Josh Karp | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Josh Karp 

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In August 1980 the broken body of 33-year-old Doug Kenney was found at the bottom of a Hawaiian cliff. In A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever (Chicago Review Press), Evanston-based writer Josh Karp tracks the up-and-down path that led Kenney, a smart, good-looking blond from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who went to Harvard and then cofounded the satiric magazine National Lampoon, to the edge of that cliff. The book is as much a bio of National Lampoon itself as it is of Kenney, documenting the rise and demise of the magazine as well: its hiccupping beginnings, the interoffice affairs and jealousies, the alcohol-and-drug-fueled meetings, the myriad comedic talents that passed through its doors. Kenney, insecure but charming and lovable by all accounts, eventually acquired fame, fortune, and a staggering coke habit in Hollywood while a screenwriter for Animal House (in which he also played the nerdy "Stork") and Caddyshack. But the small-town kid from Chagrin Falls, the eternal outsider among his privileged Harvard mates, never felt fulfilled--what he really wanted was to be the next Evelyn Waugh. Was his death an accident or a suicide? No one knows for sure, but in typical morbid fashion the joke going around the National Lampoon offices was that Kenney accidentally fell while looking for a good place to jump. Tue 9/12, 7 PM, Quimby's, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Johnny Knight.

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