This is definitely a sad week for guys associated with the National Lampoon‘s heyday. Three days ago Ivan Reitman, whose first big score came from producing National Lampoon’s Animal House (’78), died in Montecito at age 75. And now P.J. O’Rourke, who served as editor-in-chief of the National Lampoon in the late ’70s and for many decades was one of HE’s favorite satirists and comic essayists, has passed from lung cancer at age 74.
I’ve been chuckling at the flip, iconoclastic, world-weary smirkings and pot-shots of P.J. O’Rourke since the mid ’70s — a long journey. I can’t think of another rightie libertarian whose stuff I’ve laughed at quite so often. Come to think of it I can’t think of another rightie libertarian whose stuff I’ve laughed at, period.
One way or another I’ve always been a fan of his material. (For the most part.) Mainly, I suppose, because O’Rourke was editor-in-chief at the National Lampoon during that legendary publication’s last decently creative period, or ’78 through ’80, and because I truly worshipped that mag back in the day so there’s a carry-over effect.
O’Rourke is the author of 16 satiric, smart-ass books (including last year’s “The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again),” which I haven’t yet read) and is currently a monthly columnist for the Daily Beast.
Two of my favorite O’Rourke books are “Holidays in Hell” and “Modern Manners“. I’ve also always loved the title of “Republican Party Reptile“, or more precisely the illustration of Dwight D. Eisenhower wearing a mohawk (which was dumped when O’Rourke’s publisher explained that relatively few targeted readers knew or cared who Eisenhower was). Honestly? I’ve never read “Republican Party Reptile”. No offense but why would I? I’m a leftie, and in some respects I’m selfish enough as it is.
I’ve always liked O’Rourke’s essays because they’re snide and irreverent, but also because I’ve always felt at ease with guys with a kind of elite alcoholic fuck-all clubhouse attitude but who also knew (or seemed to know) their way around sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll during the heyday.
During my vodka era (late ’80s to mid ’90s) I enjoyed O’Rourke’s occasional allusions to bending the elbow, and I remember being moved in particular by a line from one of his books: “Life would be unbearable without alcohol.”
And I can comfortably overlook O’Rourke’s rightie politics because he seems to have so little respect for (or at the very least is so unimpressed with) so many different kinds of people, theologies, political agendas and whatnot.
But I’d never spoken to him, and a couple of weeks ago I calculated that now was the time with the just-around-the-corner debut of Doug Tirola‘s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead (Magnolia, 9.25) — a rousing, well-jiggered, often hilarious history of the Lampoon.
It’s an important film to see and contemplate as it’s not just about the magazine but the entire anti-authoritarian wave of humor and humorists that hatched in the early ’70s and ultimately manifested in Saturday Night Live, not to mention the whole sexually-obsessed, stoner-slacker-asshole Hollywood comedy genre that kicked off with National Lampoon’s Animal House (’78).
O’Rourke is one of the talking heads in Tirola’s doc along with Chevy Chase, John Landis, Judd Apatow, Kevin Bacon, Tim Matheson, Henry Beard, Matty Simmons, Tony Hendra, Chris Miller, Anne Beatts, Mike Reiss, Sean Kelly, Brian McConnachie, Michael Gross, Janis Hirsch, Chris Cerf, John Goodman, Billy Bob Thornton, Meat Loaf, Christopher Buckley, Peter Kleinman, et. al.
I wrote O’Rourke two or three weeks ago and we finally got around to chatting last Sunday. We didn’t tap into anything very profound but the discussion felt easy. I thought O’Rourke might be a little snitty with me, but he wasn’t. At all. A decent guy. On top of which we share a slight New England-ness. O’Rourke’s faintly snooty, well-educated persona feels like a natural default for that region. He lives in New Hampshire and got married at Wilton’s Cobbs Mills Inn. Two months ago I organized a memorial luncheon for my late mom there. Plus my late teens and early 20s were spent in the Wilton and Westport area, blah blah.
Apologies to the L.A. publicist for Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead who asked me to hold off posting the interview until the film comes out. I just had to run it now. I’ll post something else about Drunk Stoned just before it opens or re-post the O’Rourke interview with a different intro or something like that. When I like a film I can write about it all day and into the night.
Again, the mp3