Looks like changes are afoot at www.nationallampoon.com.
Former NatLamp editor Tony Hendra has written a brief history of National Lampoon magazine which appears in the June 2002 issue of Harper’s. For those who have read his 1987 book Going Too Far, it covers a lot of familiar territory, focusing on the first five years of the magazine. It’s quite a bit shorter than the account in the book, but there are some new anectdotes and his take on the magazine (and P. J. O’Rourke in particular) has shifted somewhat in the intervening 15 years. Required reading for the serious NatLamp scholar.
First, a little background: On an April 1974 broadcast of The National Lampoon Radio Hour there was a bit called “The Jimmy Dugan Story” which featured John Belushi as a sports show host interviewing Brian Doyle-Murray as a coach/trainer who turned toddlers into super-athletes. One of the tots, Jimmy Dugan, is in the studio. The coach describes the grueling training regimen imposed on the kids and, at one point during the interview, goads the interviewer into punching little Jimmy to show just how tough he is. Of course, Jimmy starts crying. The coach eggs the interviewer on to hit him again because “he can take it.” Sadly, he can’t and the second blow proves fatal, thus bringing a tragic close to “The Jimmy Dugan Story.”
Reader Mark Winter sheds some light onto how this darkly funny bit was brought to life:
“I heard an interview with Michael O’Donoghue on the Kevin Mathews radio show here in Chicago shortly after O’Donoghue died. In the interview Kevin played ‘The Jimmy Dugan Story.’ O’Donoghue told Kevin the secret behind how he got the kid to cry so realistically. O’Donoghue found out the kid was terrified of big dogs before the kid showed up for the show. While the kid was doing the recording session O’Donoghue had a staff member bring a huge dog up to the studio, but kept it hidden out of the kid’s sight until needed. At the right time O’Donoghue brought the dog into the studio, and when the kid saw the dog, he lost it and began to cry. O’Donoghue got the recording he wanted and it made the piece really funny.”
Paul Jacobs is a talented musician who was associated with National Lampoon on “Lemmings” (as a performer, musical director, and composer and arranger with Christopher Guest), National Lampoon Radio Hour and the “Good-bye Pop” LP (as a composer and performer). Paul recently contacted me and let me in on some of the story of how he became involved with “Lemmings”:
“The short story is that Christopher Guest heard me at a recording session and hired me to play some of his songs. He was friendly with Jerry Taylor, associate publisher at Lampoon (who was also married to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary at the time), and had been brought in for “Radio Dinner.” He arranged an audition for me with Tony Hendra. I improvised/wrote five songs for the show. “Lemmings’ Lament,” “Papa Was a Running Dog Lackey of the Bourgeoisie,” part of the Stones parody, “Megadeath,” and a song called “Wish They All Could Kill The California Way,” which was a Beach Boys type of song that told the story of Charles Manson. Sort of a mix of “Good Vibrations” and “California Girls.” Unfortunately, the cast couldn’t learn the vocal parts. They were very hard. I was a big fan of the Beach Boys.
“Basically Sean Kelly and I wrote the songs. Sean is amazing, as you know. “Lemmings’ Lament” was sort of my response to the sickeningly sweet “Our House” by Graham Nash. “Papa Was a Running Dog…” started by me putting the beginning of the Communist Manifesto to music.
“Anyway, the show came along at a perfect time for me, and it was fun, and a thrill being 22 and a half and involved in this cool project.”
Paul and his wife, Sarah Durkee (who wrote and performed in some of the National Lampoon stage shows), lately have been doing music for PBS kids’ shows, including “Between the Lions.”
This fall will mark the 30th anniversary of “Lemmings” opening at The Village Gate in New York City.
If so, drop me a line. Paul Jacobs is wondering where you’ve been. I’m not kidding.
Several readers have pointed out an eerie case of foreshadowing of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in an old issue of National Lampoon. The issue in question, March ’75 (Good-bye to All That), featured a parody of a disaster movie poster, "Gone With the Wind ’75". Among the disasters depicted in the poster is the twin towers burning just as they did last September. If the predictive powers of this poster prevail, New Yorkers can also look forward to killer bees, a tidal wave, a volcano, and a mid-air collision of a jumbo jet and the Goodyear blimp.
I’ve received some schedule info about National Lampoon Radio Hour broadcasts on XM Satellite Radio. A new show is broadcast every Saturday (7-8 a.m. in the East, 4-5 a.m. in the West) and repeated on Monday (3-4 p.m. in the East, noon-1 p.m. in the West) and Wednesday (midnight-1 a.m. in the East, 9-10 p.m. in the West).
XM’s competitor in the digital satellite radio biz, Sirius Radio, also broadcasts National Lampoon Radio Hour shows on their “Sirius Comedy” channel 160, but I don’t have any other information about them at this time.
Shows of the National Lampoon Radio Hour are now being broadcast in their entirety on a regular basis on XM’s comedy station, XM Comedy 150. I can’t tell from their website how often “regular” is. A special receiver is required to pick up the broadcasts, which they claim is higher quality than conventional radio since it’s all-digital. You can’t listen on an ordinary radio, or even over the internet (although they do offer samples on their site). Still, having the shows broadcast at all is a good thing. Update: They seem to have removed that stuff.
Out of the blue, I just heard Brian McConnachie do a very funny piece on NPR’s All Things Considered. He’s just as absurd and funny in his inimitable way as he was at National Lampoon back in the seventies. First PBS kids’ shows and now this. Wonders never cease.
Michael Gross, art director of National Lampoon from 1970 through 1974, is alive and well and living in Oceanside, California, where he is a curator at the Oceanside Museum of Art. I’ve (finally) added his bio to the Staff & Contributors section.