National Lampoon has certainly seen better days; a few decades before they became a brand synonymous with puerile, sophomoric frat boy humor and cheap direct-to-video “comedies,” the Lampoon was a brain trust of America’s boldest and most fearless young satirists who used their incisive, inventive wit to offend, compel, and amuse and who would lay the foundation for some of the great works of modern comedy, from the small screen success of Saturday Night Live to the celluloid classics Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and This is Spinal Tap.
As the company slowly evolved into a multimedia empire, they lost their edge. Now they exist solely because ten Wal-Mart customers demand movies where they can enjoy lamebrain toilet humor and Vida Guerra’s naked breasts without having to change the DVD. Two years after the National Lampoon magazine launched, editor and writer Tony Hendra teamed up with the great Michael O’Donoghue to create the company’s first comedy album, Radio Dinner. Hendra later helped put together the Lampoon’s off-Broadway smash Lemmings, which featured comedic giants John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Christopher Guest in breakout performances that kick-started their own amazing careers.
Are There Any Triggers Here Tonight? is the first album by The Final Edition, a satirical troupe founded by Hendra and Jeff Kreisler, and is appropriately presented by National Lampoon no doubt as part of a belated attempt to recapture a bit of their former reputation. Triggers is a sketch-heavy effort that takes the form of a live show being staged before a crowd of increasingly hostile college students who seem to find something offensive about every single skit performed by The Final Edition.
No one in the group, among them Hendra himself (he’s the chap with the British accent, dear boy), can understand what the fuss is about considering the skits feature excerpts from a sex tape starring former Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders, an interview with Kim Kardashian’s ass, a couple dining at a restaurant that specializes in rectal feeding (in an effort to disprove the C.I.A.’s use of the technique isn’t torture), a woman’s uncomfortable encounter with an abortion doctor required by law to make her hesitant to pursue the procedure by any means legally necessary, representatives of ISIS defiantly trying to prove to the world that they’re not gay, and much more.
Equal parts crude, lewd, gross, and caustically humorous, Triggers is a valiant yet frustratingly scattershot attempt to expose a new generation of comedy fans to the type of take-no-prisoners humor that electrified the youth of America in the days of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the brief but horrific rule over the nation’s pop culture landscape by the Pet Rock. The 44-minute album also takes aim at police corruption and brutality, the aggressive security methods employed by the Transportation Security Administration, and anti-gay politicians who will stoop to the lowest lows imaginable to change the laws in order to satisfy their agenda and base.
The writing is mostly smart and stays on target, but sketches about Enya’s music and the cocaine habit developed by Elmo after Sesame Street moves to HBO overstay their welcome and are rather pointless and forgettable. Although the album’s structure and format was inspired by that of National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner, it rarely goes for their subjects’ throats and balls the way the Lampoon’s finest comedic minds used to do with manic gusto and depraved genius. Triggers‘ primary target is the tendency of contemporary audiences to become overly sensitive at the very mention of certain topics, and yet the people in The Final Edition don’t really give anyone much to find offensive here because there is precious little to be found on this album that one might possibly consider provocative or at the very least original.
I laughed some during Are There Any Triggers Here Tonight?, but the Final Edition’s attempt to break into the comedy album market can’t help but be a little late to the party when up-to-the-moment humorists and comedians on television and the Internet have already ripped into the same subject matter with greater candor and imagination. Still though, there’s a lot more hilarity to be found on Triggers than in an entire season of the current Saturday Night Live. The spirit of the Lampoon lives on even as the company itself has tried to snuff it out permanently in the name of greed and establishing brand recognition.