I bought my first issue when I was eight years old, at Miller’s Drug Store, and it flipped some kind of switch inside me. I’d been reading kiddy comics like Dennis the Menace and Archie, and they were fine. But MAD was something else altogether. It was rude and crazy, and (I later realized) subversive. I only understood about 50% of what was going on, which intrigued me further. I had to crack that code! I became so obsessed my parents had to cut me off for a short time. I never stopped talking about it. Also, my grandmother saw something in one of the issues that offended her. So, there was a two or three month moratorium, early in my MAD career. But I quickly wore ’em down, and read every word of every issue for years.
I had almost exactly the same relationship with NatLamp as I did MAD, starting around eighth grade. Some stores kept it with the Playboys and Penthouses, and refused to sell it to little booger-rollers like me. Needless to say, that only added to the excitement. And, like with the early MAD issues, I didn’t understand half of it. But the stuff I did get… often blew my mind. John Hughes — who would later become an iconic maker of teen films of the 1980s — was my favorite Lampoon writer of the era. He had a completely different persona back then, and his byline was a welcome thing indeed. Plus, the cartoons were fantastic, and there was a smattering of nudity.
1964 High School Yearbook
This was a National Lampoon spin-off, and it’s one of my favorite things in all the world. It’s a perfectly-executed parody of a high school yearbook, all the way down to the ads in the back and the signatures from classmates. It was edited by Doug Kenney — one of the founders of the Lampoon — and P.J. O’Rourke. There are big laughs on every page, and it’s an amazing thing to behold. How did they do it?? I still flip through it, and wonder how it didn’t take those guys ten years to accomplish. It’s genuinely hilarious, completely wacked-out, and more impressive than the Egyptian Pyramids. You know, in my opinion.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
When I was in Jr. High my friends and I became aware of this insane British TV show that the local PBS station showed every Wednesday night (I think it was Wednesday). None of us had ever seen anything quite like it. Everything was rooted in absurdity, and those guys were going for it. It was a gleeful celebration of the absurd. And every Thursday the Jr. High would be buzzing about the previous night’s episode, everybody repeating their favorite lines, etc. And you ain’t lived until you’ve heard a gaggle of West Virginia hicks shouting in fake British accents for six hours. Eventually I denounced my association with Python, because it all felt so… nerdy. But a few years ago I received every episode on DVD as a Christmas present, and re-watched them. I was right the first time ’round: it’s fucking amazing.
The Andy Griffith Show
I’ve seen every episode, probably ten times each. Maybe more. Who knows? For the first 30 years of my life, this show was on TV constantly. It’s always been a favorite, and I still consider it to be the best (or second-best) sitcom of all time. It’s one of those rare situations where it all came together: the casting, the acting, the writing. It started in 1960, so it’s pretty wholesome stuff. But… that doesn’t mean it’s not also hilarious. The show is full of memorable characters, reminiscent of people we all know. And it’s pitch-perfect. They all act exactly the way we expect them to act, while remaining human. In lesser hands, characters like Barney Fife or Floyd the Barber would’ve been turned into giant catchphrase-spewing cartoons. On The Andy Griffith Show they’re just another part of the tapestry. I still laugh through every episode, and have a tremendous fondness for the program. Especially the early black & white episodes, before Don Knotts left.
George Carlin on HBO
When I was in Jr. High something called Home Box Office was made available to us, via Capitol Cablevision. It offered unedited(!!) movies, live boxing matches, and standup comedy. You know, for a fee. My parents somehow agreed to pay that fee, and for a period of time we had HBO at our house. This was very early, when they only broadcast at night (it came on the air around 4 pm), and showed Car Wash roughly 20 times per month. Eventually my mother heard the word fuck about five times in 15 minutes, and flipped-out. And that was the end of the line for us and HBO. But, before that horrible day I was able to watch two standup specials featuring George Carlin. And I’m not joking… it felt like my lungs were in danger of collapsing from the laughter. I’d never seen anything like it, or heard anyone talk that way. If it had been just 1% funnier, I think I would’ve literally died. At least that’s how it felt at the time… Both those specials are available on Netflix now, and I tried to watch one recently. Here’s some video footage of me viewing it.
And that concludes part 1 of this epic. I’ll try to finish it up tomorrow, with some predictable stuff, and some not-so-predictable. Please feel free to share the things that have made you laugh the most, or comment on mine. It’s all good.
I’ll see you guys again soon!