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Conceived At Harvard, National Lampoon Made Its Mark On Comedy07:33
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The editors of National Lampoon c.1976. Photo by Chris Callis. (Courtesy Rick Meyerowitz)
The editors of National Lampoon c.1976. Photo by Chris Callis. (Courtesy Rick Meyerowitz)

Before "The Simpsons," "Seinfeld" and "The Onion," and even before "Saturday Night Live," there was National Lampoon magazine.

The magazine featured topical, post-modern, absurdist comedy and satire. It was irreverent, yet sophisticated. Blue, but smart.

The Lampoon, started in 1970 by three Harvard graduates who had migrated to New York, has its roots in Cambridge, according to long-time contributor Rick Meyerowitz. It sprung from the Harvard Lampoon.

"The Mona Gorilla," an illustration done for the National Lampoon by Rick Meyerowitz. (Courtesy photo)
"The Mona Gorilla," an illustration done for the National Lampoon by Rick Meyerowitz. (Courtesy photo)

"The notion that they had was that they would not be your brother’s old MAD Magazine, this was going to be a break with all humor that had come before it," Meyerowitz said in an interview with Radio Boston's Adam Ragusea. "This was going to be maybe a little reckless. It was going to be maybe a little insulting. This was going to be dangerous. This was going to be at times incredibly disgusting — and mix that up with linguistic and intellectual fireworks."

In the view of the magazine's founders, National Lampoon was the big break from the benign comedic sensibilities of their parents' generation.

"It wasn’t about funny, so much," Meyerowitz said. "What they had was a desire to take on the Establishment — and that includes any Establishment. That includes the anti-Establishment. They were so anti-Establishment that the anti-Establishment thought they were anti-Establishment."

National Lampoon quickly expanded into a comedic media empire, with classic films like "Animal House" and "Vacation." Many of the first cast members of "Saturday Night Live," including John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner, had worked at the Lampoon.

In his new book on the luminaries from the National Lampoon, Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made The National Lampoon Insanely Great, Meyerowitz details the National Lampoon staff's contribution to 20th-century comedy.

"The important thing was they wrote like hell, and they were smart as hell, and they put out an amazing magazine that really had an effect on the culture," Meyerowitz said. "Because for the first five years, there was no place else you could get anything like what The Lampoon was."

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This segment aired on December 29, 2010.

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