Charles Jr.'s Reviews > A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever

A Futile and Stupid Gesture by Josh Karp
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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 quintessentially American humorist since Mark Twain. It was Kenney's schizoid vision of midwestern life - affectionate nostalgia for the better days of the 1950s and early '60s, mixed with tart skepticism - that inspired Animal House, the classic National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook and fed into the Saturday Night Live school of comedy. When he died at 31, Kenney was a multi-millionaire from publishing and movie deals (but, at the same time, embittered by his negative experiences doing Caddyshack, a film he reviled). It is perhaps a consequence of the hero's demise that in a historical farce-scape dominated by vivid personalities - Chevy Chase, P.J. O'Rourke, Anne Beatts, John Belushi, Michael `Mr. Mike' O'Donoghue - Doug Kenney is hard to pin down. He was a hippie, a WASP Establishment wannabe, a wallflower, a force majeure, a Harvard man, a great guy, a petulant druggie - an outsider who seemed to be everyone's friend. During the 1970s glory days of the Lampoon (before it devolved, under O'Rourke's watch, into puerile stuff and cigarette ads), Kenney took a lengthy sabbatical to get stoned and work on Teenage Communists From Outer Space, a cherished but never-completed autobiographical comic novel (no details or excerpts of which are otherwise given, strange). Karp fills in the void with priceless tales of life in the Lampooniverse, year by year, but Kenney turns into a bit player in his own story, one that ends with a sad what-if-shrug more than anything conclusive. Verdict: Mainly for NatLamp addicts waxing nostalgic for the Nixon years.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2006 – Finished Reading
December 20, 2012 – Shelved

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