National Lampoon returns with ‘Radio Hour’ podcast, but no Trump jokes

December 18, 2019

The relaunch of National Lampoon—the famed comedy studio for live performances, films, TV, social media, and audio productions—begins in earnest this week with the December 19 debut of National Lampoon Radio Hour, a sketch comedy podcast written and performed by Cole Escola, Jo Firestone, and clutch of rising-star comedians, Variety reports.

On the latest episode of Variety‘s Strictly Business podcast, National Lampoon President Evan Shapiro—hired last May to revive the brand—discusses the guiding principles behind the comeback of a phenomenon that was a primal force in the careers of Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Hughes, Christopher Guest, Harold Ramis, Michael O’Donoghue and other heavyweights.

The company founded in 1970 as a humor magazine by Harvard Lampoon alumni—and later, expanded into a radio sketch comedy series, albums, and live stage shows.

As industry legend goes, the founders of National Lampoon turned down the offer from Lorne Michaels to develop the original “Radio Hour” into a TV series. That prompted Michaels to hire away many from the Lampoon stable to kickstart Saturday Night Live for NBC in 1975.

Given National Lampoon’s history with the Radio Hour, a podcast made sense to start a new era for the company. During the interview recorded in the comedy performance space at Brooklyn’s famed Union Hall, Shapiro also shared a clip from the new-model  Radio Hour—featuring a spoof of ABC’s enduring reality series The Bachelorette.

Video of the podcast performers in action on each episode will be uploaded to National Lampoon’s YouTube channel — a precursor to what Shapiro hopes will be a TV development pact for the property, Variety reports. Shapiro sees the podcast and YouTube offshoot as a handy way to “monetize the development process.”

The industry news outlet says the podcast also takes a cue from the Lampoon’s past by offering promising young comedians “a safe haven and format where they can really do anything,” Shapiro says. “It’s a platform to critique and satirize mainstream culture.”

The company now aims to integrate itself back into the cutting-edge comedy world with the podcast, live shows around the country and at a dedicated performance space in New York, and a host of film and TV projects in development.

“We want to be the brand that people want to wear on their chest,” Shapiro said. The live component of the comedy business gives them an opening to become part of what Shapiro sees as “the comedy lifestyle” for hard-core fans of standup, improve, and sketch troupes. “Media brands that have engaged communities, ones that are sustained over time — those are going to be the truly successful media enterprises” of the future, he said.

One thing listeners won’t hear on “Radio Hour,” which is set for an 11-episode initial run as weekly installments, is an avalanche of Trump-related humor. True to the spirit of the company that generated such box office smashes in 1978’s Animal House and the Chevy Chase-led Vacation movie franchise, National Lampoon aims to offer a “twisted mainstream” skewering of contemporary culture. But it will not be overtly political — an edgy choice, given the environment.

“We are going to take on culture, not politics,” Shapiro said. “We’re holding up a mirror to the culture that needs to know that those jeans do make your ass look fat.”

Research contact: @Variety

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