Let us now praise scabrous men

Magnolia Pictures
Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, and John Belushi are among the figures seen in “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon.’’

Douglas Tirola’s first meaningful encounter with National Lampoon came at age 10, when he saw the poster for 1978’s “Animal House.” Transfixed, he persuaded his father to take him to see the movie, even though his dad’s fraternity had encouraged its members to boycott.

Larry Busacca

The film was a hit.

“It was the only movie I ever saw with my father twice,” Tirola said recently by phone from Los Angeles.


Years later, in 2009, after being told that he had gone “too far” with a remark made at a dinner party (something about prostitutes in World War II; they were right — he had gone too far), Tirola decided to make a movie about the magazine, its Harvard University progenitors Henry Beard and Doug Kenney, and their impact on comedy and his own sense of propriety.

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That movie is “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon,” screening Thursday at the Kendall Square Cinema as part of the GlobeDocs Film Festival. (The festival is an element of HUBweek, which is founded by The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.) Tirola talked about the Lampoon and its legacy.

Q. Why did it take six years to get this made?

A. It took a while to get the rights, but I wouldn’t make the movie if I couldn’t use the art from the magazine as our main visual resource. We use it to immerse the audience in the Lampoon ’70s and ’80s aesthetics and in the eccentric worldview of those who created it. Also, it took a while to get some of the interview subjects to commit. Some weren’t in a rush to participate either because they thought the movie wouldn’t be done right or they didn’t want to revisit that part of their life.

Q. Some are also — as the title suggests — dead. Like Doug Kenney, who died in 1980, an apparent suicide. Does comedy breed self-destructiveness?


A. I don’t think it’s making people laugh that causes self-destructiveness. It’s when they stop laughing. Kenney was depressed after his pet project “Caddyshack” (1980) didn’t do as well as “Animal House.” Now, of course, his film is regarded as a classic.

Q. The magazine today might be regarded as misogynist. Do you think on one level the Lampoon guys were frat boys making fun of women?

A. Most of that humor is directed at the adolescent trying to get sex and failing, not at the women. On the other hand, they were smart enough to know that pictures of naked women sold magazines.

Q. What is the Lampoon’s legacy?

A. Nothing is off limits when it comes to comedy. They attacked powerful people and institutions. Now there are people just waiting to pounce on anyone who goes too far. That limits the language and culture. When the presidential candidates are allowed to be more offensive than comedians, it’s a bad situation.



Interview was edited and condensed. For more information on the Globe- Docs Film Festival, go to