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‘Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video’: The man who made comedy dangerous


“A six-inch steel spike..”

Michael O’Donoghue, AKA Mr. Mike, the demented head writer and performer from the “original cast” era of Saturday Night Live (back when it was simply known as Saturday Night) was the man who made comedy dangerous. His writing was feral, sharp, blasphemous, morbid, sardonic and taboo-breaking. It was O’Donoghue seated in a chair reading a newspaper who viewers first saw in the very first cold-opening of that long-running show. He was often seen on SNL doing imitations of famous showbiz personalities (nice-guy talk show host Mike Douglas, singer Tony Orlando) after they’d had six-inch metal spikes shoved into their eyes, and telling his creepy “Least Loved Bedtime Tales” (Sample title: “The Little Train That Died”).

Before SNL, O’Donoghue had a celebrated tenure at National Lampoon, where he co-wrote (with Tony Hendra) the classic Radio Dinner comedy album and published things like “The Vietnamese Baby Book” and “The Churchill Wit,” a portion from which is quoted below:

Churchill was known to drain a glass or two and, after one particularly convivial evening, he chanced to encounter Miss Bessie Braddock, a Socialist member of the House of Commons, who, upon seeing his condition, said, “Winston, you’re drunk.” Mustering all his dignity, Churchill drew himself up to his full height, cocked an eyebrow and rejoined, “Shove it up your ass, you ugly cunt.”

When the noted playwright George Bernard Shaw sent him two tickets to the opening night of his new play with a note that read: “Bring a friend, if you have one,” Churchill, not to be outdone, promptly wired back: “You and your play can go fuck yourselves.”

At an elegant dinner party, Lady Astor once leaned across the table to remark, “If you were my husband, Winston, I’d poison your coffee.”

“And if you were my wife, I’d beat the shit out of you,” came Churchill’s unhesitating retort.

You get the idea. I recall falling out of my chair laughing, when I first read this. In my defense, I was probably ten or eleven years old.
 

Mr. Mike and “friend”

In 1979 O’Donoghue directed Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video (the title, logo and theme music—even the overall loose format—was meant to conjure up Prosperi and Jacopetti’s notorious Mondo Cane documentary). It was originally made for NBC to air as a “special” during one of Saturday Night‘s hiatuses, but when the network brass actually saw it they blanched and shelved it. Eventually it was licensed by New Line Cinema, who transferred it to 35mm film and added some “Mr. Bill” segments to pad out the running time for theatrical release of “the TV show you can’t see on TV!”

Admittedly, after hearing about this legendary film and wanting to see it for years, I saw Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video when it was released on VHS in the 80s and aside from a few very good laughs, I was generally pretty disappointed. Comedy often ages poorly, but in actual fact, I don’t really think Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video was all that funny to begin with. It’s interesting because of what it is and who is involved (Tom Schiller, O’Donoghue’s writing partner Mitch Glazer, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Bill Murray, Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello, Gilda Radner, Carrie Fisher, Root Boy Slim, Margot Kidder, Teri Garr, Paul Shaffer, Debbie Harry). It’s an odd curio with some odd stuff in it (Dan Aykroyd probing his (actual) webbed toes with a screwdriver and declaring “I am proud to say that I am an actual genetic mutant”; an appearance by Klaus Nomi; Sid Vicious performing “My Way”; Jo Jo the Human Hot Plate, etc.) but it’s just not… that funny for the most part.

Nevertheless, take a gander at certainly one of the strangest things ever produced with the intention/assumption that a TV network would air it and try to imagine what NBC’s execs were thinking when they watched this for the first time.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
John Belushi, Christopher Guest & Chevy Chase parody Woodstock in National Lampoon’s ‘Lemmings’


 

“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…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Southern California Brings Me Down’: Pitch perfect Neil Young parody
03.12.2014
11:32 am

Topics:
Amusing
Music

Tags:
Neil Young
National Lampoon


 
This genius, totally spot-on Neil Young parody, “Old Maid (Southern California Brings Me Down”) hails from the 1970s The National Lampoon Radio Hour (and was subsequently released on the Grammy-nominated Good-bye Pop album in 1975). You could probably play this for Neil Young himself and he’d have a hazy recollection of recording it!

Young is played here by Tony Scheuren a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who was once in a band called Chamaeleon Church with a young Chevy Chase and a cast member of National Lampoon’s off-Broadway musical “Lemmings.”
 

 
Here’s Scheuren’s wickedly, er, accurate James Taylor parody, “Methadone Maintenance Man”:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Son-O’-God Comics’: National Lampoon’s cheerfully offensive super-hero Jesus


 
I live in Los Angeles and believe me when I tell you that I had not heard a single peep about that new Jesus movie—Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s Son of God—because, well, they don’t really market religious films here. In a city festooned with billboards for every damned offering large or small, good or bad that the industrial entertainment complex has in store for us, I think they figured that religious films aren’t for we West Coast heathens; that it’s a waste of money even bothering trying to, er, convert us, even for a big budget picture like Son of God. I can’t imagine Fox spent too much money marketing the film in NYC, either.

Nope, I only heard about this religious blockbuster after the fact, when all of the rightwing blogs like NewsMax, Breitbart and WorldNutDaily were crowing about how Jesus nearly kicked Liam Neeson’s ass in the box office boffo sweepstakes over the weekend. Go Jesus! (Is there anything, and I do mean anything, more pathetic than “rooting” for a movie, let alone pulling for the founder of Christianity to beat the crap out of a formulaic Hollywood action flick? Nothing, right?)

All this goofiness caused me to recall the cheerfully blasphemous “Son-O’-God Comics” that ran in a few 1970s issues of National Lampoon magazine.
 

 
In the Lampoon version of the New Testament’s central figure, “Benny Davis” a nerdy failure-to-launch boychick still living with his parents in Brooklyn, says the name “JESUS CHRIST!” (but not in vain) and transforms (ala Captain Marvel) into a muscular WASP super-hero version of Jesus with a six-pack, cape and halo, ready to do battle with Catholicism, Islam, the Scarlet Woman of Babylon, the Antichrist and even Bob Dylan.
 

 
The occasionally recurring strip was written by Sean Kelly (who would go on to become the founding editor of Heavy Metal magazine) and Michel Choquette, and (mostly) drawn by well-known comics artist Neal Adams, a “Silver Age” illustrator who worked on Batman for DC and a gazillion other comics.
 

 
I would be remiss in my duties writing on this topic without at least quickly mentioning how underrated National Lampoon is in terms of that magazine’s amazing and ground-breaking art-direction. If you consider that the 20th century will be looked upon as the golden era of the printed page, to my mind, the Lampoon’s Design Director, Michael Gross and Art Director David Kaestle created the most creatively free-wheeling and conversely the most detail-oriented magazine design on the planet. What they brought to America’s premiere countercultural humor magazine was an exacting eye for authenticity. If you were going to parody or satirize popular culture, it needed to actually LOOK LIKE the things you were referring to, or the joke would be lost. That was more or less a new idea at the time. In my opinion, the four years that Gross and Kaestle worked on National Lampoon is THE high point of art direction for a monthly print publication. Everyone always points to the the George Lois-era Esquire as the pinnacle of graphic design in magazines—and it’s great stuff, don’t get me wrong—but the Lampoon was even better, had more nuance and yet Gross and Kaestle’s work rarely gets the credit it deserves.
 

 
You can find out everything you always wanted to know about “Son-O’-God Comics” at Dial B for Blog.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘GENIUS IS PAIN!’: National Lampoon’s ‘Magical Misery Tour,’ the best John Lennon parody, EVER
03.07.2013
09:56 am

Topics:
Amusing
Music

Tags:
John Lennon
National Lampoon
Tony Hendra


 
Actually this isn’t a parody so much as it’s satire. National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra used actual quotes from John Lennon’s infamous 1970 Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner (later published as Lennon Remembers) for this hysterical bit.

At the time of Lennon’s Rolling Stone sitting he was undergoing Primal Scream therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov and he really let it rip, shitting on his own fans, Mick Jagger, Paul and Linda McCartney and several others. All Hendra did was handpick the best parts and arrange them into lyrics. Still as funny today as when it was released on the classic Radio Dinner LP in 1972.

Hendra (who played Spinal Tap’s manager) does the boffo Lennon impersonation here, razzing the former Beatle’s very public bitching and moaning. The music’s by Chris Cerf and that’s Melissa Manchester making a cameo appearance as Yoko at the very end.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Universe is laughing behind your back


 
Although its, uh, cultural cachet, I suppose, has fallen in recent decades, a doofy poem called “The Desiderata of Happiness” used to be something that you’d see on the walls of doctor’s and dentist’s offices, at your grandmother’s or great aunt’s houses, or maybe in the very home you grew up in, during the late 60s and 70s. (At one point hippies even adopted it).

You don’t see it so often today, but it’s still around. Now that you’ve had your attention called to it, the next time you see it (normally as a varnished wall plaque) you’ll remember this post (and wince).

Here’s an example of the proto-New Age wisdom you will find in “The Desiderata of Happiness”:

You are a child of the universe,
No less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

“The Desiderata of Happiness” was written in 1906 by a lawyer named Max Erhmann, but it was unknown during his lifetime. Its slow burn to popularity began in the 1950s when a Baltimore pastor printed it up in some church materials. The prose poem’s advice to be humble, live a clean and moral life and to respect even thick people seems simplistic even by Forrest Gump or Sarah Palin standards, but for whatever reason this poem struck a chord with the public. (You can read more about its history at Wikipedia).
 
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In 1971, a “groovy” American radio talkshow host by the name of Les Crane (once married to Gilligan’s Island‘s Tina Louise and considered by some to be the original “shock jock”) narrated a spoken word/musical version of the poem (avec gospel choir), that reached #8 in the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance of the Year. It was on the British pop charts for 14 months.

The following year, a wonderful parody version titled “Deteriorata” was created by the National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest and released as a single (and on the classic Radio Dinner album). Melissa Manchester sang on the record. The humorously ponderous reading was handled by Norman Rose, a popular announcer of the day whose voice is also heard in Woody Allen’s Love & Death.

Years later, Les Crane was asked about “Desiderata” and said “I can’t listen to it now without gagging,” adding that he preferred the Lampoon’s piss-take. Eventually the parody became better-known than the original hit record due to frequent spins on the Dr. Demento radio show. Below is the original version, Les Crane version:
 

 
“Deteriorata,” The National Lampoon parody:
 

 
An excellent version of “Deteriorata” closes the new theatrical show Sketches from The National Lampoon that opened last weekend in Los Angeles. Produced by Lampoon founder Matty Simmons, with a winning cast—including our good friend the incomparable Jesse Merlin who gets to read “Deteriorata”—at the Hayworth Theatre on Wilshire Blvd.

Get tickets at National Lampoon.com

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sketches from the National Lampoon
02.15.2013
02:50 pm

Topics:
Amusing

Tags:
National Lampoon


 
If you’re looking for something fun to do in Los Angeles this weekend, tonight is the opening night of the new Sketches from the National Lampoon show, produced by Lampoon founder Matty Simmons.

With a winning cast—including our good friend the incomparable Jesse Merlin—at the Hayworth Theatre on Wilshire Blvd.

Get tickets at National Lampoon.com

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday John Belushi

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Happy Birthday John Belushi, who would have been 62 today. Born in 1949, Belushi’s big break came in 1971 when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. Cast alongside Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest in National Lampoon’s Lemmings (which Richard Metzger wrote a great article on last year), Belushi’s natural comic talents shone. He moved to New York, with his girlfriend Judy Jacklin, and became a regular on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, working with such future Saturday Night Live performers Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. The rest we know.

It’ll be SNL and The Blues Brothers that Belushi will be remembered for best, and watching clips of his TV or film work now, only re-enforces what is so sad about his early demise.
 

 
Previously on DM

A Young John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest rock out in National Lampoon’s ‘Lemmings’


 
Bonus clips plus interview with Belushi and Dan Ackroyd after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Bob Dylan
05.24.2010
10:46 am

Topics:
Amusing
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Bob Dylan
National Lampoon

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I love His Bobness as much as the next guy or gal but instead of picking one of his revered classics to share today I couldn’t resist putting up this hilarious and spot-on parody by National Lampoon from back in the early 70’s which without a doubt has pissed off many an earnest fan the world over ever since. Enjoy !

 
Bonus: One of the finest Dylan covers ever, The 13th Floor Elevators doing It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

 

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment