PARK CITY — It wasn’t always comedic gold, but man, it sure had its moments.
One could say that about National Lampoon’s “National Lampoon Radio Hour,” which started in late 1973 and barely made it a year. The same could also be said for a special event at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday night. That event was a table reading of some treasured “National Lampoon Radio Hour” sketches, recited by cast members of “A Futile and Stupid Gesture,” a new Netflix biopic about National Lampoon’s founder, Doug Kenney.
Some of the film’s cast, including Joel McHale, Emmy Rossum and Domhnall Gleeson, re-created the radio sketches for a small crowd inside the Dell Den on Park City’s Main Street. “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” makes its Sundance debut on Wednesday night, and is available on Netflix starting Friday.
While Doug Kenney isn’t exactly a household name, he certainly knew how to pick them. Only a year before achieving fame as “Saturday Night Live” founding cast members, comedians like Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and John Belushi cut their teeth on Kenney’s bizarre, subversive radio program. In addition to its famous magazine, the National Lampoon went on to make films like “Animal House” and “Caddyshack.” At Monday’s table read, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” director David Wain said Kenney was the founder of modern comedy.
“The National Lampoon Radio Hour” was a messy program — sometimes the comedy worked, other times it didn’t. Monday’s table read was much the same. When things clicked, though, they really clicked.
Joel McHale, who plays Chevy Chase in the film, led the evening’s funniest sketch.
“Are you tired of talking like this,” McHale said, wielding a brutish, working class, loading docks kind of American accent, “with no class, a really crummy accent that turns the broads off, makes everybody laugh at you behind your back, huh?”
The sketch, an infomercial for a 10-day French accent course, seemed like it was made for “Saturday Night Live.”
“It is not a school of language — no, no, no, not boring grammar, no silly exercise to study,” McHale’s character continues, his accent morphing from Long Islander to Frenchman. “We teach you not a single word of French. Only the accent.”
David Wain, who directed the absurd 2001 cult hit “Wet Hot American Summer,” reportedly takes a similar approach to “A Futile and Stupid Gesture.” The film’s description on the Sundance Institute site says, “Wain understands that to tell this story right you need to bypass accuracy and head straight for authenticity.”
In the film’s trailer, there’s a montage of actor Matt Walsh, playing National Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons, storming out of his office.
“The Mormons are protesting!” Simmons yells.
“The feminists hate us,” he continues, followed quickly by, “What did we do to the Catholics?”Comment on this story
Come Wednesday at Sundance, and Friday on Netflix, audiences will find out.
If you go …
What: “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”
When: Wednesday, Jan. 24, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Eccles Theatre, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City
How much: $20 for eWaitlist tickets
When: Thursday, Jan. 25, 8:30 a.m.
Where: MARC, 1200 Little Kate Rd, Park City
When: Friday, Jan. 26, 11:59 p.m.
Where: Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City
When: Saturday, Jan. 27, 6 p.m.
Where: Temple Theatre, 3700 N Brookside Ct, Park City