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A Brief History of ‘National Lampoon’

Jon Mayer
John Belushi in Animal House
John Belushi in Animal House / Herbert Dorfman/GettyImages
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National Lampoon began as an experimental offshoot of a college humor magazine. It soon developed into one of the most influential voices in American comedy. If MAD magazine introduced generations of kids to subversive humor, you might say that the Lampoon offered a graduate level course in combining silliness with satire.

For many people aged 40 and younger, National Lampoon is merely a brand name slapped onto some comedically questionable (and often straight-to-DVD) movies. But before Van Wilder and Bag Boy, the Lampoon crew was creating some of the most memorable comedy of the 1970s and ’80s.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder / Sebastian Artz/GettyImages

The talent that worked at the magazine and its various spin-offs left its mark on Hollywood in a big way. Alumni helped populate iconic Saturday Night Live casts, the writers’ rooms of prestige TV shows, and the creative teams of a handful of hit films.

Harvard Lampoon building
Harvard Lampoon building / Rick Friedman/GettyImages

It all began with the Harvard Lampoon, a college humor publication that helped deflate academia on the renowned Ivy league campus. In the 1960s, Doug Kenney arrived at Harvard and set in motion a series of events that would indirectly lead to Clark Griswold, Caddyshack, and one special delivery to the Lampoon’s New York office that included a potentially phony threat and some very real dynamite.

Watch our full episode of Throwback to get the whole story of this relatively short-lived comedy dynasty, from the Lemmings to National Lampoon’s Dirty Movie.

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