Your Unauthorized Guide to the Golden Age of National Lampoon Magazine


In addition to issues of National Lampoon, the following works have been of help in compiling this site, and are recommended if you can find them:

Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue from National Lampoon to Saturday Night Live, the Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous 
By Dennis Perrin, Avon Books, 1998. This biography of the man who set the tone for National Lampoon in its formative years focuses mainly on his life and work up until his final break with Saturday Night Live in 1982. It covers in meticulous detail (including excerpts) his early career in experimental theater and as a struggling writer; his four-year reign at National Lampoon; and his ground-breaking (and ultimately co-opted) work for Saturday Night Live. (The last twelve years of his life, which were much less public, fly by in only one chapter.) Perrin’s account of O’Donoghue’s Lampoon days compliments the accounts given in Hendra’s and Simmons’ books (see below) without being redundant. The story of O’Donoghue’s early life and career puts his later work in context and gives it greater meaning. The parade of alliances, tantrums, and feuds is presented in all its tragic drama, and much of the book is devoted to his personal eccentricities and foibles. O’Donoghue’s work is presented as is without much explanation as to why so many found his work both brilliant and funny (as if it went without saying), and this is the only real shortcoming of this riveting book.

If You Don’t Buy This Book, We’ll Kill This Dog! Life, Laughs, Love, & Death at National Lampoon
By Matty Simmons, Barricade Books, 1994. Straight from the horse’s mouth, here is the most complete (as of 1994) account of the history of National Lampoon, written by its long-time publisher. Simmons has a tendency to ramble, but the material is so fascinating, in the end it doesn’t matter. Reading his account of the ill-fated take-over by actor Tim Matheson and Dan Grodnik and the subsequent sale of the magazine to J2 Communications is like watching a car accident in slow motion, with the survivors walking away with little more than the name plate. In addition to the magazine, other NatLamp enterprises (such as the stage shows, movies, and television shows) are covered in detail. Finally, the book contains anecdotes and personal sketches of virtually everyone associated with Lampoon, many of whom went on to much bigger things. This book is a great read for any fan of National Lampoon.

Going Too Far: The Rise and Demise of Sick, Gross, Black, Sophomoric, Weirdo, Pinko, Anarchist, Underground, Anti-Establishment Humor 
By Tony Hendra, Doubleday, 1987. A fascinating and entertaining chronicle of what former Lampoon editor Hendra calls “Boomer humor,” from its birth (Mort Sahl) to its death (Saturday Night Live). Contains an extensive history of the National Lampoon from his point of view as an insider. Probably the most cogent analysis of what made the magazine what it was in its most fertile period.

The Life and Death of a Comic Genius: Doug Kenney, 1946-1980 
By Robert Sam Anson, Esquire Magazine, October 1981. An account of Doug Kenney’s life from his childhood in Ohio, his Harvard Lampoon days, the founding of the National Lampoon, his rise to success in Hollywood, to his tragic and puzzling death. (Note: Those close to Kenney, including those who had provided background material to Anson, were appalled by Anson’s take on Kenney, which portrays him as a neurotic basket-case destroyed by his success, very different from the man they knew.)

National Lampoon Tenth Anniversary Anthology, 1970-1980
Edited by P. J. O’Rourke, Simon & Schuster, 1979. In addition to some classic pieces from the first ten years of the magazine (though not as lavishly produced as in their original form in many cases), this hard-cover volume contains some information about who worked for NatLamp when, a brief history of the magazine, and a listing of special editions, books, records, movies, tv and radio shows, and stage shows produced by National Lampoon, Inc. This collection was compiled at a time when P. J. O’Rourke was at the helm, and reflects the schism between O’Rourke and some of the earlier contributors. Fans of the early years of NatLamp will be disappointed by the absence of material by George W. S. Trow, Anne Beatts, and Ed Bluestone, due to “copyright conflicts, legal entanglements,” etc.

They Only Laughed When It Hurt
New Times magazine, August 21, 1978. (Details pending.)

Other Sources 

In addition to the above mentioned sources, I hope to dig up some articles I remember reading in the ’70s that appeared in Print Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Time Magazine. There was also a parody of Print Magazine , done by the NatLamp staff, that appeared in Print Magazine.

Further Reading (and Viewing and Listening)

Since I originally created this site, back in the late nineties, a number of other things have been published or released. See also the bottom section of the Bookshelf page.

Panel Discussion About National Lampoon 
Featuring Rick Meyerowitz, Tony Hendra, and Peter Kleinman, moderated by Steven Heller
Rare Gallery, NYC, November 2015. Watch a video of the event online here. (Unfortunately it appears the video has been removed.)

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon 
A documentary directed by Douglas Tirola, Magnolia Pictures, 2015. Available on DVD and BluRay as well as streaming on Netflix. More info here.

The Michael Gross Interview 
By Shaun Clancy, The Comics Journal, March 2015. Read the interview online here.

Creative Conversation: Michael Gross 
Hosted by Jorge Oliver, Pratt Institute, 2014. Former NatLamp art director Michael Gross talks about his life and career at his alma mater. Watch a video of the event online here.

Talking to National Lampoon Co-Founder Henry Beard About Humor Writing, the Lampoon and More 
Interview by Mike Sacks, Splitsider, November 2012. Read the interview online here.

Sam Gross: Sex, Race, and Frogs 
Interview by Richard Gehr, The Comics Journal, March 2011. Read the interview online here.

National Lampoon Revisited 
Live from the New York Public Library, December 2010. This was an event to publicize the launch of Rick Meyerowitz’s book Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. A large number of NatLamp alumni were present. (I was there, too. Woo!) Watch a video of the event online here. (Requires Flash)

National Lampoon Complete DVD-ROM 
Published by GIT Corp, 2007. Contains searchable scans (in PDF format) of all the regular issues of National Lampoon magazine, 1970-1998. Scan quality is adequate for reading. A few pages missing or rotated. Displays watermark in any PDF viewer except Adobe Reader. Does NOT include special issues, anthologies, books, calendars, poster books, t-shirts, posters, record albums, radio shows, off-Broadway productions, or movies. Currently, getting hard to find and going for ridiculous prices, even used.

Anne Beatts Radio Interview
Hosted by Jesse Thorn, The Sound of Young America, 2007. Part One and Part Two.

National Lampoon Grows Up by Dumbing Down 
By Jake Tapper, The New York Times, 2005. The original piece on The New York Times site. See also Matty Simmons’ response.

The Forgotten Design Legacy of the National Lampoon 
By Micheal Bierut, The Design Observer, 2004. Read the article online here.

The Comics of National Lampoon 
Comic Book Artist magazine, February 2003. Available here.

A Brief History of National Lampoon 
Harper’s magazine, June 2002

Original material (excluding quoted material) © 1997-2024 Mark Simonson.
Mark's Very Large National Lampoon Site is not affiliated with National Lampoon or National Lampoon Inc.
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