The National Lampoon
I met Henry Beard, Doug Kenney and Rob Hoffman, the founders of the National Lampoon Magazine, in the autumn of 1969. Doug, Henry and I began working together before the first issue was published in April of 1970. I had two pieces in that issue, and I remained a frequent contributor to the magazine until December 1988 when I finally accepted that the magazine had descended even below the level I wanted to work at. Larry “Ratso” Sloman, the last real editor of the Lampoon, asked me to do one more piece for the February 1991 issue. I couldn’t resist Ratso’s call to action. My very last Lampoon piece was called “Operation Desert Sales.” It arrived on newsstands the same week Gulf War One arrived in Iraq.
The Lampoon was an amazing place to work. Competition was fierce. It had the feel of a rogue enterprise. You could feel the energy in the air, and I swear you could hear the synapses of some of the funniest minds of that generation firing like broadsides from a pirate ship. It was exhilarating to visit the offices or attend the monthly editorial meeting with such a crew. Aside from Doug and Henry, a typical group might consist of Christopher Cerf, George Trow, Michael O’Donogue, Sean Kelly, Tony Hendra, Gerry Sussman, John Weidman, Danny Abelson, Ellis Weiner, the art director Michael Gross, and artists/contributors such as myself and Bruce McCall.
If it had been organized in advance, Henry or Doug, or Henry and Doug would lead the meeting at a huge oval table. If it hadn’t been organized, if it was, as often happened, disorganized, the meeting would take place on the run from office to office, and look like a crowd of drunken guests at a barbecue having a yelling contest. It was a comedy slam/insult fest/humor Olympics that energized everyone who played a part in it.
With the arrival of Saturday Night Live in 1975 and the departure of Doug and Henry the same year, the Lampoon began to lose its grip on its audience. Animal House, which appeared in 1978, seems in retrospect, to be its last great contribution to our culture. Many of the Lampoon’s contributors and editors went on to do great work, but the sad truth was the magazine had become something you might read instead of something you had to read.
I’m going to scan and post all 150 or so articles I did for the Lampoon. It’ll take a while, so check back occasionally to see what’s new.