Before The Onion, there was National Lampoon.
First published in 1971, it was a groundbreaking humor magazine that was an offshoot of the Harvard Lampoon. The humor was quite twisted and bizarre and pushed the envelope as it were for what was acceptable and appropriate. Today it would probably pale in comparison to the kind of humor that is served up weekly by the by The Onion.
Having already been weaned on Mad Magazine and Cracked, National Lampoon was next in line.
The magazine fostered the talents of such writers as P.J. O’Rourke, John Hughes (yes, that John Hughes) Anne Beatts and Michael O’Donoghue (Beatts and O’Donoghue would go on to be a writer for Saturday Night Live).
While some of their parodies and humor were quite bizarre other material could even find a niche in the mainstream and even make it to the silver screen. Consider this selection from “Vacation ‘58” written by John Hughes:
If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever. We were going to Disneyland. It was a dream come true. The rides! The thrills! The Mousketeers! I was so excited that I spent it the whole month of May feeling like I had to go to the bathroom. When school finally let out on a Tuesday, I sprinted home as fast as I could, even though we weren’t leaving until Friday.
Dad Picked up our brand-new 1958 Plymouth Sport Suburban Six station wagon on Thursday morning. The Speedometer had only six and three-tenths miles on it. Dad said that it would be a pleasure to travel for six days in a car that smelled as good as our new Plymouth. It was nice to see Dad excited about our trip. For months Mom had to act moody and beg to get him to drive out to California.
“What good will it do to the kids to see their country from an airplane seat?” she wanted to know. Finally, Dad gave in and said we would get a station wagon and drive the 2,448 miles from 74 Rivard Boulevard, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, to 1313 Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim California.
It took almost all day Friday to pack the car. Dad loaded and unloaded it again and again to save a square foot here, a square inch there. Then he simonized the car and hung litter bags in the front and back seats, attached a compass to the dashboard, and put a first aid kit in the glove compartment. Then he called everyone outside to take one item apiece out of the car so he could close the back.
After dinner, Dad ran the Plymouth up to Richie’s Marathon Service to gas up and have Richie check under the hood and see if everything was A-O.K. When Dad backed out of the driveway the car scraped bottom. Not a little scrape but a scccccccrrrrrrraaaaaaape!
Dad got back at 8:00. We heard the Sccccrrrraaaaape! And know it was him. Richie had said that everything was beautiful under the hood. The car was gassed up, there was plenty of oil, the tire pressure was perfect, the AAA maps were organized in the glove compartment, and the speedometer read exactly 20.00 miles.
“Okay, all you Indians! Time for bed!” Mom said.
“But it’s only 8:30!” I protested.
“We, have to get Lip at 4:00 in the morning! I want to make Chicago by lunch!” Dad said, shooing us upstairs.
The telephone rang at 9:45 the next morning. It was Grandpa Pete calling to see why we hadn’t gone yet. We had all overslept – even the baby, Dad was furious. I could hear him screaming and pounding his fists on the bathroom sink.
In 1983, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family would be a big hit with movie audiences. For Chase, himself a veteran of National Lampoon’s Radio Hour, it would be one of his better films (the other being Fletch).
I was an avid reader of National Lampoon back in the 70s when I was in high school followed by four years in the US Air Force and then college. The magazine’s heyday was back in the 70’s along with Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy. Those three magazines were all you needed to stay up to date with music, politics, movies, and of course humor.
One of my favorite issues of National Lampoon was the magazine’s parody of a High school yearbook. A few years ago I found a copy online and didn’t mind shelling out forty bucks for this classic issue.
This cover of a National Lampoon issue was from November 1980. I was going to Southern Illinois University at the time and really getting into new wave/punk music. I definitely got a kick out of the artwork.