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National Lampoon Dotcom

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Comedy is a tough act on the Web. The best jokes are often delivered — author unknown — via e-mail. Spoof websites, like the Center for Shopping Cart Abuse Prevention (www.shoppingcartabuse. com), get used once and then abandoned. The games on Comedy Central (www.come dycentral.com) are witty…in their on-air promotional way. Except for The Onion (www. theonion.com), the demented newspaper that would be funny even if Al Gore read it out loud, dot-comedy is often less laughable than forgettable.

Which means that National Lampoon Dotcom (www.nation allampoon.com) has an incredible opportunity to bust online guts. If Mad was American culture’s spitballing kid in the back of class, Lampoon — which spun off as a monthly humor magazine from the Harvard Lampoon in 1970 — was the horny teenager who mugged Mrs. Snodgrass after school. And before Lampoon writers scribbled the skits performed by the original cast of Saturday Night Live or wrote the Animal House screenplay, they produced a radio hour that featured John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray, and other soon-to-be legendary comedians.

That material alone would be enough to crash several sites — and some of it is included in the Flashbacks section. But Lampoon Dotcom is out, instead, to parody the Net the way that SNL does TV. The site’s Fantasy Losers League, for example, works like other online rotisserie games, but the teams consist of famous felonious athletes, and points are earned for naming the next player to be caught with a hooker, bag of coke, or concealed weapon. The NatLamp nothing’s-sacred credo is also at play in Gunnerville High School On-Line Yearbook, a memorial created by survivors of a school massacre that blithely satirizes the causes of such tragedies (”Shooter Had Nev- er Read Catcher in the Rye; FBI at Loss for Motive”).

Tasteless? Sure. But making people laugh despite their better judgment has been the Lampoon’s trademark from the beginning, when writers like Michael O’Donoghue opened the gates of comedy hell with ”Children’s Letters to the Gestapo.” And while jarring on the written page, this type of deft humor works surprisingly well in the site’s video skits. There’s a trailer for the James Cameron movie version of the Gunnerville geek shoot-out, and an Internet crime-fighting series called Cybercops where two dweebs don VR goggles and delete all the hot teen action they can find online. These mini-movies, however, are buried under less funny, awkwardly designed pages. Dotcom has its share of clunkers, too: a spoof of the JenniCAM — gee, never seen that before — and the daily News on the March, which manages to be even worse than SNL’s Weekend Update with Colin Quinn.

The dearth of Net comedy almost guarantees some success for Lampoon Dotcom, but it didn’t leave me jonesing for the daily installment of the lame Y2K humor of Apocalyptic Al. The synergistic goal of the site’s backers, Lampoon franchise owner J2 Communications, is to syndicate these online yuks for TV and film, which means that it could be counted a success if just one bit from the site was picked up for a movie deal. But with the long-ago passing of the magazine’s relevance — and with zeitgeist Web comedy represented by the likes of The Onion and the satirical McSweeney’s — how much do you want to bet we’ll get Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Internet Vacation? C