Sometime during the mid-‘80s, I stopped buying MAD every month and begun habitually picking up National Lampoon. Both publications were in decline at the time, though in my teens I hadn’t the perspective to know that. I think I was probably flattering myself that the more collegiate content of the Lampoon was more my speed, but in any case, in 1985, I picked up an issue of the Lampoon that I would hang onto for decades to follow.
It was dated November, 1985 and titled “The Mad as Hell Issue.” Apart from a handful of fucked-up cartoons, it featured none of the magazine’s usual content, and instead was an open forum for celebrities of varying degrees of fame from the worlds of show business, publishing, music, et al, to vent about what irked them, and none were written by contemporary NL staffers, though some past names from the publication’s masthead were included. It can easily be found on eBay and Amazon, and naturally it’s part of the CD Rom release of every issue in the magazine’s entire history. Editor Matty Simmons introduced the issue thusly:
This issue of the National Lampoon is completely different from any other issue of the magazine published in its more-than-fifteen-year history. It has, first of all, basically been written by guest contributors, most of whom are not humorists. Second, much of what appears on these pages is not intended to be humorous. In many cases, the text is an expression of absolute anger, or, at least, pique. Other “mad as hell” pieces are indeed written humorously. It’s a mixture. And it’s a fascinating first for this or possibly any other national magazine.
You will read reflections here from governors and mayors and actors and authors and rock stars and directors and other celebrities, and some from people who are not celebrities. They’re just “mad,” and, we think, they express that anger interestingly. Why have we done this?
Maybe because there is so much to be mad about these days. Maybe because we’re all so well informed, so exposed to so many things because of television, we’ve learned to react — good or bad— more than we ever have before. It’s healthy to be “mad as hell” about things you think are wrong. Apathy is a dangerous lack of a state of mind.
Why this departure from an editorial policy which is always all-humor and usually mostly fiction? Because we think it’s an idea that works, and innovation is mostly what we’re about.
And anyway, we took a vote of the entire staff. There was one vote for doing the issue, and nineteen votes against it.
So I won.
The issue included exceptionally thoughtful long-form essays by columnist Jeff Greenfield and filmmaker John Waters, whose piece would be reprinted in Crackpot. There were “Jesus wept” length contributions from actor Mickey Rooney (“People aren’t mad enough about improving things—about themselves or our country.”) and Broadway luminary Hal Prince (“I’m madder than hell at all this trivia!”). The great clown Larry Harmon, who created the extraordinarily famous and durable character Bozo, contributed a piece about the travails of his 1984 in-character presidential run.
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Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams offered a photo essay about dickheads who grab their junk:
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Charles Bukowski and some other unexpected National Lampoon contributors after the jump…