Golden ’70s Era of National Lampoon in Chicago

Filed Under Live Events, Print

Greg Boose of Chicago wrote me about an event featuring three legendary National Lampoon writers - Anne Beatts, Chris Miller, and Brian McConnachie and offered to summarize it for me (and you). Here’s his report:

Anne Beatts approached the small stage at The Hideout on Chicago’s north side without a smile. In fact, she looked kind of annoyed. Josh Karp, biographer of Doug Kenney and moderator for the evening, engaged her in conversation until she seemed to relax. While Beatts flipped through tagged issues of National Lampoon magazines and laughed with Karp, Chris Miller, perhaps the magazine’s dirtiest writer and the known true force behind “Animal House”, found his way to the stage. He was trailed by the tall Brian McConnachie, who created the hysterical magazine parodies “Guns and Sandwiches Magazine” and “Negligent Mothers.”

It’s rare to have these three together for a reading. I’d guess there were about 200 anxious people in attendance Monday night, but I also once guessed there were 252 pieces of candy in a jar when there were over a thousand. A lot of dudes, though. Older dudes. Older dudes with beatnik glasses who were totally prepared to show each other that they definitely remembered this article and that cover.

After some introductions, Beatts showed off some of her past NL work through a projector - among her work is the pictorial “Hitler in Paradise” and the famous Ted Kennedy/Volkswagen ad. She then settled in to read the story of how she became a part of one of the most powerful magazines in America (“on her back”), how she won over its boys club, and how it came to be that she was dropping acid with two of the most brilliant humor writers on the planet on the eve of Jim Morrison’s death in Paris.

McConnachie, a man closer to seven feet than six, bearded, straight-faced with excellent delivery in his recounts of National Lampoon lore and later with the audience’s questions, read a story that he wrote specifically for the night titled “The Ding Dong Hoodlum Priest.” Loud laughs. Many paragraphs were interrupted by applause. He went on to play an audio clip from a musical he wrote in 1974 entitled “Moby!” where John Belushi plays a lonely Ahab.

Chris Miller took over. Starting with an anecdote about how he showed up to work one day at his corporate job to find all his furniture missing (he was fired), he then shared how his sex-focused stories first appeared in National Lampoon (one was handed off to Doug Kenney by an editor at Playboy). Miller went on to tell some you-would-not-believe stories from his fraternity days at Dartmouth that were too over the top to appear in Animal House (but that should be in his recently re-released book, “The Real Animal House”).

Miller’s short story of the night was about a telephone collector calling a broke young man by the name of Bernie Boom-Boom. To avoid talking about the overdue bill, Bernie lies to the woman on the phone saying that he is the bass player in her favorite punk band. The collector gets excited. Really excited. Starts confessing to being at every show and watching the bulge in his pants as he plays. The story turns strange when a pair of female lips appear in the earpiece, and Miller goes on to read such great lines as “His balls were throbbing like small hearts.” By the perfect end there wasn’t a pale cheek in the bar.

Josh Karp did a nice job moderating between the writers and was able himself to deliver some compassionate stories about Doug Kenney he learned over the years while compiling research for his 2006 book, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever.”

The audience took advantage of the question-and-answer period. One question that came up and up again was if they were impressed with any of the comedy out there today. None of the NL alums seemed willing to drop any names. Miller said that the comedy pool is diluted now and that their magazine was once able to pull the best talent in the country together in its pages. There was Internet mentions. Somebody brought up The Onion. One guy wanted to know more about Miller’s slight mention of the masturbating competitions that went on in his frat house.

Time to go. A band needed to set up. Carried instruments made their way toward the stage and the crowd dispersed to let them through. I wanted to quickly thank Beatts for the fun night, but was blocked by a tall, expressionless fan-boy with a see-through mustache who brought forth a gym bag bursting with his entire library of old National Lampoon mags and other books for Beatts to sign. He swung it out in front of her and mumbled. She didn’t seem too thrilled - she looked kind of annoyed again. While I waited, I caught a quick glimpse of one of her first autographs to him that started: “I’ll never forget you…”

Here’s a nice clip from the night Greg sent along too. It’s part of Anne Beatts reading. I always find it enjoyable to watch funny people make other funny people laugh. Because it’s so rare.

Greg Boose lives in Chicago. He still has all ten of his toes. You can read some of his online work at


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