The National Lampoon Radio Hour introduced the world to young brilliantly funny performers like John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Billy Murray, and Harold Ramis. It was a comedy sketch radio program broadcast to hundreds of stations. It contained everything from humorous tunes to fake satirical game shows.
Running from 1973 to 1974, with various albums following, the program was lightning in a bottle, a perfect chaotic blend of rebellious talents gathered at exactly the right time. The radio show itself was an offshoot of the popular National Lampoon magazine, which made its name by threatening to kill a dog if you didn’t buy it.
Cowgirls at War, from National Lampoon's 1973 Encyclopedia of Humour. Art by Russ Heath. pic.twitter.com/JEqt42z7qY
— Pulp Librarian (@PulpLibrarian) December 17, 2019
It’s hard to imagine National Lampoon existing today and having the magic it once did. The brand mostly petered out by the 1990s, and many hardcore fans had abandoned it before the 1980s even hit.
Yes, I’m Well Aware I’m Burning in Hell For Finding This Scene Funny. Who’s Joining Me?#NationalLampoonsChristmasVacation #NationalLampoon #Christmas #ClarkGriswold #Griswolds #Cats #Cat #Lights #Electricity #1980s #80s #80sThen80sNow pic.twitter.com/sUSR1jPeU3
— 80sThen80sNow (@80sThen80sNow) December 18, 2019
Well, National Lampoon is back … sort of. Like most reboots and remakes this new age has brought us, it’s got the name, but it seems to have been shed of its edge – which is sadly similar to what happened to the National Lampoon films over time. The Radio Show has returned in podcast form and it doesn’t even have the right to be in the shadow of what once was National Lampoon.
There are still sketches performed by comedians, but they’re just so… safe. There’s a quick sketch of Second Lady Karen Pence walking through the rainforest confused, and another about a man travelling through history to play devil’s advocate for people like Hitler. Those sketches can’t hold a candle to the ones presented in the 1970s, like ‘Land a Million’ where a housewife is playing a life or death game show on a Boeing 747, or the 1974 dark parody of cult writer and notorious bad boy Hunter S. Thompson.
Gone are the boundary-pushing skits that challenged a culture in the 1970s. It’s now like ‘SNL,’ but without the occasional chuckle.
Evan Shapiro, the man responsible for National Lampoon 2.0, has been making the press rounds emphasizing the diversity of the new program. He even managed to take a dig at the beginnings of National Lampoon in an interview with Variety’s ‘Strictly Business’ podcast this week.
‘We took extra pains to include the people who were excluded last time. If you weren’t a cisgendered white dude from Harvard or white woman from that crowd then you were excluded. And not on purpose but systematic institutional bias,’ he said of his new cast, compared to the old one.
Great. Diversity. Now can we talk about funny?
One of the troubles with Shapiro is that he seems to be a full-blown supporter of woke mobs and PC steam trains, railroading anyone who says a joke deemed offensive.
‘This time, the same week Shane Gillis and ‘Saturday Night Live’ got all that guff for the things [Gillis] said on a podcast we announced one of the most diverse casts and writers rooms in comedy,’ Shapiro said in his interview. ‘It wasn’t hard to find talented people, of gender fluidity and color diversity and different types of backgrounds. There are more of them now than there ever has been.’
For those who don’t remember, Gillis was a comedian hired by SNL, but quickly fired when comments deemed offensive to Asians were found on a years-old podcast. It would appear as though Shapiro has no problem with Gillis getting canned.
Shapiro also argues that there really is no political correctness problem today.
‘Yes, it’s hard to be in comedy if you’re not a good writer,’ he argues. ‘But if you’re very inclusive in your point of view and you’re very inclusive in the talent you hang out with, and you put yourself in situations where the biases you might have been taught as a young person are challenged on an ongoing basis, it’s not very difficult to be funny and not piss people off, not piss the wrong people off.’
Mind you, he’s saying this in a world where Roseanne Barr was fired for a tweet, comedians like Jerry Seinfeld refuse to visit ‘safe space’ college campuses, and Kevin Hart is pressured out of a gig after getting heat for old jokes he’d already apologized for.
Even director Todd Phillips, the man behind ‘The Hangover’ trilogy, said he turned to pitch-black content like ‘Joker’ after seeing the cultural waters change and finding comedy a bit too much trouble to do today.
Imagine, if you will, that National Lampoon launched today instead of in the 1970s. Same cast, same writers. Just place them in a different period. Considering the rock and roll, countercultural, high-minded comedy that was being pushed through both the Radio Hour and the magazine, do you think they’d really be arguing in favor of political correctness? Or would they be going against the grain and doing everything they can to challenge a culture that is becoming more and more socially oppressive under the guise of ‘inclusivity’?
Maybe this is why National Lampoon should just be left alone. It was so special and unique and perfect for its time that maybe it can’t thrive under today’s rules. Instead of tarnishing the memory of what once was by trying to rebrand it, maybe we should study it and learn from it and try and create something new that pushes back against the culture in the same way that Lampoon did decades ago.