I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to finally write this. Almost thirteen years!
Anyway. Better late than never…?
You may recall that I announced here on November 24, 2010 about a live National Lampoon event to be held at the New York Public Library in ten days, on December 4, 2010. A few days before the event, I made the decision to book a flight and hotel room so I could be there. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance to finally meet some of the people I’d been writing about for over a decade.
My hotel was a couple of blocks from the New York Public Library. So I just walked over around the time it was supposed to start and found a queue of people waiting to get in. We were finally let in about a half hour later.
The event was coordinated with the launch of Rick Meyerowitz’ book Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, and sure enough, there were boxes and boxes of the books lined up along one wall. The room was an oak-paneled hall (like a ballroom) with a couple hundred folding chairs set up, facing one of those portable stages at one end of the room, a projection screen and lights on each side of the stage.
As the room started filling up, I spotted Rick. He’d invited me to attend the event, so I introduced myself. We talked only briefly since he was busy getting things set up.
I found a seat a few rows back from the stage on the left side. Not too far behind me, a woman named Flash Rosenberg was getting set up at a small, lighted table. Apparently, she would be drawing cartoons live during the event. To this day, I’ve never seen what she drew that night, but I think she a regular at NYPL events.
While I was waiting for things to start, a nattily-dressed older gentleman asked if he could sit next to me and introduced himself as Bob Grossman, the illustrator. I was a bit star-struck. I was very familiar with Bob’s work. He was the guy who did the famous caricatures of Nixon and Kissinger on the foldout cover of the August 1972 (“Miracle of Democracy”) issue, the January 1975 (“No Issue”) cover, and a lot of other stuff, including album covers, magazine covers, and ads in the sixties and seventies. I even hired him once for the cover of the Utne Reader—something he remembered. Seated on his other side were Gerald Sussman’s widow and daughter, although I didn’t talk with them very much.
While we were waiting for things to start, Bob asked if I had a piece of paper. I tore a page from the notebook I was carrying and handed it to him. A moment later, he handed the paper back to me. He’d scribble a caricature of me on the page. I’ve included a photo here for comparison. While it doesn’t look like me in that photo exactly (my hair was longer), I guess that’s what I looked like that night. I couldn’t quite believe he did it.
Shortly after that, the event started. Here’s the line up:
- [0:00] Paul Holdengräber, Director of Public Programs as NYPL, introduces the event (this was very long and mostly about other NYPL events)
- [14:20] A clip from Animal House is played, then [20:00] Peter Riegert reminisces about the movie (he played “Boon”)
- [23:00] Joe Randazzo, editor of the Onion, talks about National Lampoon‘s influence on him and the Onion
- [26:00] Hilton Als, writer for The New Yorker, reminisces about George W.S. Trow
- [29:10] Sean Kelly, former NL editor and writer, talks about the post-Doug and Henry years
- [34:22] Brian McConnachie, first talks a bit about Moby!, the absurd Radio Hour musical starring John Belushi as Ahab (and plays a clip), and then reads a hilarious piece he wrote called “The Amazing Man They Call the Ding-Dong Hoodlum Priest”—one of the funniest moments of the night—I was in tears by the end of it
- [44:20] Michel Choquette, former NL contributor, talks about shooting the Stranger In Paradise feature from the March 1972 (“Escape!”) issue
- [50:40] Tony Hendra, former editor, first talks about Michael O’Donoghue, and then performs his “Deteriorata” accompanied by Paul Jacobs on piano—here’s a video I shot of it:
- [58:35] Christopher Cerf, reminisces about the fringe newsletter parody he wrote with Henry Beard, “Americans United to Beat the Dutch” (“The A.U.T.B.D. Newsletter”)
- [1:01:15] John Weidman, former editor, reminisces about his time as a writer for NL, followed by a tribute to Gerry Sussman (including an extensive reading from Sussman’s TV Guide parody)
- [1:09:50] Rick Meyerowitz introduces a video clip prerecorded by Ted Mann in lieu of attending
- [1:11:48] Ted Mann (on video), former editor, tells a story about John Weidman, with an apology to John
- [1:16:32] Rick Meyerowitz talks about the significance of National Lampoon and its history, about his new book, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, and about the magazine’s amazing art directors, artists, and writers, many of whom were there
- [1:25:30] Fred Graver, former editor (early eighties I think), reminisces about his time at the magazine
- [1:32:00] Larry “Ratso” Sloman, editor in the late eighties (decked out in a gold lamé suit), reminisces about his time at the magazine and told stories about Gilbert Gottfried, who he hired to write for the Lampoon during his tenure (Gottfried was at the event)
- [1:38:35] Paul Jacobs, Sarah Durkee, Christopher Cerf, and Alice Playten perform “Papa Was a Running-Dog Lackey of the Bourgeoisie” from Lemmings (Jacobs and Playten were both in the show back in 1973), which I recorded on my phone:
- [1:41:40] Rick Meyerowitz and Paul Holdengräber invite everyone who spoke back onto the stage for thank-you’s and a round of applause and announce that they will all be signing copies of Rick’s new book, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead
And that was the end of the “show” portion of the evening.
At one time, there was a video of the entire thing at the NYPL website. Technically, it’s still there, but requires the now-defunct Adobe Flash Player to view. Fortunately, they also provide an audio link on the page so you can listen to the whole thing (1 hour 42 minutes). I’ve included start times [in brackets] in the listing above in case you want to skip directly to one of the presentations.
If you’re an impatient speed-reader, I also found a transcript of the whole thing here. (No transcripts of the musical performances, though.)
After the stage show, I got in line like everyone else to get my copy of the book (which Rick gave to me for helping him promote it—yeah, I know) and get it signed by everyone.
The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. Naturally, I met all the Lampoon people who were signing books, like Christopher Cerf, Tony Hendra, Sean Kelly, Fred Graver, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Peter Regret, and Brian McConnachie. (Rick was there, too, but I’d already met him.) Nearly all of them were aware of my Lampoon website, but I didn’t really get a chance to talk to them much there.
After I got my book signed, I met a few more people who were milling around the auditorium, such as illustrator Randy Enos (creator of Chicken Gutz) and his wife, who I talked to quite a bit, since I used to be an art director and we had some mutual acquaintances. I also met cartoonist Sam Gross, but we only shook hands. Other people I saw there, but didn’t meet or talk to were cartoonist Arnold Roth, former NatLamp publisher Jerry Taylor, former NL art director Peter Kleinman (who left early), cartoonist Stan Mack, writer Peter Kaminsky, and cartoonist Ron Barrett (who also left early).
After the book signing was over, I was invited to a private reception on the second floor of the library where all the speakers, performers, and other people related in some way to the magazine would be hanging out. Some of the people I met or talked to there were musicians Paul Jacobs and Sarah Durkee, Michel Choquette (who was talking the whole night about the impending publication of his long-delayed “Someday Funnies” book that had been in the works since the seventies), John Aboud (designer of “Someday Funnies”), Ed Subitzky and his wife/girlfriend Susie (who both said they loved my site—we ended up talking quite a while about comics and Michael Gross and other things), Dennis Perrin (author of “Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue from National Lampoon to Saturday Night Live, the Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous”), Sean Kelly, who was was shorter than I expected, and Brian McConnachie, who was taller than I expected. The one thing I remember about Brian is that he asked me (not completely seriously) when I was going to add a page about him on my site. It’s coming, Brian. It’s coming.
There was a clot of people in one corner of the room, with Gilbert Gottfried holding court, with Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Tony Hendra, and a few others. I was a bit intimidated about approaching them, so I never did.
All in all, the event was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I can’t thank Rick enough for inviting me. I never thought making a stupid website about National Lampoon would lead to something like this. And I can’t believe how many Lampoon contributors I met there. I only wish Michael Gross had been invited to speak (there was a bit of a brouhaha around that, but there’s no point in getting into it). Still, it was a peak experience for a long-time NatLamp fan like me, and I’ll never forget it. I don’t think anything like it could ever happen again.
In the years since the event, some of the people who were there (including some I met) have passed away. These include Sean Kelly, Tony Hendra, Alice Playten, Sam Gross, Bob Grossman, Jerry Taylor, and Gilbert Gottfried. R.I.P.
Michel Choquette’s book, “Someday Funnies,” did finally get published. I’ll write something about it here soon.
There are more photos of the event on Flickr, taken by Jori Klein. They’re much better than mine, but unfortunately don’t have captions.
On a personal note, after the evening’s events, I took a cab to Brooklyn to meet up with some friends at a bar. When I got back to my hotel room around 2:00 in the morning, I realized my brand new iPhone 4 was gone.
I panicked, not just because it was new, but because all the photos and videos I shot at the event were on it. Remember, this was long before the days when your photos got sent up to “the cloud.” It was all on the phone, and nowhere else.
But I remembered that Apple had just introduced a new feature—“Find My iPhone.” So I opened my laptop and went to the page on Apple’s website, which showed a map, with a blue dot about ten blocks away. Apparently, my phone had slipped out of my pocket on the cab ride back to the hotel.
I clicked the button that would cause the phone to make a loud noise and display a message: “Please bring this phone back to the Courtyard Hotel where you dropped me off.” At first, nothing happened. I clicked the button again and suddenly the dot on the map started moving in the direction of my hotel.
I ran to the elevator. By the time I got down to the lobby, the cab was just pulling up outside. The driver looked astonished as he handed my phone back to me. He’d never heard you could do that. I thanked him with a $10 bill.
I don’t think I would have got much sleep that night if not for that new feature, and I would have lost all the photos and videos. Nice job, Apple.