National Lampoon has called a cop to recapture its stolen feature momentum.
The humor company tapped “Law & Order: SVU” star and standup comic Richard Belzer to spearhead two comic features that aspire to restore the edgy comic connotation Lampoon once lent to films like “Animal House” and “Vacation.”
The two pics are: “This is America,” a sketch comedy movie, and the Jim Valalee-scripted “The Lightning Club,” best described as “Animal House” set in heaven. Both will be shopped for studio coin by Belzer and Panacea CEO Eric Gardner, both of whom will produce with Lampoon majority owner Dan Laiken.
While Belzer is now mostly known for his TV detective work on the series “Homicide” and “SVU,” he began his career in comedy, working at the National Lampoon Radio Hour. He was brought in by Laiken to relaunch the radio program for the fall, and that led to the movie deal.
“I worked on the radio show over 30 years ago, when I was 9, alongside John Belushi, Billy Murray, Gilda Radner, all of that gang,” Belzer said. “Lampoon is a franchise that has languished but still has huge recognition for irreverent counterculture humor, something that is sorely lacking in today’s entertainment. Besides radio and movies, Lampoon can be a brand umbrella for all kind of creative outlets. I plan to tap a lot of writers and comedians who work on other things but can put in some time to start the kind of comedy community we once took for granted.”
Belzer is putting together a six-scribe team for “This is America,” an edgy sketch comedy whose inspiration is “The Groove Tube.” That wasn’t a Lampoon-branded comedy, but it was a film that featured a strong dose of Belzer.
“I played everything from a black hooker to a drug dealer and a newscaster,” Belzer said. “The new film will have film montages, commercial parodies, there are all kinds of ways to take on American pop culture. It’s almost a civic duty to be satirical and a bit nasty and funny.”
“The Lightning Club” has a premise that lends comparison to “Animal House,” Belzer said.
“One has to live an exemplary life to be admitted to heaven, but anyone who gets struck by lightning gets automatic admission,” Belzer said. “Admittance doesn’t mean acceptance, and these miscreants are sequestered in one house in this idyllic neighborhood. Just like the frat house.”
Laiken said feature branding is a major priority for Lampoon. Aside from the Belzer duo, Laiken is developing low-budget hip-hop comedies, along with the pic “National Lampoon’s Back to College.” He said he’s relying on Belzer and Gardner to get the Lampoon back into bigger-budget mainstream fare.
“Richard had been heavily involved with the Lampoon in the ’70s and we wanted him back,” Laiken said.