The Story of the National Lampoon Article

The piece in the National Lampoon has a story behind it.  When I was in college I wrote for the Cornell Lunatic, which was at the time the funniest college humor magazine in North America, perhaps in the entire English-speaking world.  Some may have called it sophomoric, but I was, of course, a sophomore.

One night in the depths of Willard Straight Hall (the magazine's offices were located in the fourth sub-basement of the Cornell student union) a group of Lunatic writers were  heatedly debating whether we should: (1) produce a humorous radio show or (2) call Dominos.  If we put on a radio show we figured we could be like the Firesign Theatre or maybe the National Lampoon Radio Hour.  If we called Dominos the insatiable hunger that gnawed at the core of our beings might be held at bay for a few hours.  We ordered the pizza. 

Nevertheless, between slices we brainstormed about doing a radio takeoff on a classic 60's sitcom like the Dick Van Dyke Show and began improvising a script.  Mike Aronson recorded the proceedings as Doug Johnson played Mr. Spoonquist, who spoke in profane alliteration, Adam Castro was a neurotic shoe salesman named Chester Sylvester who could not meet his sales quota, and I was his sadistic boss.  Joey Green, founder of the Lunatic, played Chester's idiot friend.  It seemed very funny at the time.  For that matter the pizza tasted delicious, too.

We never did use that script on the radio.  I can't remember what we did do for the radio show, only that we all agreed it was a major milestone in the development of modern American humor.  The Cornell radio station, WVBR, gave us the coveted 4 a.m. Saturday morning slot to perform the show live.  No tapes of the program exist to my knowledge.  I think we had a lot of fun doing it, but my memory of many events from my college days is a bit spotty.  After the radio performance I didn't give the Chester Sylvester Show another thought.  I graduated from college and went on to law school.

In the meantime, Joey Green had gone on to become a contributing editor for the National Lampoon, but was becoming disillusioned with the magazine.  I believe he wrote an article for Rolling Stone entitled something like Why National Lampoon Isn't Funny Any More and, in retaliation, National Lampoon took his name off the masthead!  Can you believe that?  He went down the street and started working for J. Walter Thompson selling dish soap and hamburgers.  (He actually had quite a knack for advertising and won a Clio award -- the advertising industry's version of an Oscar -- for a Kodak ad campaign.)

To get back at the National Lampoon, Joey dusted off the script for the Chester Sylvester Show, added a scene or two, put a former girlfriend's name on the manuscript as author (obviously he couldn't submit it under his own name), and sent it in to the Lampoon's editorial department.  Then, proving that the magazine had indeed gone downhill, they accepted it for publication.

Joey sent me a check for my share of the royalties.  I think I blew it on a pizza.

Joey Green has gone on to an illustrious career as a writer, specializing in books about off-beat subjects, including his encyclopedic treatment of wacky uses for common household products.  Adam Castro is also a writer with a particularly skewed view of the world.  You can buy their books on  Doug Johnson is a brilliant animator who does cool work at his company Galaxy 61 and Mike Aronson is an engineer in Oakland California at Dowling Associates, Inc. keeping Bay Area traffic flowing smoothly.  I'm a law professor, but you already know that.


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