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A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  258 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Now a Netflix original film starring Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, and Emmy Rossum.

Comic genius Doug Kenney cofounded National Lampoon, cowrote Animal House and Caddyshack, and changed the face of American comedy before mysteriously falling to his death at the age of 33. This is the first-ever biography of Kenney--the heart and soul of National Lampoon—reconstructing the
Hardcover, 402 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Chicago Review Press
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3.79  · 
Rating details
 ·  258 ratings  ·  28 reviews

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Mark Gongloff
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
At the root of modern American comedy lies the corpse of Doug Kenney. Without him, there would have been no National Lampoon, no Animal House and no Caddyshack. NL alumni went on to populate Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Spinal Tap, SCTV, all of the John Hughes films, and many, many other pillars that hold up our comedy world, for better or worse.

This book captures Kenney's unusual genius and influence. A lifelong NL fan, I was shamefully unaware of Kenney's impact on my own sensibilities.
Michael Martin
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
After the sad death of Harold Ramis, I watched "Caddyshack" and was motivated to order and read this book on the co-writer of Animal House and Caddyshack, Doug Kenney. The book not only provided me with a lot of biographical information on Doug Kenney, but also was a great chronicling of the subversive humor Kenney established with The National Lampoon magazine, The 1964 Yearbook Parody, Lemmings, The National Lampoon Radio Hour, and Animal House and Caddyshack.

I enjoyed this book a great deal,
Nov 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
It was funny and entertaining even though I have like zero interest in Lampoon stuff and I dont just say that because my husband wrote it. Doug Kenney's life is a mysterious puzzle.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I was a junior and senior in high school there was nothing I loved more then National Lampoon magazine. I remember reading it by the exit doors of the Totowa Cinema while ushering for the Godfather. The Lampoon was crucial to the developement of my sense of humor (dark and twisted) and I can remember going to see Lemmings the National Lampoon review at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic the summer of 1973 and watching John Belushi contort himself in an impewrsonation of Joe Cocker. The highpoin ...more
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, business, media
In my younger days, I would go grocery shopping with my Mom, spending my time reading magazines. I usually would be able to talk her into getting me a copy of Cracked magazine. It was more my kind of humor at the time, perhaps a bit less topical than Mad. I recall going with my cousin one time and finding a new magazine on the shelf – National Lampoon. And somehow we convinced my Mom to buy a copy for us. I remember getting this issue home and reading it, and finding out it was a league apart fr ...more
Bill Gordon
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book contains some horribly-written passages, and the author tends to make cosmic pronouncements about big topics like The 60s, American humor and the like. That said this a good biography of a central figure in American comic writing and editing. The reader learns about the founding of the National Lampoon, details about wild characters like Michael O'Donoghue and Bill Murray and the cocaine-driven Hollywood scene of the late 1970s. I especially enjoyed reading the summaries of pieces from ...more
Karp hits with Kenney and O'donoghue information. Wanted more about Anne Beattes and less p.j. the sellout o'rourke. Business bullshit needed editing as well as some of the other info.. He misses the importance of Paul Krassner (THE REALIST)and 'Sarah Silverman over- the- edge' political humor born Back in The Day. The end of the book was very well done. It moved me and stays with me. Doug Kenney...WOW.
Gene Curry
Jul 02, 2009 rated it liked it
I am one of those people who loved the pointless vulgarity and hilarious character assassination of the National Lampoon in the 70s. If you were too, I suspect you will find this biography of Doug Kenney. A sad story. A former colleague, who is one of the most dignified persons that I know, appears in a photograph in this book. Turns out he was Doug Kenney's roommate in college. As Steven Wright says, "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it".
Phil Villarreal
Sep 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I was drawn to this by the Netflix movie, which is a much more entertaining rundown of the rise and fall of Doug Kenney and the National Lampoon empire. Karp's book has much more detail and nuance, but gets bogged down in the effort to complete a well-rounded portrait rather than focus on Kenney's foibles and the wackiness that went on off the clock.

Reading like a textbook, albeit an often fascinating textbook stuffed with all sorts of inappropriate, cocaine-fueled 1970s mayhem, the book chronic
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I put this book on my reading list after seeing the Netflix movie based on the book. I think seeing the movie first helped me follow the who's who of people that surrounded Doug Kenney, both well known and not. It amazes me all the SNL actors of which I was a fan that started out with National Lampoon, which I have never read, but recognize the more famous covers. My first experience with Lampoon was probably Vacation. I think this is a great book if you want to learn about a creative genius' li ...more
Ben Baker
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
National Lampoon is one of those things from a generation earlier and a different country that has long fascinated me but I never had the opportunity to experience as anything other than a slightly sad retrospective of former glories. Much of this sadness comes from the sad decline of Doug Kenney, a man fairly written out of the American comedy story due to his early death. This covers that incredibly mad period with almost painful detail and makes me wish I'd been around in a time where written ...more
Aug 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Infinitely more satisfying than its film adaptation, it still ends up strangely divided between a personal story and a catalog of an important era in comedy. Karp spends a lot of time repeating the same handful of thoughts about Doug Kenney’s personality, humor, and outlook—searching in vain for an explanation that will never be certain. The decline of the magazine as it hired contributors who began as its fans is a fascinating element of the story, and familiar to any "Simpsons" fan.
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good workmanlike account on the background of (co-) founder of the humor magazine I and many others of my generation grew up with. Kenney still remains an essentially opaque giant of transgressive humor. DO NOT read if you prefer not to see your idol's clay feet.
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Three-and-a-half. An exhaustive telling of the history of National Lampoon and its still-well-regarded founder, Doug Kenney. Dissects the frog a bit at times, but remains compelling and funny throughout.
Andy Slater
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great history of the birth of National Lampoon and the genius of Doug Kenney. Reads a bit like a text book at times, but still a great read for students of comedy.
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would have liked to hear more about P.J. O'Rourque.
Charles Jr.
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
A unheralded, ill-fated Ohio slacker re-invented America satire and humor in the 1970s. That's they?re story and they?re sticking to it.

Biography of National Lampoon magazine co-founder Doug Kenney, a "hick kid from Ohio" raised primarily in a quaint small town outside Cleveland. Going onto Harvard, Kenney, according to author Karp and a small circle of admirers and survivors (while trying to kick cocaine, Kenney died in a freak fall off a cliff in Hawaii in 1980), became the most quintessential
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who've already read through the annual report and prospectus.
Recommended to Alan by: Its cover and its subject
This is a biography of humorist Doug Kenney, but even more than that it's a biography of the National Lampoon in its heyday.

So... you'd think the book would be a bit funnier, is all I'm saying.

Oh, sure, a serious treatment of NatLamp's history couldn't possibly be entirely composed of Nixon-baiting, Foto Funnies and Bluto's acne impressions, especially since Kenney's mysterious and premature demise in Hawaii reverberates through the entire work, sending premonitory ripples back to the magazine's
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
No,I don't only read books about National Lampoon and Animal House. I read a review of the Matty Simmons book and this previous book was mentioned so I read it first while waiting for the other book to be published. It's a biography of Doug Kenney, whose name I first heard when I was a teenager listening to the National Lampoon Radio Hour, on WSDM, I think it was, on Sunday evenings. I was interested in the inner workings of National Lampoon and I also discovered that one of the Lampoon writers ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm fascinated by comedy and have read several books on the subject. As a Gen-Xer, my cornerstones of comedy include Mad, Saturday Night Live, and the National Lampoon. And like it or not, much of modern humor is directly attributable to writers from that latter magazine. One of the co-creators of the National Lampoon was a brilliant genius named Doug Kenney. This work serves both as biography of Kenney, who died tragically in 1980, and a history of the National Lampoon. While the author would'v ...more
Peter Smith
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Doug Kenney founded the National Lampoon, wrote Animal House and Caddyshack. So that makes him a comedy legend. But for such an influential guy, I hardly knew anything about him. This book gives a nice, but somewhat light, review of his life. It also focuses on the National Lampoon from its beginning, through its early-to-mid '70's heyday, to its eventual decline. The two narratives intertwine at the beginning since Kenney was there from the beginning to when he started having success with movie ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
This along with Going Too Far by Tony Hendra is a must-read for any big fans of National Lampoon. All the stories are there and the bigger than life comedy writers and artists, many of whom went on to write for SNL. It seems everybody knew everybody... people like Gahan Wilson, Michael O'Donoghue, all the Not Ready For Prime Time Players and the cast of SCTV plus people like PJ O'Rourke, Tony Hendra, everyone from Animal House, Lemmings, the world of underground comix and more.

It's a lot of fun
Joe Hack
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
If, like me, you grew up reading National Lampoon, watching Saturday Night Live and obsessing over the Simpsons, this is a must read. While sometimes reading like a textbook, I found the writing to be adequate and focused. Josh Karp injects his two cents of wisdom about the 60's into the book, but hey, it's his book, he's entitled. Reading it caused me to go out and find more back issues of the magazine.
Jul 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
half a turd so far. if i weren't interested in the subject matter, the writing/research/etc would have shunted me away three paragraphs in.
Chris Buehrer
Fantastic book. Really opened my eyes on comedy history.
Aug 09, 2011 added it
zero stars. couldn't finish it - soooo boring
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