Going Too Far (Tony Hendra) - Doubleday - 1987 - 480 pages

Mr. Hendra is an excellent writer but he sometimes seems to be consumed by his exhaustive analyses.  The book is supposed to be a chronicle of the rise of "Boomer humor" from the 1950s and into the 1980s.  However, it seems to be two books in one.  The first book through page 265 follows humor from Mort Sahl to Robert Crumb.  The second book and the final 200 pages gets stuck on the inner workings of National Lampoon and the offshoots of the Lampoon gang including his over-reaching attack on television in general and Saturday Night Live in particular.  The first book almost ignores Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) and Mad giving that landmark publication just five pages and the occasional brief mention throughout.  In fact, Hendra shows his ignorance of the Mad contribution to Boomer humor on page 84 where he identifies Will Eisner (1917-2005) as "Harvey Kurtzman's longtime collaborator."  As much as Kurtzman and others may have appreciated Eisner's work, Kurtzman's collaborator was the other Will (Elder) (1921-2008) who followed him from Mad to Trump to Humbug to Help! and to Playboy.  Proof of this neglect is also on the back of the dust cover that fails to mention Kurtzman but lists the fictional "Alfred E. Neuman," a name that never appears in the 400+ page text.

The value of this book lies with its account of the founding and growth of National Lampoon, including the strange personalities of Henry Beard and Doug Kenney (1946-1980) who made it happen.  An inordinate amount of ink is devoted to Hendra's feud with the unstable Michael O'Donoghue (1940-1994) who was noted for his extremely dark humor and his unforgiving hatred for anyone who made time with one his lady friends.  Hendra is quick to absolve himself for his own adulterous ways and his blatant use of illegal drugs.  However flawed this book may be, Hendra's inside knowledge of National Lampoon and his extensive research make it worth reading.  [JAM 5/12/2011]