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Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue Hardcover – July 1, 1998
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"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.
Top customer reviews
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This book marks the first time my brain kept yelling "GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!" at the author of a biography. Perrin tries too hard to make Mike's stories his own and his ego gets in the way in telling these stories. Which takes a a lot of effort because Mike had a huge ego. The author's self-righteousness gets tired by the end of the prologue and we have to stomach it for the entire book.
I don't think there are any other O'Donoghue books out there, so we're stuck with this one. It's worth reading for the subject matter, worth avoiding for the storyteller.
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.
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!
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.