Sydney Film Festival Review: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (USA, 2015)


Before the National Lampoon lent their name to some terrible straight-to-video films they were ground-breaking. This comedy institution started as a spin-off magazine; graduated to books, radio and stage revues; and eventually yielded cult comedy films worthy of inclusion in Hollywood. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is a funny and energetic documentary that celebrates the riotous history of this brand.

The film is directed by Douglas Tirola and is very well put together. It expertly goes through the background history and chronologically tells the group’s story. There is some swift-pacing, modern-day talking head interviews and lots of actual content from the National Lampoon- like fun photographs taken from the magazine, animations of some of these jokes and snippets from their live revues and radio programmes. Some of this footage is rare or has never been seen before and it shows how fearless, creative and funny the group were in their heyday.

The National Lampoon started after three Harvard graduates named Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman decided to do a spin-off of the Harvard Lampoon, the world’s oldest humour magazine. The founders were all very different characters and a lot of the magazine’s look and feel is attributed here to the late Kenney, a renowned workaholic with an intuitive sense for comedy. Many of the surviving writers, editors, comics and animators associated with the National Lampoon are interviewed for this film and they prove to be candid and naturally hilarious.

The alumni of the National Lampoon reads like a who’s who of comedy with: Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and John Belushi just three actors to have appeared in their works. The writers meanwhile, boast no less than P.J. O’Rourke, Saturday Night Live’s Michael O’Donoghue, and Simpsons’ producers, Mike Reiss and Al Jean. The group’s biggest fans include: Meatloaf, Kevin Bacon, Judd Apatow, John Goodman and Billy Bob Thornton and they appear here and offer their praises.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon may not be the most comprehensive documentary but it is still an excellent look at the phenomenon that was the National Lampoon. It threads together lots of disparate elements and does this very well. It mostly revels in the glory days of the brand but it is also a cautionary tale of the destructiveness of fame and fortune. This film is ultimately a fun ride through sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It is also a colourful and funny as it tracks the group’s subversive beginnings through to its shocking irreverence to eventually show the influential institution it became. In all, it’s a smart film that fits its creative and clever subject matter.


Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon played at Sydney Film Festival on June 5th and 8th.