Inside Streaming - January 22nd, 2017

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It's Tuesday so it's time for another Appointment Doc. This week, we're looking at "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon" and recommending where you can watch some of the brand's best material online. Want to recommend a documentary or non-fiction series that's available to stream? Let us know about it by replying to this email! – @lons


At its height, the name "National Lampoon" was so ubiquitous, it basically stood in for "comedy" in every medium. As a child, I knew of them as the creators of some of my favorite comedy films, and had no idea it originated as a magazine published on the Harvard campus.

What "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead," a 2015 documentary now available to stream on Netflix, does very well is relate a detailed, narrative history of the envelope-pushing satirical publication and its various off-shoots. The company's shambolic journey from obscure Harvard comedy outlet to popular magazine to the underground New York club scene to comedy albums to feature filmmaking plays bizarre and even unthinkable by 2017 standards, when an app can go from non-existent to 10 million downloads in days. No one has the freedom to figure it out as they go like this any more.

The film also introduces the iconic, frequently bizarre personalities behind the National Lampoon sensibility, a sort of Who's Who of American comedy in the 1970s. Over and over again, in interviews with Lampoon alums, the same idea resurfaces: the same ingredients that made these people brilliant comedians and great writers also made them volatile, difficult to corral and organize. The fact that the brand existed as a consistent voice at all for as long as it did seems miraculous.

But the real appeal here is not so much the textbook "this happened then this happened" stuff, or the talking head interviews from principals recalling who originally told what joke and when. It's the archival footage of the writers, editors, comedians, musicians, cartoonists and others actually making brilliant, absurd comedy.

There's a lot of behind-the-scenes clips here I've never seen, sometimes candid moments with legends and icons like Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Michael O'Donoghue, Bill Murray and others, and it feels almost overwhelming. That so many great minds could have ever been young and in the same room and trying to make one another laugh is a rare and special thing, and "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead" gives you enough of those moments to make it worth your time.


Title: "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Runtime: 98 minutes


ANIMAL HOUSE: The first "National Lampoon" film, and the most highly regarded, this 1978 classic is widely credited with launching the rowdy frat comedy genre. Star John Belushi was already a favorite of the National Lampoon stage and radio shows before his run on "Saturday Night Live." It's on Netflix.

LEMMINGS: The 1973 "Lemmings" stage show, inspired by pieces that had run in the magazine and starring Belushi, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest and others, was recorded for HBO but never aired. It's on YouTube.

CADDYSHACK: This beloved 1980 sports comedy is not an official production of National Lampoon, but was directed by frequent radio show performer Harold Ramis, starred Lampoon vets like Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, and was produced by Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney.

RADIO DINNER: The Lampoon's first comedy album is streaming on YouTube in its entirety. The film delves into the full story behind the John Lennon parody track "Magical Misery Tour."

VACATION: The original film that kickstarted the Griswold franchise was based on a short story that director John Hughes had written for the Lampoon, based on his own family vacations. The beloved (and surprisingly dirty) 1983 film starring Chevy Chse and Beverly D'angelo is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon.

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