Arising from a not-particularly-all-that-hilarious and obscure extracurricular publication at Harvard University, National Lampoon would become the first name in American satire in the 1970s, quickly becoming the first true comedic empire and brand. Their outrageous, sexy, boundary pushing and blatantly offensive publication became revered and reviled, but incredibly profitable, launching the careers of mercurial writer Michael O’Donoghue, John Hughes, Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Riess, and a sizeable chunk of the first cast of Saturday Night Live. Under the unlikely, somewhat mismatched partnership of head writers and editors Doug Kenney and Henry Beary, the parodical and satirical magazine blossomed out into radio, music, television, and movies during their booze and drug soaked years before the bottom would eventually fall out.

Douglas Tirola’s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead – which takes its title from Rick Meyerowitz’s published oral history of the magazine – manages to be only a skin deep look at what made National Lampoon a driving force in American counterculture literature. There are plenty of great interviews with people that were there during the boom period, but Tirola has a hard time picking and choosing what he wants to focus on, especially in the film’s final third (where the magazine’s eventual decline gets shrugged off and barely noted) and when talking about how the Lampoon expressly influenced other comics (despite interviews with notable celebrity fans like Judd Apatow and Billy Bob Thornton).

The film is at its best when things are delivered in the most anecdotal way possible, giving the proceedings the feeling of being transported back to cocaine dusted writers rooms while staying true to Lampoon’s anarchic spirit. But that doesn’t necessarily make for a strong documentary, and Tirola’s almost staunch refusal to be critical of some of Lampoon’s more controversial aspects (especially with regard to racism and sexism) sours things. Instead of being a real history, it’s a disappointingly laudatory affair that’s simply going through the motions.