Or, maybe a well timed fart joke is just funny.
Which leads us to one of Netflix's newest original films, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, in which two class clowns turn a Harvard education into the multi-million dollar comedy conglomerate known as National Lampoon.
This biopic focuses on college friends Doug Kenney (Will Forte) and Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleason), who forego corporate life in an attempt to turn their campus humor magazine, Harvard Lampoon, into a national publication.
Forte walks a fine line, balancing Kenney's arrogance and pig-headedness while still managing to earn the character some sympathy. Kenney uses comedy as the aforementioned coping mechanism, usually in dealing with his no nonsense parents, who look at him as a failure against the metric of what a Harvard grad should be doing with his or her life. Kenney lost a brother, and it's pretty clear that his parents lost a favorite son. Kenney has had to battle that demon all his life, and his humor has served him as part ambition and part deflection. He made his comedy personal.
As Kenney is the loose cannon, the pipe smoking Beard plays it a bit more straight laced. Beard needs a bit more coaxing to jump into the deep end on occasion. Kenney sees the long term vision for National Lampoon, choosing to set aside the nuts and bolts of managing the business, while Beard is a more pragmatic sort. Like many comedic odd couples, Kenney and Beard work well together, and the sharp banter between the two characters is the best part of the film.
Success may not be something Kenney really considered. He just wanted to prolong his college days, having fun writing jokes with his friend. When the subscriptions start to mount, and the company jumps into the moviemaking business (with perhaps the best college film of all time, Animal House), the burden of responsibility starts to weigh on Kenney, and it isn't something he's prepared to deal with on an emotional level. Relationships become strained, jeopardizing everything he and Beard built.
In the final act, Kenney's demons become too great for him to manage, and we finally get a glimpse of the man behind the facade. Wain doesn't dwell in the dark for too long though, bringing us to a conclusion that fits the characters and the audience looking for something to laugh about in moments not normally associated with doing so.
What is not lost in the story is how influential and groundbreaking National Lampoon was at the time. While most of America looked to Mad Magazine for published satire, National Lampoon pushed the concept forward, finding humor in situations designed to make people uncomfortable.
The amount of comedic talent that can be traced back to the early days- Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray to name a few- used National Lampoon's influence as a stepping stone into runs on Saturday Night Live and lucrative film careers.
While rooted in satire, A Futile and Stupid Gesture isn't quite as tongue-in-cheek as Wain's Wet Hot film, but each exists as a kindred spirit to the other. And much like Patton Oswalt's stand-up, it finds the funny in some of the unfunniest places.
Because they made it personal.
4 out of 5