Friday, December 11, 2009

When National Lampoon Was Funny

Via Mark Evanier's blog, I see that John Glenn Taylor has posted the famous National Lampoon parody of Mad magazine, "What, Me Funny?"

Much of it was written by John Boni, who went on to a long and uneven career in television writing (Highlight, head writer for Fernwood 2Night and its follow-ups; most famous lowlight, co-creator of Out of This World) and the artists included ex-Mad artist Joe Orlando.

It's uneven, as the Lampoon always was even in its good years, but some of it hits the mark, particularly the Dave Berg spoof, which gets at the underlying theme that makes Berg's cartoons so hard to take -- they're not just corny observational jokes, they're dedicated to the idea that the culture/generation gap can be bridged through corny observational jokes. Overall, though, it seems a little bland to me compared with the better parodies the Lampoon did in its brief period of greatness.

Maybe that's because it really has only one observation to make: Mad used to do sharp satire when Kurtzman was around, and now they won't offend anybody. Never mind whether this is even true; the real problem is that they don't have a lot to say about the magazine's art style or the fact that the style of comedy writing was indistinguishable from that of TV variety shows (because they were written by the same people). So a regular Mad reader would know, or at least sense, that there are a lot of targets they aren't really hitting, making the parody itself seem a little toothless at times.

There's also plenty of irony-in-hindsight here, of course. A publication is being mocked for becoming a shadow of what it was in its early, funny years before its key people left... by a publication whose key people would soon leave, reducing it to a shadow of what it was in its early, funny years. Mad has done a lot better stuff since that era than the National Lampoon did. But in a strange way, that just makes the parody more accurate, since we know it applies to any humor magazine.

Also, I'd forgotten that Ernie Colón drew the "Citizen Gaines" segment. As a Harveyphobe, I really don't like most of the titles he worked on, but I've come to understand why he's so widely respected. (Warren Kremer, on the other hand, I still don't get.)


Del Williams said...

Haven't checked around yet, but I'd really like to see the Lampoon's 70s-era parody of the New Yorker, complete with cartoons that were, in my opinion, even crueler and more cutting than the MAD parody.

Michael Jones said...

Bored of the Rings was spot on!

Ricardo Cantoral said...

"But in a strange way, that just makes the parody more accurate, since we know it applies to any humor magazine."

Correct. When any form of entertainment becomes more popular it has to broaden it's spectrum of audience by sacrificing some it's more contriversal, or intellectual, tones. The same thing happened to Saturday Night Live but I think it's de-evolution is even worse, they are leftist wimps.