Our mantra this week: If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.
Laugh we did at the take-no-prisoners school of comedy that carried the National Lampoon brand in the early 1970s. It led directly to “Saturday Night Live,” which though sensational for its time was still fairly sanitized by the time it made it to TV in 1he fall of 1975.
Branches of that school included the outrageous National Lampoon magazine, “Lemmings,” an off-Broadway musical spoof of Woodstock (in which everyone goes to the Woodchuck Festival to commit mass suicide), and the “National Lampoon Radio Hour,” which so frequently trampled the boundaries of good taste that you marveled that they could put it on the radio at all.
Bits like this.
Both are from “National Lampoon Radio Dinner,” the first National Lampoon comedy album. Though much of the material is surprisingly gentle, it pulls no punches. Nothing was sacred, especially ’60s icons and ideals.
Released in 1972, its targets included Richard Nixon, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and a New Age reading that had unexpectedly became a radio hit and was seen on posters everywhere.
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
If you are from that time, you may remember “Desiderata.” This is not that.
“Deteriorata,” Norman Rose and Melissa Manchester, from “National Lampoon Radio Dinner,” 1972. That LP is out of print but the cut is available on “Greatest Hits of the National Lampoon,” a 2004 compilation, and digitally.
Part of the genius of “Deteriorata” was hiring Rose, then a 55-year-old New York actor and radio announcer, to do the narration. Rose played it straight, bringing the proper gravitas to the piece. Anything else would have killed the satire.
And reflect that whatever fortune may be your lot,
It could only be worse in Milwaukee.
“Deteriorata” was written by was a 24-year-old Christopher Guest, who got to be pretty good at musical parodies. He was the musical director for “Radio Dinner” and wrote songs and skits for “Lemmings,” spoofing Bob Dylan in both. Of course, you best know Guest for writing and performing in “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Waiting For Guffman” and “A Mighty Wind.”
“Radio Dinner” did not lack for genius.
It was co-written and co-produced by Michael O’Donoghue, the dark savant who three years later became the first head writer on “Saturday Night Live.” His partner was National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra, who took Lennon quotes from a Rolling Stone interview and turned them into the savage parody “Magical Misery Tour (Bootleg Record).”