Like to laugh, don't care why or where. Don't care the occasion, formal or otherwise, though the formal ones always — to quote Jack Nicholson — "bring out the devil in me."
Like to laugh with people and at people and for people, which is what I found myself doing the other night, laughing in support of the National Lampoon's new stage show, playing for the next month at a little theater near MacArthur Park, a landmark probably best known for gang activity, including the lunchtime hordes at the nearby Langer's.
I'm not about to police your life. Just be aware that, as you slide into a booth at Langer's, the place is full of cops, including (frequently) Chief Charlie Beck himself.
My own drug of choice these days is the No. 19, a glistening pile of pastrami skimmed with cole slaw, the rye bread soft as a starlet's cheek and crust so formidable you could clean your boots with it. It is, without doubt, the most decadent and wonderful sandwich in L.A. and perhaps the nation. The No. 19 will one day kill me, some pathologist listing it as a cause of death.
"Went out with a smile," the attending waitress will tell my kids, "and a little slaw on his chin."
"Yeah, great," the kids will respond. "Did he maybe mention a will?"
Anyway, back to "Sketches From the National Lampoon," playing at the Hayworth, one of those tiny live theaters that are either too hot or too cold but always one of the best values in town. Instead of a lousy movie, check out one of these little bandbox theaters once in a while, where young actors like Henry Dittman and Darrin Revitz hone their punch lines.
Once in a while, you'll really strike it rich. This particular collection of sketches isn't quite a gold mine, but it's worth a look if you're at all into comedy and the funny things that feed our souls.
Beginning in 1970, National Lampoon made us laugh till we hurt, perhaps as big an influence on the American funny bone as Twain or Groucho. Look at the talent it tapped: John Hughes, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, with a brand of humor that was as cerebral as it was raunchy.
These days, we mostly have the raunch, not the cerebral (see "Book of Mormon"), and I'm not sure why comedy got so dumbed down. I'd like to blame the corporate influences, I'd like to blame the NRA and the PTA and fluoridated water, but in truth I'm at a loss.
My buddy T-Bone's explanation is that '70s humor was more pot-based, and '80s humor became more cocaine-laced.
"Cocaine is not a funny drug," T-Bone insists while sucking down tequila and experiencing some sort of acid flashback.
If you think I'm going to argue with a guy like that, you're crazier than I am.
Anyway, back to this live National Lampoon show (again). What's going on at the Hayworth the next month is a 70-minute series of skits and songs based on the great magazine pieces and radio shows written by 30 or so past Lampoonists, including Michael O'Donoghue and Doug Kenney. Exact authorship is unclear, either on a practical or legal level, but the material has much of the edge and daring of the magazine during its glory years.
"I used to have a box of 12 dead pigeons …" begins one skit.
"Never moon a werewolf," advises another.
The funniest stuff, of course, is bluer than blue.
"I had one rule at the Lampoon," says magazine founder and show producer Matty Simmons, who is to comedy what Clive Davis is to music. "You can say anything as long as it's redeemable."
Maybe this material is not quite as subversive and wondrous as we remember it, but what is? Like a Rolling Stones concert, it connects many of us to our youth, when we felt like we were witnessing the invention of a wicked new genre.
Turns out we were.
Ideally, "Sketches" would be a giant Broadway show, featuring the mad minds and performers behind this glistening pile of comic pastrami.
Till then, we have this tasty bit of anarchy. Which is at least something, right?
Chris Erskine will appear at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show at the L.A. Convention Center.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times