In August 1980 the broken body of 33-year-old Doug Kenney was found at the bottom of a Hawaiian cliff. In A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever (Chicago Review Press), Evanston-based writer Josh Karp tracks the up-and-down path that led Kenney, a smart, good-looking blond from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who went to Harvard and then cofounded the satiric magazine National Lampoon, to the edge of that cliff. The book is as much a bio of National Lampoon itself as it is of Kenney, documenting the rise and demise of the magazine as well: its hiccupping beginnings, the interoffice affairs and jealousies, the alcohol-and-drug-fueled meetings, the myriad comedic talents that passed through its doors. Kenney, insecure but charming and lovable by all accounts, eventually acquired fame, fortune, and a staggering coke habit in Hollywood while a screenwriter for Animal House (in which he also played the nerdy “Stork”) and Caddyshack. But the small-town kid from Chagrin Falls, the eternal outsider among his privileged Harvard mates, never felt fulfilled–what he really wanted was to be the next Evelyn Waugh. Was his death an accident or a suicide? No one knows for sure, but in typical morbid fashion the joke going around the National Lampoon offices was that Kenney accidentally fell while looking for a good place to jump. Tue 9/12, 7 PM, Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Johnny Knight.