“Long hair… Short hair… What’s the difference once the head’s blown off?”
A while back I was adding things to the Netflix queue, when I noticed, to my surprise and delight, that there was a video document of the 1973 Off Broadway production of National Lampoon’s Lemmings. Lemmings notably starred a very young John Belushi (who was 23 or 24 years old at the time), Christopher Guest (then 25), and Chevy Chase (30, with long hair). It was chiefly written by Tony Hendra (the manager in This Is Spinal Tap, who also co-directed), National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney (he was “Stork” in Animal House) and P.J. O’Rourke.
The first surprise was that it even existed in the first place. I’d known the record since I was a kid, but who knew there was a video of this? Well, there is and it’s fascinating, if not exactly all that funny. It’s interesting because it’s got these three great funnymen seen before they would achieve fame a few years later with SNL and also because it’s a wild period piece. If you don’t go in expecting it to be the best thing you’ve ever seen and don’t expect belly laughs (there are a few) then you’ll be able to appreciate Lemmings more on its own, slightly rumpled terms. Comedy doesn’t tend to age very well, but that’s not why you want to watch this. One strong disclaimer, though, for “younger viewers”: most of the references are going to be completely incomprehensible unless you’ve seen the Woodstock documentary.
The “plot” of Lemmings, as such, is that the audience is supposed to be present for a Thanatos-celebrating rock festival, “Woodshuck: Three Days of Peace, Music & Death.” A Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young spoof (“Freud, Pavlov, Adler, and Jung”) sees the group singing a parody of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (with Rhonda Coullet doing a perfect Joni Mitchell) but the lyrics have been changed to “We are lemmings”—instead of stardust—and Belushi, as the MC makes constant references and updates about members of the audience killing themselves and snuffing it (“The brown strychnine has been cut with acid.”). Near the end, as the heavy metal group “Megadeath” (yes, Megadeath) are playing, a groupie asks “Did you know that pure rock sound can kill? Isn’t that far out? So the thing to do is go over to the amp and put your head there.”
More after the jump…