Saturday, 19 January 2013

National Lampoon - what made smart-aleck students snigger 40 years ago (and still does)

I wandered into our local remainder bookshop last week, not really intending to buy anything, but then I started leafing through Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made National Lampoon Insanely Great by Ricky Meyerowitz, and I couldn't stop laughing. It was the "Stranger in Paradise" Hitler photostory, which began "All of us dream of a return to paradise, of an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life..." that set me off:

I used to read National Lampoon occasionally during its early 1970s' heyday, but, if I remember right, it was imported and therefore a bit pricey for a student - even before the days of £9,000 tuition fees: I preferred to waste my grant on records and cigarettes and, believe it or not, the occasional book. But when I could afford it, I thoroughly enjoyed its clever, cruel, smutty, sophomoric humour (it was a spin-off from the Harvard Lampoon). Here's one of its most famous cartoons, by the great Sam Gross: 

And one of its most famous covers:

Volkswagen trumpeted their Beetle's damp-proofness by featuring a floating car in one print advert. Here's NL's version:

Yes, the magazine was counter-cultural - as the book's title suggests, the staff spent a lot of time bombed out of their gourds - but it was distinctly unhippyish and refreshingly uncool. Like South Park today, it attacked liberals and conservatives even-handedly and it was gloriously un-PC:

I particularly enjoyed the parodies of Norman Rockwell Saturday Eveving Post covers. Here, some lovable little scamps set fire to a wino: 

National Lampoon ran out of steam within a few years as the original team dispersed, and  movies (Animal House, Christmas Vacation etc.) and TV shows (Saturday Night Live) soaked up most of the talent and energy. But for a while back there, it was terrific.

I bought the book for my son as a back-to-college present a few days ago, but today my wife - who long ago realised that I've never really stopped being a sniggering student - made me a happy man by presenting me with another copy of the book just for me! It's a superb book, by the way - crammed with illustrations and great comic writing. It's available on Amazon here, but I bought it for £9.99 in our local shop, Bookcase. 

I'm off to get stuck into it.

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