A film review: Douglas Tirola’s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon


In the 1970s, The National Lampoon was America’s hippest, most outrageous magazine. It was the publication of choice for the counterculture, the intelligentsia, and so many “well-to-do nobodys,” as Marshall McLuhan put it.

Douglas Tirola’s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon takes a nostalgic but thoughtful look at the magazine’s unique trajectory through comedy history and its impact on entertainment today. Founded by Harvard graduates Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman in 1969, the Lampoon eventually grew into a production empire, featuring radio shows, record albums, live performances, and movies—most notably, Animal House and Vacation.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is at once hilarious and unsettling. In our current culture of rampaging political correctness and public shaming, the naked chaos and raw freedom of the Lampoon assaults our modern sensibilities. And this is no accident. Tirola set out to explore the meaning of “going too far” at a time when we increasingly feel the need to censor ourselves to avoid being sniffed out by the call-out crowd.

Tirola was also interested in the Lampoon as a movement akin to the Beat Generation and the early punk scene at CBGB. A carnivalesque community with an “anything goes” attitude, the Lampoon championed artists who were otherwise unfit for the publishing establishment. This radical freedom meant enormous creative output, and however tasteless or questionable the material might have been; it spoke volumes to a professedly wayward generation.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a parade of talking heads, but the interviewees are a fascinating bunch. And while the discussion of the Lampoon’s content is compelling enough, what’s most alluring are the almost unbelievable antics of the players involved. Co-founder Doug Kenney—who died tragically at age 33—emerges as the central topic of discussion. He was the primary force behind the magazine, and seemed to set the tone for the whole enterprise with his dramatic flair and rock star sensibility.

The film itself has a rock ‘n’ roll pace, loaded with unseen archival footage and animations composed of the magazine’s incendiary artwork. We see American politics, religion, and pop culture caricatured and satirized in ways unimaginable today. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead captures the spirit of the Lampoon and re-broadcasts it for us in this much-changed time, mere decades later.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon will open at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West LA with Q&As opening weekend with writer/director Doug Tirola and Chris Miller (former writer at the National Lampoon and co-writer of Animal House) on Friday, October 2 following the 7:30pm show (w/Doug intro’ing the 9:50pm show) and on Saturday, October 3 with Doug Tirola following the 7:30pm show (w/Doug intro’ing the 9:50pm show).


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