Artist Rick Meyerowitz pens a serious look at (National) Lampooning

Rick Meyerowitz

By: Patricia Corrigan, Special to the Jewish Light

In his new book, veteran illustrator and author Rick Meyerowitz – longtime contributor to “National Lampoon” magazine and the man who created the poster for the movie “Animal House” – offers a tribute to 35 of the artists and writers at the “Lampoon” who kept us laughing through the ‘70s and the ‘80s.

Meyerowitz fills 320 pages of “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead” (Harry N. Abrams, $48) with affectionate portraits of the men (and the few women) who worked at the “Lampoon,” along with sample after sample of the illustrations and text that made the irreverent magazine so popular in its day.

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“National Lampoon” was first published in April 1970 and enjoyed a 20-year run. “I had to play curator in a large sense, choose the articles and illustrations that I felt were memorable,” says Meyerowitz, 67, speaking from his home in New York. “I view this book as a literary enterprise, not as a comic goof.”

While sifting through the multitude of material available from the magazine’s archives, Meyerowitz had a primary goal: “It was important to me to choose art and articles that are still relevant today, important that the book not be dated, that it could be read by young people and not seem obscure.”

He suggests that current spawn of the roguish humor embraced by the “National Lampoon” might include “The Onion,” “South Park” and the pointed comedy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. “We were breaking a lot of taboos at the ‘National Lampoon,’ the same taboos that are now broken in every issue of the ‘New Yorker,'” says Meyerowitz.

With his partner, artist Maira Kalman, Meyerowitz devised the “New Yorkistan” cover of the “New Yorker,” said to be the bestselling cover in the magazine’s history. Earlier in his career, Meyerowitz’s “Mona Gorilla” – an illustration depicting a begowned primate clutching a peeled banana – was long considered the “Lampoon’s” trademark visual.

In the book, Meyerowitz reminds readers that Michael O’Donoghue, an early contributor at the “National Lampoon,” moved on to become the first head writer at “Saturday Night Live,” which debuted in 1975. Of their years working together, Meyerowitz writes, “Michael was a brilliant and prickly man. Working with him was like trying to laugh while kissing a prickly porcupine.” Other staff members went on to work on “Animal House,” which was released in 1978.

At the end of the book, a section titled “Who Is or Was” brings readers up to date on all the artists and writers that Meyerowitz celebrates in “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead.” Some have died, but many are still working. P.J. O’Rourke, who co-authored the “Lampoon’s” parody of a 1964 high school yearbook, now writes for numerous national magazines and is the author of several books. Gahan Wilson, 80, known (and loved by many) for his skewed take on the world, had a cartoon published in the “New Yorker” as recently as mid-October.

“Gahan Wilson was in ‘Playboy’ for 50-plus years, but he always says the ‘Lampoon’ was his real home,” says Meyerowitz. “The ‘Lampoon’ would call him, tell him the theme [for the next issue] and ask if he would like five pages or six. They trusted him. They trusted all of us. Nobody ever looked at the work and asked you change it, because they respected us as artists. Many people from the magazine went on to have terrific careers.”

What will Meyerowitz tell his audience at the Jewish Book Festival?

“Oy,” he says. He laughs. Then Meyerowitz reveals that he was in St. Louis in June to see “A Little Night Music” at Opera Theatre St. Louis. “Maira and I are friends with Isaac Mizrahi, who directed and designed the show,” he says. “Wasn’t that a beautiful production? We stayed a couple of days, walked all over, had a really good time.”

To date, many a reader (including a reviewer at the “Wall Street Journal”) has hailed “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead.” Meyerowitz elaborates: “People are astonished to see how beautiful the book is. It’s gorgeous! I worked hard to make it gorgeous and modern looking, a well-designed book. This is not an old issue of the magazine with the ‘Lampoon’ logo on the cover. This is a book that says how smart all the people who worked there were.”

See more of the author’s work at

Rick Meyerowitz

WHO: Author of “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon So Insanely Great “

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8