drummer named Chevy Chase.

After his death, Scheuren’s family sifted through several hundred reel-to-reel tapes of songs he had written and recorded in his home studio over the years which were never commercially released. A CD of some of these songs, Gaining On You, was released last Fall. More info about Tony and the CD is available on the Beacon Agency website. (Thanks to Margot Scheuren.)

National Lampoon, Inc. On the Move

Things have been awfully busy out in the L.A. headquarters of your favorite brand:

• On September 5, 2002, National Lampoon acquired Burly Bear Network, a TV network distributed to colleges and universities.

• On October 10, 2002, National Lampoon struck a deal with ZelnickMedia in order to “build the legendary Lampoon brand.”

• On October 24, 2002, National Lampoon announced the launch of “National Lampoon Books.” The first title will be a reprint of the 1964 High School Yearbook Parody, originally published in 1974 and probably the most successful venture the magazine undertook during its heyday. It’s schedule to be released in about a year and will include a “where are they now” addendum.

• On November 5, 2002, National Lampoon officially changed its name from “J2 Communications, Inc.” to “National Lampoon, Inc.” (And about time, too.)

• And, most recently, on November 18, 2002, former National Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons has rejoined the company to “help reconnect the company to the wide network of National Lampoon alumni and return the company to its comedic roots.”

Other planned announcements include the first practical demonstration of porcine flight, the exhumation and reanimation of Doug Kenney and Michael O’Donoghue, and affordable health insurance for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.

Seriously, the future looks bright for National Lampoon fans. You can read more about these announcements on Yahoo! Finance.

If You Don’t Read This Item, We’ll Shoot Vincent Flanders

Reader Tony Buford points out that Vincent “Web Pages That Suck” Flanders is ripping off the classic National Lampoon “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” cover.

I appreciate Flanders’ often very funny insights on understanding how web design works (or doesn’t), but he’s not the most original creative thinker in the world, consistently relying on old clichés to get his points across (or to sell his books, in this case). This is not necessarilly a bad thing since it allows him to very quickly connect with his audience, but it is true.

In any case, he’s not the first to copy the “dog” idea, and I’ve yet to see anyone top the original. Here are some others I’ve seen:

National Lampoon ripped itself off on the April 1985 cover showing an apparently French woman (she’s wearing a beret and holding a poodle, so she must be French) with a gun to her head accompanied by the line “Buy Zees Magazine or We’ll Shoot Zees French ‘Ookair!”

Spy magazine did a variation of it in the mid-’90s, though I can’t remember who they threatened to shoot

Mad magazine copied it on their October 1997 cover with “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Virtual Pet!”

• Former NatLamp publisher Matty Simmons re-staged the photo less successfully on the cover of his 1994 book “If You Don’t Buy This Book We’ll Kill This Dog: Life, Laughs, Love and Death at National Lampoon

Incidently, former NatLamp art director Michael Gross is selling signed prints of his original concept sketch of the cover on the Classifieds page. Update: Michael passed away in 2015, so I don’t think these are available anymore. Plus, I pulled the plug on the Classifieds page. You had your chance. Just saying.

I’m Honored, I Think

Mark’s Very Large National Lampoon Site has been chosen as the September 2, 2002 site of the day by Seven Wonders in the “Humor and the Unusual” category. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of the site, though they claim to be one of the longest-running Web award sites. Probably they’re hoping I’ll provide a link to their site. No big deal. I’ll be a sport. I’d like to thank all those who voted for me. I’d also like to thank all the little people who made Mark’s Very Large National Lampoon Site possible… (damn, they’re playing the music already!) … Thank you! Thanks everyone! Update: Seven Wonders is long gone. So much for that.

Yippee

Just noticed that Yahoo! featured Mark’s Very Large National Lampoon Site on their What’s New page today. They describe it as “a labor of love,” which, I think, means there are no banner ads. Update: Well, that link doesn’t work anymore. Wonder whatever became of Yahoo!?

Mort Sahl Performing in L.A.

Mort Sahl, the man whom former NatLamp editor Tony Hendra credited as the progenitor of the kind of humor that reached its zenith with the National Lampoon, is now appearing every Thursday evening at 10:00 p.m. at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. I wonder if he still uses the newspaper in his act.

Are You Ready, Kids?

Roger Bumpass, who appeared in many National Lampoon stage shows and recordings in the late seventies and early eighties, does the voice of Squidward in the popular Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants. Brian Doyle Murray also makes occasional appearances on the show as the voice of The Flying Dutchman. Arrr!