March was supposed to be an enormous month for National Lampoon.
The content material manufacturing firm that frolicked an “Under New Management” signal final 12 months had scheduled a collection of 50th anniversary celebrations this 12 months designed to spur its revival. The plan was to use podcasts and reside occasions to introduce a brand new technology of subversive comedians affiliated with the model identify that helped launch the careers of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and others.
One by one, the comeback occasions fastidiously plotted by veteran producer and govt Evan Shapiro have been canceled. National Lampoon had deliberate to make a splash on the SXSW pageant with a collection of reside occasions. A re-imagined model of National Lampoon’s Off Broadway present “Lemmings” was set for showcase performances on the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub venue on March 14-15. But none of that got here to go as the specter of the coronavirus pandemic got here into focus. And extra plans for occasions on the West Coast this month had to be tabled.
“This just felt like a ton of coughing bricks falling on our head,” Shapiro informed Variety. But Shapiro rapidly realized that it was time to “put our big boy pants on” and discover different methods to tubthump the model.
“We are going to mobilize into this void and try to take advantage of all the relationships we have with the talent that we’ve aligned ourselves with,” Shapiro mentioned.
Like so many different content material producers, National Lampoon has made a fast pivot to on-line efforts within the hopes of retaining model identify within the ether as home-bound Americans seek for leisure. The sudden lack of earnings is acute for comedians who rely on membership dates and excursions for his or her livelihoods.
National Lampoon is now internet hosting “National Lampoon: Quarantine Live!” reside stream showcases by way of YouTube and different platforms on Tuesday and Friday nights, beginning at 9 p.m. ET. The presentation comes full with pitches from host Harrison Greenbaum for viewers to tip particular person comics by way of Venmo.
National Lampoon additionally made the choice on Monday to launch the pilot for potential single-camera comedy “Max Riddle” on YouTube. The Max Riddle character has had some publicity by way of social media submit from creators Matt Yeager and Jeff Skowron. Riddle, performed by Skowron, is a forty-something man on the spectrum who loses his job as a movie show ticket-taker to a robotic within the opening moments of the pilot, directed by Yeager. It’s a mix of darkish and lightweight comedy set in a struggling Rust Belt city.
The pilot was produced on spec a number of years in the past and was an official choice of the 2017 New York Television Festival. Shapiro has shepherded the venture via growth at an unnamed streaming outlet. He remains to be decided to get it arrange as a TV series, however for now he’s hoping to generate advance buzz. Given the sudden change within the nationwide temper, Shapiro sees Riddle as a hero for determined instances. The cast additionally options Mary Birdsong (“Reno 911”) and Brandon J. Dirden (“The Americans”). Shapiro, Yeager and Skowron govt produced the pilot — on a four-figure funds — with Josey Roberts as producer.
“The Rust Belt is the place in America that time forgot,” Shapiro mentioned. Yeager and Skowron “have such a good handle on that part of the world.” Skowron’s efficiency is knowledgeable by his personal experiences with OCD, he added.
National Lampoon has additionally had some traction with one other rapidly hatched concept for a short-form collection dubbed “The Bright Side.” The one-minute episodes characteristic comic Michael Palascak with un-ironic takes on the optimistic features of the sudden modifications introduced by the pandemic.
National Lampoon’s early focus on podcasts as incubators for movie and TV concepts has confirmed prophetic. The firm has a partnership with Spotify for the “National Lampoon Radio Hour” weekly podcast, which bowed Dec. 19.
“The idea is to build traffic and engagement and sell sponsorship (into ‘Radio Hour’),” Shapiro mentioned. “We are still open for business. But we are shifting our business models to meet the needs of the current environment. We can’t write big checks but we are out there every day trying to find a way for comics to get paid.”
(Pictured: “Max Riddle”)