Saturday Night Live has constantly been graced as the place where comedy is found and grown upon. You either live or die on that stage, but the writing has to carry you through. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead wants to show you where the first generation of SNL came from and where they started. While the National Lampoon magazine was the source of what may be considered as the most taboo mainstream magazine to have ever been made, director Douglas Tirola carries the viewer on a journey of where National Lampoon started, and right where it died; no more, no less.
Bursting with images of nude women, caricatures, and parodic looks at politics (quite often offensive and hilarious), Drunk Stoned lives on the high speed hilarity of the old material. Tirola creates a greatest hits reel of National Lampoon jokes that never cease to let you breathe. The jokes are so relentless that it makes you wonder on the last time you saw a funny documentary. Chevy Chase and a multitude of writers go on about the creation while unloading the jokes that Lampoon will be remembered for. It’s after the first half hour of this when you start to realize that the breakneck pace of the film will end sooner rather than later.
With the jokes front-loading the doc, the rest of the documentary is left to pick up the storytelling pieces. Going into the creation of the business with co-founders, Doug Kenney and Henry Beard (with other co-founder Robert Hoffman to be left out of the film), Tirola asks of the past writing crew and Beard of the obnoxious ways the magazine was run and where the money all came from. The movie doesn’t bother to add in any spark of imagination, aside from the insertion of a couple of tracks from the National Lampoon Radio Hour. Archival footage is used to the advantage of the film, without it we would miss old videos of Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, and others performing with the rest of the live crew.
As a film, it lacks a personality all its own. It does a great job emulating what may have been the spirit of National Lampoon, but Tirola doesn’t bother adding much else to the picture. As a counter-point to my own argument, there isn’t much to add. Without further depth, and that is what this movie would need, we don’t have very much to look into, but the thin layer of info we can look up in a wikipedia entry.
The story of the National Lampoon isn’t without interesting stories. The debauchery of the crew of comics is told as legendary and their comedy even more so. This portion of the film is well covered and hilariously portrayed, while also showing the inherent level of exhaustion that would grow with such a life. Drunk Stoned is too busy with keeping up the humor to hold up the jokes and let the stories of the gang tell itself.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film. I didn’t know very much about the National Lampoon story and was very interested to hear all the cool stories. I’d also never realized how many people were inspired by the kind of magazine it became. As a by the numbers documentary, it succeeds in letting the audience in on the basic knowledge, in case you didn’t know anything. Drunk Stoned also works on a deeply comedic level for a third of the film. It’s less successful in a narrative perspective.
Whether or not the film succeeds, National Lampoon is something to be discovered and the film, at the very least, will introduce viewers to the wonders of its comedy. It’s miraculous to get all the different interviews that were necessary to make the film watchable. And it definitely is a watchable doc. If you ever come across it on TV, and it looks like the History Channel is a distributor of the film, it’s worth the hour and a half of your time. Unfortunately, what Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead won’t do, is shed a light on the beauty and madness behind the creators.
Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival