A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE and How Narrative Constructs Help Biopics

A Futile and Stupid Gesture, now streaming on Netflix, ostensibly tells the story of Doug Kenney (Will Forte), the guy who along with his friend and former Harvard classmate Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) co-founded The National Lampoon and essentially created the comedy world we live in to this day. If not “created” then he certainly dropped a rock in a pond whose ripples are still apparent and felt.

As I said when I wrote about the campaign Netflix launched to promote it, the subject matter makes it something I was absolutely inclined to enjoy. I never read more than a handful of issues of Lampoon but certainly knew of its existence and reveled in the world Kenney created directly (Animal House, Caddyshack), indirectly (“Saturday Night Live,” which poached many of the writers and actors from Lampoon and its radio show) and as an influence (literally 90% of comedy since 1980). That being said, I didn’t know much about Kenney as a person or what motivated him.

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A Futile and Stupid Gesture – Marketing Recap

futile and stupid gesture posterComedy is such a generational thing, usually directly influencing at least two groups of people: Those old enough to enjoy it in the moment and those in the immediate next generation, who grow up watching, listening to or reading it. For my generation much of the comedy world we enjoyed as kids were the direct result of the launch of National Lampoon and it’s that story being told in the new Netflix original A Futile and Stupid Gesture.

Based on the book of the same name, the movie focuses on founders Doug Kenney (Will Forte…but also Martin Mull as the narrator) and Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) as they have the idea to create a subversive humor magazine that eventually grows into an empire. The writers they employed included people like Harold Ramis, John Landis, John Hughes and countless others. The actors who joined their radio program included John Belushi, Bill Murray and others who would go on to define comedy for the next 40 years. Kenney wasn’t always the easiest or most stable person to work with, both a testament to and the result of his genius.

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