The National Lampoon

If You Don’t Click This Link, We’ll Kill the Dick

National Lampoon, that cheeky, irreverent kid brother to MAD Magazine that  ran from 1970 to 1998, tried to act like the older brother. They offered “adult humour,” theoretically aimed at a more sophisticated, mature crowd. But really, who were they trying to kid? It was just a raunchier and often ruder version of MAD.

But it did have its moments. And like MAD, it had a far-reaching effect on American humour and comedy, spawning films (Animal House, National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation, etc.), radio, live theatre, records and books.

One of their other come-ons was that every issue had a “theme ” (Sex! Death! Anger!, etc.). They even did at least two “Crime” issues (February 1972 and May 1982). One of my personal highlights is the cover for the 1972 “Crime” issue by Dick Hess — it’s a great pulpy illo of a looming, menacing figure looming over a poor frightened damsel in distress.. unlawfully ripping the tag from a mattress — despite the clearly visible warning not to do so!

Oh, the humanity!

The issue also included a spot-on parody of consumer advocate –and future presidential candidate — Ralph Nader as a P.I.

But there were a few other good other kicks at the shamus games that appeared in the Lampoon’s pages over the years, if you did enough sifting, including:

  • “The Last Recallby Henry Beard (February 1972, “Crime”)
    Ralph Nader. Consumer advocate, future presidential candidate and… private eye?
  • The Winking Brown Eye (July 1981)
    A review of the “new” Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald, in which the reviewer salutes the revelation that McGee and Meyer were, you know… I guess MacDonald wasn’t too miffed,  because four years later, the November 1985 “The Mad as Hell Issue,” they featured scores of brief rants by noted writers and celebrities on things that particularly pissed them off, MacDonald chipped in with his own “Exploitation of Grief.”
  • “The Final Out” by Sean Kelly (May 1982, “Crime”)
    A P.I. parody by one of Montreal’s own, regarding the murder of Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner, featuring an unnamed LA private dick on the case. But Kelly actually turns it into a double-play; pairing it with “The Unpleasantness at the Stadium Club,” wherein Lord Peter Wimsey sees the same crime through a very different lens.
  • “Portrait of a Shamus” by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones (January 1984, “1984, Big Brother is Watching You”)
    Explosive literary revelation that the father of hard-boiled  detective story is… Henry James?
  • “Exploitation of Grief” by John D. MacDonald (November 1985, “Mad As Hell”)
    It reads more like a mini-rant from a Travis McGee novel, but MacDonald’s dead serious here about what he sees as “the trend in local and national news for more and more invasions of the privacy of grief, and the jackass questions the young Airedales use to prime the tear ducts.” Funny? Not particularly. But very much in keeping with MacDonald’s (and McGee’s) cranky worldview. As one comments put it, “My god how JDM would the loathe the internet.”
    In the same issue, by the way, are rants by Elmore Leonard (“Attitudes and Objects”) Howard Fast (“Our Race Towards Extinction”) and Gahan Wilson (“I’m Mad as Hell at the Following Types and Think They Ought to Be Taken Out and Shot”),
     all authors who have at one time or another dipped their toes in the P.I. Pool.


Preliminary list respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to the great The Trap of Solid Gold for laying down the first breadcrumbs.

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