A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever

Josh Karp

Like many books on the great comic rupture of the ’70s, this biography of National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney treats with reverence a group of people who made their money satirizing reverence. Thus, every member of the Lampoon-SNL-SCTV revolution was a comic paladin, and it was society, not dimming artistic energy, that brought American comedy down from its ’70s highs. At least Karp hews to the details of Kenney’s life, revealing nuances that complicate the nostalgia. “Doug possessed an ability—born of his middle-class, midwestern upbringing—to make connections between the rest of society and life in the hallowed halls of Harvard,” Karp writes, reminding us that Animal House and Caddyshack, for all their subversion, were also about rich people whose lives we’d like to have.