National Lampoon’s Beatts, Miller and McConnachie at Hideout

Josh Karp, Chris Miller, Brian McConnachie

Tonight at the Hideout was the latest in a string of comedy-centric events put on by Chicago rock label Drag City. At the front bar I spotted DC’s Dan Koretzky and asked him what’s with his stalwart music label and the comedy lately (back in December, I saw the first in his series at Weeds hosted by Fred Armisen). I got a helpful “I dunno, but thanks for coming” for my trouble. Hey, who cares why? Just keep up the great work, especially when it brings my heroes onstage.

Tonight’s panel: No less than creators of the mighty 1970s National Lampoon magazine: Anne Beatts, Chris Miller and Brian McConnachie all wrote and edited the late great magazine in its heyday (universally known as “when it was funny”) and shared hours of stories about the giants there including Henry Beard, Doug Kinney, Michael “Mr. Mike” O’Donohue, and even P.J. “David Horowitz” O’Rourke.

The ’70-’75 Lampoon was evergreen for smart gags and brutal satire, and as a bona fide humor magazine, nothing since has ever came close. The Onion is the only contender, yet forever removed from the ‘Poon’s weight class due to its being a parody form. Maybe the Buffalo Beast?

Some sniff at the post-’75 ‘Poon, but not me. I started regularly buying it in ’79 or so and purchased the many available reprints of the early days. I even liked it into the 1980s, but by ’82 or ’83 it was clearly weakened beyond help.

By then it had served its purpose in the North American comedic pageant: populating Saturday Night Live and SCTV with writers and performers and re-conceiving the American comedy film with Animal House.

Beatts, now a screenwriting instructor at USC, relayed a great story detailing a time she took acid with Mike O’Donoghue and earned her place at the sausage party that was the Lampoon. In the time before her unprecedented work on the early years of Saturday Night Live, she told of being brought to NatLamp editorial dinners and having her stuff run in the magazine before long. She had loving descriptions of the late Michael O’Donoghue, a guy who I mostly remember for an early SNL bit where he performed an imitation of “Tony Orlando and Dawn after having nine inch steel spikes with real sharp ends plunged into their eyes.” I was, what, nine years old when I saw that? I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I will never forget the punhcline writhing and shrieking of Mr. Mike and “Dawn”.

Miller, who along with Doug Kinney and Harold Ramis wrote the screenplay for Animal House based on his experiences as a Dartmouth frat boy, talked up his new book and recalled his journey to the Lampoon’s pages on the back of debauched stories detailing holiday turkey-fucking, beatoff contests and erotic encounters with telephones. Oh, and the phrase “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”? That was him, too. Miller wrote for an agency before he was fired for pulling out a bag of pot in front of his bosses.

McConnachie, a recognizable visage from the many films he’s appeared in rolled out some tape of John Belushi in his National Lampoon Radio Hour days doing a Sondheim-esque turn as Captain Ahab in the musical “Moby.”

During Q&A, every one of them name-checked James Thurber as an influence, which only makes sense – and Beatts invoked Dorothy Parker’s name along with the Algonquin round table.

Beatts also remarked about the lack of a point of view in modern mainstream comedies. She called out Judd Apatow specifically, guessing that his point of view was either not discernible or was “unattractive guys can get with attractive women”. Thanks Ann, for putting a finger on what isn’t there with the Apatows and the Chandrasekhars: what Thurber would call “Humor: emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”

And thanks as always to the eagle-eyed Maureen for spotting this once-in-a-lifetime event. Love you!

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rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

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Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
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August 2007

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