I walked into Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead not knowing much about National Lampoon beyond seeing their name displayed above films like Animal Farm, Vacation and, uh, Loaded Weapon 1. I left the documentary with newfound respect and admiration for a seminal comedy institution: a magazine (and, eventually, radio shows, movies et al) that’s the clear forebear for modern satire like The Daily Show and The Onion (and, of course, Saturday Night Live, who stole many of its best comedians – eg Bill Murray, John Belushi – from the Lampoon).
It’s hard not to regard the Lampoon with admiration, but while Douglas Tirola’s record of their rise (and, yeah, fall) is gloriously entertaining thanks to hilarious talking heads and snippets of the original magazine/radio show, it lacks the cutting insight of the publication’s best humour. Where the Lampoon would delve fearlessly into political issues, breaking boundaries left and right, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is content to operate on a surface level. For example, when co-founder Henry Beard exits the magazine with millions and a middle finger, we get little-to-no insight into his motivations. Entertainment is one thing, but what distinguishes great entertainment is a readiness to dig deeper. The Lampoon did; Tirola doesn’t.