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Mr. Mike : The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue The Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous Hardcover – July 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 429 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books (T); 1st edition (July 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380973308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380973309
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #704,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"I had a funny thought: What if Ed Sullivan were tortured? And when I say tortured what I mean is, what if steel needles, say six inches long, were plunged into Ed's eyes? I think it would go something like this...[several minutes of horrible screaming and thrashing]."

Now that the National Lampoon is virtually defunct, and Saturday Night Live has turned into just another late-night network cash cow, you can be excused for forgetting about Michael O'Donoghue. But back in the glory days of the 1970s, O'Donoghue gave both their distinctive edge of viciousness, death, and celebratory mayhem. Even though O'Donoghue died (prematurely) in 1994, his legacy in American comedy is still strong. Dennis Perrin has done a boon service by bringing this American original out of the shadows.

For the devoted fan of O'Donoghue--you're likely either one of those, or nothing--Mr. Mike is often more tantalizing than completely fulfilling. Though his life and career are described in welcome detail, the author's attempts at analysis are less sure. For example, Perrin lets O'Donoghue off much too easily when discussing the sinister elements of his work: Was his obsession with Nazis--one of his tried-and-true comic devices--anti-Semitic? What was his fascination with S&M, mutilation, and torture all about, and how much did the readers really connect with it? Was O'Donoghue a self-made artist in the right place at the right time, or did the culture around him create his distinctive double-dark worldview? Since O'Donoghue himself was highly intellectual and analytical regarding his feral art, one expects answers to these questions, but they are not forthcoming.

Gaps in analysis aside, fans of American humor owe Perrin big-time; for better or worse, O'Donoghue remains as unique and seminal as ever, and Mr. Mike goes an awfully long way towards ensuring that its subject doesn't fade into literary obscurity, at the very same time that the style of humor he created becomes more and more mainstream. --Michael Gerber

From Publishers Weekly

Angry comic genius Michael O'Donoghue (1940-1994) indelibly shaped National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live in their heydays. This "primer" offers an intriguing, respectful treatment by freelance journalist Perrin, who describes his subject as a "personal god to me." While Perrin suggests that a childhood bout with rheumatic fever helped O'Donoghue (born Donohue) create his alternate world, his book concentrates more on O'Donoghue's writings than on his irregular life. The author devotes unnecessary attention to ephemeral work, but his accounts of O'Donoghue's Lampoon satire (the manic home-study parody, "How to Write Good"; "Lt. Calley's Kill the Children Federation") and SNL work (the brutal "Police State"; the psycho character Mr. Mike) suggest a bite missing from most contemporary humor. In his last decade, O'Donoghue wrote unproduced screenplays and otherwise faded from view. Perrin terms him "less an influence than a trailblazer," though he sees his subject's legacy in some writers (Bruce Wagner), zine producers and even Howard Stern. While this book could use a bit more balance, it achieves the author's apparent aimAit cements the memory of a cult figure. Photos throughout.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Michael O'Donoghue's influence on contemporary comedy is analagous to the Velvet Underground's influence on alternative music. Only a hip minority appreciated O'Donoghue during his lifetime, but a lot of them went on to become stand-up comics, screenwriters, journalists, etc. Perrin does a marvelous job describing O'Donoghue's odyssey from obscurity in Rochester in the fifties to the undergound epicenter of The Evergreen Review and then the National Lampoon. In 1975, O'Donoghue won an Emmy as one of the founding writer/producers of Saturday Night Live. Through SNL, O'Donoghue unleashed a savage yet strangely lyric brand of satire on television audiences. Sadly O'Donoghue was never able to bring this remarkable talent into film despite penning several dark, but tantalizing screen projects that remain unproduced. Perrin's book is not only written with the same sharp wit and intelligence of its subject, but it is also rigorously researched. While Perrin makes a strong argument for O'Donoghue's achievements and brillance, he is not blind to his subject's mood swings and self-destructive career moves. Last but not least, the book is extremely well edited. For a change, photos and illustrations co-exist with the text not as a cheap five page insert of randomly selected pics. Ah, if only all bios were this user friendly, fun and illuminating. Perrin has made me love Mr. Mike all over again and reminded us that satire means never having to say "that's not funny, that's sick."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Reading this book reminded me why I used to watch Saturday Night Live. It sent me to the video store to search (vainly) for Michael O'Donoghue skits among the "Best Of..." compilations. I guess there are still a lot of folks who just don't get it. But those who do, will enjoy this book. And if enough folks start looking for O'Donoghue's works, maybe someone will notice. Now I'm going to go look for Phoebe Zeit-Geist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Neil The Unreel on February 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most biograhpies have a tendency to be boring. This has some pages that drag on, but with such an interesting person they can be overlooked.
Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon both owe their status in the world of humor to this man. He was not well-liked among his peers and is not someone you want to share a drink with in a bar, but that is what makes him one of the great underrated comedy writers of the 20th century.
There was little humor in his personal life, but that never stopped him from being funny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Scott McFarland on January 6, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In my younger days, I found O'Donoghue fascinating. After reading this book, I feel that I now have a good understanding of the man and of what he was doing.
Perrin covers each phase of O'Donoghue's career in depth and detail, and reveals O'Donoghue to be a performance artist working in comedy moreso than a comedian (as is, for example, Al Franken who O'Donoghue reportedly despised). This book is not a pleasant read, as O'Donoghue was devoted to offending and disturbing people. If you want to understand him, or his "art", this is the place to go.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Karl P. on April 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael O'Donoghue was one of those people that forever changed the landscape of comedy. Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin in the 70s started what became "Alt Comedy" in the 90s, I think that's pretty accurate? But Michael O'Donoghue started a brand of comedy that continues to this day. A very hard edge. A blurry line between 'hate' and 'humor'. This tradition is carried on by multiple stand up comics of today and has influenced many artists and 'fringe' players. People like Shaun Partridge, Boyd Rice and Adam Parfrey, I think can trace their humor back to Michael O'Donoghue, his influence at National Lampoon and the early Saturday Night Live. It's where cruelty, sadism, meanness and pitch black humor collide with the avante-garde and intellectualism and high art.

This book is a 'must have' for anyone serious about learning more, not only, about Michael O'Donoghue but his brand of humor in general. It's a very accurate portrayal. It's neither a hagiography nor a 'hatchet job'. It just tells the life of Michael O'Donoghue thoroughly. Warts and all. It doesn't put a shine to anything, but it's also not just a list of 'facts'. I think it helps that the book was written by a comedian?

I enjoyed the entire arc of the book. From Michael's beginnings and underground literary achievements all the way to his relative obscurity towards the end of his life. It's a shame O'D couldn't have lived to see these times, I think he would have had a blast destroying all the 'icons' of today. We need more humor and writing like his today. We may not need his wicked meanness these days (there seems plenty of that?) but we do need a good dose of his 'weirdness' and strange humor! And we need a lot of skewering of people in 'high places', something Michael O'D did really well! Viva la O'D!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mike Stone on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I first encountered O'Donoghue's work on the back page of SPIN Magazine (being too young to see his Saturday Night Live work live, or hear his National Lampoon work). His short pieces were caustic and bleak, black as night but as funny as death. They had me alarmed, intrigued, and in fits of hilarious tears. And then he died.
"So who was Michael O'Donoghue," I asked myself. It was not till several years later, when I found his devilish visage staring at me from the cover of this book (brandishing a butcher's knife, no less). I wanted to learn about Mr. Mike quite badly, so I bought the book. I'll make a strange comparison here. Please hear me out. The "character" of Michael O'Donoghue that emerges from Perrin's biography reminds me a lot of the "character" of John Bonham who emerges from the Led Zeppelin bio 'Hammer of the Gods'. Both are brilliant artistic geniuses (once again excuse the hyperbole... justified as it may be) who, at the drop of a hat, turn into beasts akin to the Incredible Hulk in a particularly foul mood. It says something about the need for extremity in the artistic mind. O'Donoghue is the little, balding, bespectacled shnook, who, if tangled with, will uncoil his cobra-like wit and gnash your eyes out. He is quite an intriguing character.
Perrin does a fine job recounting the history of this character, from birth to death. He also does well to include transcriptions (and sometimes reprints) of some of O'Donoghue's more seminal works. His work for the Evergreen Review is here, best represented by 'Phoebe Zeit-Geist', which I don't entirely enjoy but can still marvel at its audacity and prodigiousness. It's like something R. Crumb would do after being severely tortured by a group of radical feminists.
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