The launching pad for comedians from John Belushi and Chevy Chase to Bill Murray and Richard Belzer, the National Lampoon performing troupe emerged from the pages of the National Lampoon magazine in 1972. The publication itself debuted in April 1970 under the auspices of writers Michael O'Donoghue and Tony Hendra as an extension of the collegiate humor magazine The Harvard Lampoon; famed for its caustic wit and razor-sharp satiric edge, it quickly became a major force in American comedy, setting the stage for its editorial staff to break out into the performing arena.
In addition to Lemmings, a live revue produced by Hendra, O'Donoghue established The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which originated the material comprising the 1972 LP Radio Dinner. Among the featured players was Christopher Guest, later Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel; here Guest satirized Bob Dylan, while Hendra took the reins for "Magical Misery Tour," a send-up of John Lennon. Pop music remained a prime target for the 1973 recording of Lemmings, a vicious Woodstock parody starring John Belushi as the MC; in addition to jabs at James Taylor, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the record took aim at the whole of the hippie counterculture, which it described as "a mighty mass of furry little mindless animals."
Released in 1974, The Missing White House Tapes mercilessly attacked the Watergate debacle with the aid of Chevy Chase, who reappeared along with Belushi, Guest, Gilda Radner, and Brian Doyle-Murray on Gold Turkey. After 1975's Goodbye Pop, featuring turns by Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer, the influence of the Lampoon's brand of humor spread into the mainstream with the debut of NBC's sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live; as Belushi, Chase, Radner, Shaffer, and O'Donoghue joined the program's ranks in various capacities, the National Lampoon suffered a serious blow, with few new performers capable of picking up the slack. Still, the troupe limped along for three more LPs — 1977's That's Not Funny, It's Sick, 1979's White Album, and 1982's Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and the End of the World — before throwing in the towel; despite a complete editorial overhaul, the magazine continued publication. ~ Jason Ankeny