Is THAT’S NOT FUNNY, THAT’S SICK something you’d like to read? There’s only one way to find out. On this website you can find an excerpt from Chapter 9 and one from Chapter 21.
Chapter 9 excerpt
O’Donoghue had managed to persuade Simmons that the Lampoon should adopt the Credibility Gap model and produce a syndicated weekly radio show, of which he would be the creative director. “I was given the Radio Hour as a plum,” he said, “because I was on the verge of fuckin’ walking.”
Released from his duties on the magazine to devote all his time to the new project, he plunged in with typically perfectionist zeal. The first thing he did was ask Radio Dinner’s Tischler to work up a budget. The producer came to the conclusion that to do a weekly radio show to O’Donoghue’s demanding standards would require a custom-built studio. Also,” Tischler said, “if we had our own studio we could waste some time in improv.” To his surprise, 21st Century agreed. “We thought we’d get our 10 or 12 writers in a room and just say funny things,” said Mogel. “We found out it doesn’t work that way and ended up building a state-of-the-art studio.”
The first four shows were recorded while the studio was still being built seven floors above the magazine’s offices. So high was O’Donoghue’s stock with Simmons at the time that he was able to engage Charles White III, who had done the Grammy-winning Radio Dinner cover, to decorate the studio’s lounge in a singing cowboy motif with cacti-patterned rug and couches and a big red and yellow desk shaped like a 30’s radio. Then one day a man showed up to paint trompe l’oeil shadows of every object in the room on the walls, as if the setting southwestern sun was coming through the Madison Avenue windows.
Supervising all this gestation meant that O’Donoghue was kept busy on the 11th floor instead of causing trouble in the editorial offices, which may have been one factor in Simmons’ backing the project. O’Donoghue was frequently joined there by Kenney, who took a proud uncle’s interest in the studio’s progress. Yes, by fall 1973 Kenney was back, but had slipped down the masthead to senior editor while a Gang of Five (Beard, O’Donoghue, Hendra, McConnachie, and Kelly) held the position formerly occupied by himself and Beard. “I don’t remember his editing an issue although he might have. He was keeping a fairly low profile,” Gikow recalled.
When asked what he had been doing out on the Vineyard, Kenney replied, “having a nervous breakdown.” The main source of his unhappiness was the novel he had been writing during his sabbatical. It had not gone well. “Doug wigged out writing it. He choked,” said O’Donoghue, who described the novel as “ungodly bad, although there was one great phrase in it about aliens: ‘their language sounded like a gunfight in a bell factory’.” Weidman, however, disagrees. “It wasn’t bad, just scattered. It was,” he said, “very much Doug.” In any case, Kenney’s opinion of the manuscript was such that he threw it into a wastebasket.
What Kenney had wanted to write was the contemporary equivalent of an Evelyn Waugh novel (though the title, Teenage Commies From Outer Space, suggests a detour from this intention). However, the open-minded and populist Kenney had little in common with the conservative Waugh beyond their both being upwardly-mobile Catholics and sharp observers of social distinctions. A more appropriate model might have been F. Scott Fitzgerald, that other expansive Irish-Catholic boy from the Midwest who became fascinated by gilded youth at an Ivy League university and whose early success could not assuage a core of self-doubt that led him ever deeper into self-destructive behavior.
After his return to New York, Kenney moved out of the brownstone and into the Chelsea Hotel, site of numerous Rock ‘n Roll ODs and suicides, not exactly a setting conducive to regaining one’s mental equilibrium. But the time for being roomies with Beard had passed. More and more, the two founders were going their separate ways. Beard had been left to pull the wagon by himself and he would have been a saint not to resent it. “I knew I couldn’t count on Doug any more,” he said, and Kenney, knowing he had let the team down, had lost some of his ebullience. He struck Gikow, who hadn’t known him before the Vineyard sabbatical, as “a very sweet, generous, sometimes sad and troubled guy. He would be very bright and high energy one minute and very quiet the next. I never saw him yell at anyone.” This alone would have put him in a distinct minority around the Lampoon office.
Kenney wasn’t the only writer who found the completed 11th floor studio a sort of haven. “There’s something about radio that’s very intimate and comfortable because you spend a lot of time just sitting around in a dark womb-like studio,” Beatts observed. “It was a pretty mellow atmosphere as opposed to the magazine’s, which was getting nasty.” By comparison, McCall agreed, the Radio Hour was “a breath of fresh air.”