You're probably familiar with the stars of Caddyshack and Animal House, but less so with the mastermind of those films, Doug Kenney. Now, though, he's the subject of a new Netflix film called A Futile and Stupid Gesture. The movie depicts Kenney’s wild career in comedy, which began in the '70s when he founded National Lampoon the magazine. The real Doug Kenney of A Futile and Stupid Gesture didn't live a life filled with laughs and gags as you might expect, though. Many aspects of his life seem fit for a drama, despite what a huge role comedy played for him.
The Netflix movie, which comes out Jan. 26, sticks to humor in portraying the legendary writer, and it even plays a somewhat twisted joke on the audience by presenting Kenney "as he is now," with Martin Mull playing an imagined current, older Kenney, who looks back at his life as if for a documentary. The real man, however, tragically passed away in 1980, the same year that Caddyshack came out.
In the film's trailer, Mull as Kenney riffs, "These actors don't look exactly like the real people, but come on, you think that I looked like Will Forte when I was 27? You think Will Forte is 27?" truth is, Will Forte actually bears a striking resemblance to the real Kenney. Take a look at some pictures to compare them.
The Real Doug Kenney:
Will Forte As Doug Kenney:
Maybe it's just the fact that they have the same hat, but as far as actors' portrayals of real-life people go, Forte's rendition of Kenney seems spot on. Since Kenney worked with so many real-life comedic legends, like John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray, A Futile and Stupid Gesture includes many familiar faces. Or at least friends of them pretending to be them. For example, Joel McHale stars in the Netflix film as his real-life costar from Community, Chevy Chase.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, director David Wain explained that he had hesitations about casting McHale in the role. "I was upfront with Joel: ‘You don’t remind me of Chevy Chase in any way,'" Wain told EW. "Then he came on set and he channeled Chevy’s essence in a way that was just amazing. He would walk in the room and just the way he stood and his eyes—that’s the Chevy Chase that I know."
A Futile and Stupid Gesture captures the rambunctious spirit of Kenney and his colleagues as Harvard grads creating a magazine that publishes a mixture of satire and lewd jokes. Sadly, the person who friends remember as a "genius," Kenney, died at just 33 after he fell off a cliff in Hawaii. As Kenney's friend Robert Sam Ansonfrom wrote in an article titled "The Life and Death of a Comic Genius" for Esquire, Kenney turned to drugs and alcohol following the hard-earned success of National Lampoon. Despite the fact that National Lampoon and Kenney's two films had helped launch the career of über-successful comedians, Kenney's life worsened over time.
"He became positively manic, pouring out the work. He could not seem to sit still. He seemed terrified to be alone," Ansonfrom said. Following Kenney's death, the writer's friends speculated that the fall which police ruled accidental may have been intended by their friend. According to The Daily Beast, Kenney's Animal House co-writer Harold Ramis said, "Doug probably fell while he was looking for a place to jump."
A Futile and Stupid Gesture focuses on the exciting time in Kenney's life when he had incredible early success while also managing to get himself into trouble. The magazine, as the Netflix movie's trailer suggests, published controversial images which pushed the limits of satire and welcomed fierce backlash. In the 1970s, at the time of the sexual revolution, National Lampoon took advantage of the moment and published explicit and crude humor. Kenney himself wrote about taboo subjects including a satirical high school dating piece called "First Blowjob."
Despite Kenney's tragic and early death, the writer played an integral role in shaping various aspects of the comedy world that people still enjoy today. The Netflix movie about his life offers an exciting peek into a time when Kenney was a true rebel, and you'll probably get a kick out of all of the hijinks the characters in the movie get into.