National Lampoon alumnus Michael O’Donoghue’s “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video”: Not ready for prime time!

By on September 25, 2015

The 1979 feature-length film Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video — correctly billed at the time as “the TV show that can’t be shown on TV” — was originally produced on videotape as an NBC television special that would have aired in place of “Saturday Night Live” during one of the show’s live breaks, but due to the fact that National Lampoon alumnus Michael O’Donoghue refused to make changes in its “inappropriate” and offensive content, network suits rejected it, and Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video never aired on NBC. Talk about not ready for prime time!

Today, Friday, September 25th, Douglas Tirola’s new documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon is finally being released by Magnolia Pictures in limited theaters around the country, so all this week Night Flight have been paying tribute to the influence of National Lampoon, and for our last post in our Lampoon series, we’re going to take a look at Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, which was conceived and directed by “Saturday Night Live”‘s head writer and featured player Michael O’Donoghue (he’s one of Night Flight’s favorites we’re sure you know by now).

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O’Donoghue’s film was a spoof of the controversial 1962 documentary Mondo Cane, a cult film by Gualtiero Jacopetti, which showed people doing odd stunts from around the world (including Nouveau Realiste Yves Klein painting in blue with nude women as his “brushes” on a giant canvas in one of his “Anthropometries” works.). The original film had a moralistic voice-over narration which was humorous on its own and ripe for parody by American humor sickos like O’Donoghue.

If you’ve seen Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video already — we should note that it was written by O’Donoghue, Mitch Glazer, Dirk Wittenborn, and Emily Prager — then you know the film is largely plotless (O’Donoghue once referred to it as “that soufflé of trash”), and, honestly, most of it not any more inappropriate compared to some of the absolute dreck you’ll find today on the NBC network (have you seen any of their attempts at sitcoms lately? Yuck).

Fred Silverman — then NBC’s president, and probably worried at the time that his network were struggling in the ratings and he didn’t need any more reasons for their viewers to turn the channel — is the one that is said to have rejected the Mondo film. O’Donoghue had also turned it in four months later than agreed upon, and $100,000 over its $275,000 budget.

According to in the TV column of the Washington Post, NBC Vice President Herminio Traviesas was quoted as vowing that Mondo Video will only hit the air “over my dead body.” A network spokesman later denies that Traviesas ever said such a thing, issuing the following statement: “NBC has no air date at this time to present Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. The show has not been given an air date due to broadcast standards problems.”

Let’s take a look at what they rejected, then, shall we?

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Like any TV programming, Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video has a theme song — O’Donoghue and writer Emily Prager take the instrumental song “Telstar” by Joe Meek and add lyrics to it, creating “The Haunting Theme Song,” sung by Sinatra wannabe Julius La Rosa, who had sung the vocal version of the song “More,” which was the theme song of Mondo Cane. The song is sung in English during the opening credits, and in nonsense made-up Italian over the closing credits. ( (The logo for Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video also copies the original Mondo Cane documentary logo.)

O’Donoghue’s film really nothing more than a series of vignettes linked together by interstitial pieces featuring our host discussing how upsetting and odd the sequences are. He appears here as his sinister, sunglassed persona “Mr. Mike,” as he’d often appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” sometimes telling one of his “Least Loved Bedtime Stories” (in which he reduced the hippity-hoppity antics of B’rer Rabbit to “random acts of meaningless violence.”)

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O’Donoghue says “Good evening. I’m Mr. Mike, inviting you to come with me into a world where the bizarre is commonplace and the commonplace bizarre. It is an odyssey of aggressive weirdness, whatever raw, savage acts man’s hellish brain can conceive, our cameras are there, scouring the globe, seeking out the cheap thrills, the pointless perversities, the shabby secrets, the grotesque, the pathethic….” O’Donoghue then introduces some of the individual pieces via voice-over, and some open with no introduction, which is how Mondo Cane is also arranged.

Because of O’Donoghue’s connection to “Saturday Night Live,” not to mention his previous connection to National Lampoon, he was able to get several of the show’s cast members to participate, and so we get to see Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Bill Murray, Don Novello and Gilda Radner.

Carrie Fisher, Margot Kidder and Teri Garr — who had all previously hosted SNL, or would go on to host later — make cameo appearances in the film.

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Others who appear in the film include musicians Sid Vicious, Paul Shaffer, and the lovely Deborah Harry, appearing in a funny piece called “American Gals Love Creeps,” a sequence in which heavily made-up vamps like Harry, Radner,  Kidder, Laraine Newman and others whisper their uncontrollable affection for “guys who miss the toilet seat,” “men who smell their fingers,” “fellows who drink too much and can’t get it up” and “guys who sneeze in their hands and wipe it on their pants,” the sultry testimony culminating in the admission: “When I reach down and feel a firm colostomy bag, I know I’m with a real man.”

Also appearing in this skit was Judy Jacklin, married to John Belushi from New Year’s Eve 1976 until Belushi’s death on March 5, 1982. There’s also performances by Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band (“Boogie ‘Til You Puke”), and Klaus Nomi.

Dan Aykroyd is probably the film’s “star,” if that’s the best way to put it. In one sequence, “Celebrity Deformities,” we see Aykroyd displaying his actual webbed toes which he prodded with a Phillips head screwdriver to prove the authenticity of his claim: “I’m an actual genetic mutant.”

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Aykroyd was born with syndactyly (webbed toes), and he was also born with heterochromia (a condition of having two differently colored eyes; his right eye is green and his left eye is brown). Right there you’ve got back whatever you payed for your price of admission to this freak show.

Aykroyd also appears in the skit about the church that worships Jack Lord as the one true god.

There’s also a sequence about a French restaurant that prides itself on how poorly it treats American patrons. There’s a skit about a Cat Swimming School in Amsterdam, an academy for feline fitness, where the instructor is showing cats how to swim by throwing them in a swimming pool (Donoghue’s own cats were the academy’s star pupils).

There’s one about Dayak Indians (which is probably the film’s best attempt at capturing the freakedoutedness of Mondo Cane):

There’s a non-sequitur dream sequence, which is nothing more than a series of surreal film pieces bracketed by large light-up signs reading “Dream Sequence” and “End Dream Sequence” that track towards and away from the camera. One of these is merely performance footage of Klaus Nomi, while another features home movie footage shot by Emily Prager intercut with stop-motion animation.

There’s also that famous absurdist sequence with performance artist Robert Delford Brown as “Jo Jo, The Human Hot Plate,” dressed only in a pair of boxer shorts, while holding canned spaghetti in his cupped hands.

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There are many short art pieces, in fact, pretending to be short film segments, like the vintage curiosity “Thomas Alva Edison’s Elephant Electrocution,” “Christmas on Other Planets,” and “Nazi Oven Mitts.”

Then, a triptych of sequences that chronicle attempts to obtain the classified footage about a top secret government weapons project, “Laserbra 2000.” National Lampoon writer Brian McConnachie appears in the footage as a scientist.

There are short films made by other directors: “Cleavage” by Mitchell Kriegman shows a closeup of a hand working its way out from (what is implied to be) between a large pair of breasts, feeling around gently, realizing where it was, and working its way back in. Andy Aaron and Ernie Fosselius’s “Crowd Scene Take One” parodies a film director giving background actors instructions for a disaster movie scene. And, then there’s a 1928 peep show entitled “Uncle Sy and the Sirens” — an anonymously-directed silent-era “nudie-cutie short “found” by SNL alumnus Tom Schiller.

Famously, there’s also a performance by soon-to-be-dead Sex Pistol Sid Vicious doing “My Way,” excerpted from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, which had not yet been released in America at the time. This was quite a shock at the time, to see Sid, a Pistol who wasn’t a lead singer (and not much of a bassist either) taking on the Sinatra classic. It was about as irreverent as anything you’d have seen on network TV at the time, had it actually aired so you could see it on network TV.

(When Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video was released on home video by Mike Nesmith’s Pacific Arts company in the 1980s, the audio was muted before Vicious begins singing. A crawl appears onscreen explaining that the songwriter Paul Anka, who wrote the song, wouldn’t permit audio of the performance to be included on the tape: “It wasn’t a case of money,” the crawl explains, “They wouldn’t even discuss it.” The sound returns when the performance switches to a heavy punk rock guitar riff, and Sid pulling out a gun, firing (presumably blanks) into the audience, flipping them the bird, and walking off.)

After NBC pulled the plug on O’Donoghue’s film (even after Lorne Michaels tried to get a slightly toned-down version past the censors, to no avail), the rights were picked up by independent studio New Line Cinema, who had distributed John Waters’s films (so they were used to cult material). They converted the videotape master over to 35 mm film for the film’s theatrical release, before the home video made its way out into the world through the Pacific Arts label, which is how we first saw it.

To pad the 75-minute program to feature length, filmmaker Walter Williams created a special “Mr. Bill Show” episode (then popular on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”), combining footage from his past Mr. Bill shorts from SNL with new wraparound scenes, to present at the head of the film as a short subject. Co-writer Mitchell Glazer later revealed (in the Shout Factory DVD’s audio commentary) that many other scenes were added to pad the film’s run-time to the required 90 minutes for theatrical releases.

The film would eventually be seen on television, albeit on pay cable and syndication, with several cuts, such as those aforementioned “Dream Sequences.”

In January 2009, Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video was released on DVD by Shout! Factory. Like the VHS tape release, the DVD and video tape releases mute the infamous “My Way” segment, which is sorta odd, since the muted audio and explanatory crawl are carried over on the 2009 Shout! Factory release, despite the fact that the Sid Vicious version of the song can be seen and heard, in its entirety, in the DVD release of The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, also released by Shout! Factory.

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The DVD release also removed Mr. Mike’s lead-in to the “Church of the Jack Lord” segment due to the inability of Shout! Factory to get the rights to use the “Hawaii Five-O” theme song.

As for Michael O’Donoghue — who is now remembered by his former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues as a “certified nut case,” “an unbelievable, hilarious, sick bastard,” and “a true comic genius who will someday surpass Mel Brooks and Woody Allen” — he had contributed briefly to the now-defunct Evergreen Review before publishing plays and writing lurid comic strip parodies and eventually joining the staff of the National Lampoon as one of the original Lampoon editors when the humor magazine put out its first issue, in April 1970.

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At the Lampoon, he wrote more parodies, with titles like “Tarzan of the Cows” and “Underwear for the Deaf.” We posted this biting satire of the Beatles’s (“Magical Misery Tour“) yesterday. (Be sure also to check out Night Flight contributor Michael Dare’s lone contribution to National Lampoon, from 1991).

When National Lampoon branched out into radio, records and books, O’Donoghue helped write the “National Lampoon Radio Hour,” co-created (with Tony Hendra, one-time Lampoon editor who was involved in Disco Beaver from Outer Space, which we told you about here) the famous Radio Dinner album, and he compiled the Encyclopedia of Humor.

(O’Donoghue and his co-worker, editor Anne Beatts, who became a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” were an item near the end of their Lampoon days — both left in 1974 after an argument with Twenty First Century Communications chairman-publisher Matty Simmons).

It was Woody Allen, by the way, who asked O’Donoghue to appear in his film Manhattan, in a big cocktail-party scene in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art. He makes the most of what turns out to be very little screen-time as Diane Keaton’s old boyfriend Dennis, described by O’Donoghue as “this asshole film director that Woody destroys to get her.” O’Donoghue joked about his cameo appearance in a Rolling Stone article in 1979 saying that he played a “macho lead and — get this — I’m the male sex symbol.” O’Donoghue basically gets to tell Woody’s character (Isaac) about the film he’s about to direct, from his own script.

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Dennis: “The premise is this guy screws so great…”
Isaac: “Screws so great?”
Dennis: [Nodding coldly] “… Screws so great that when he brings a woman to orgasm she’s so fulfilled that she dies, right? Now, this one [indicating Keaton’s character Mary, his ex] finds this hostile.”
Mary: [To the world] “Hostile? God, it’s worse than hostile. It’s aggressive-homicidal!”
Isaac: “She dies?”
Mary: “You’ll have to forgive Dennis. He’s Harvard direct to Beverly Hills. It’s Theodor Reik with a touch of Charles Manson.”

You’ll note that “Harvard direct to Beverly Hills” somewhat also charts the same path that National Lampoon writer and editor Doug Kenney had just taken at the time, which we told you about earlier this week, here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our look back at National Lampoon this week!

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Marc Edward Heuck

    A couple years ago CineFamily in Los Angeles screened a rare 35mm print of MONDO VIDEO, and indeed, New Line did a direct transfer of the video master to film to the extent that “Commercial Break #1″ markers were still included in the film print! The print also included the full audio for Sid Vicious’ “My Way” performance.

    My hypothesis as to why Shout did not restore the audio despite having released THE GREAT ROCK’N’ROLL SWINDLE on DVD was, much like the omission of Mr. Mike’s “Church of the Jack Lord” lead-in, they did not want to spend the money reclearing it, as it likely would have cost more than they expected to make in sales of the disc. And probably fans who saw the old VHS fondly remembered that disclaimer crawl anyway.