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The Man Behind “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”

By Brittany Zendejas

In the biopic movie based on the book of the same name,  Netflix’s “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”  follows the tumultuous life of comedian Doug Kenney. Featuring a star worthy line-up of well-known actors such as Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Joel McHale  and plenty more, the film delivers a satirical take on the highs and lows of Doug Kenney’s career.  

Running at an hour and 41 minutes, director David Wain’s film chronicles the moments that were most pivotal in Doug’s life. In a twist from most biopics, Martin Mull plays a fictional, present-day Doug, narrating along certain events and offering some comedic flare of his own. Meanwhile, Will Forte plays Kenney from beginning to end and manages to capture the same humor that helped launch Kenney’s career, often inappropriate and ironic. A comedian himself, Forte is able to nail the classic Doug Kenney one-liners with ease but also remind the viewer that he isn’t just a comedian but a person struggling in his own right.  Domhnall Gleeson changes his frequent style of acting from drama to comedy, and he shines as Henry Beard. The broody elegance of Beard offsets the quirky small town boy, Kenney. Where Kenney is the talent, Beard is the glue that keeps everything together. The best moments in this film come when Kenney and Beard are engaging in soft banter or holding the other accountable for actions deemed questionable.

After graduating from Harvard (yes he was an Ivy League man), Kenney, along with Beard, take a leap of faith in the turbulent ‘70s and dare to start something never done before: a comedy magazine. Taking a name from their alma mater’s school publication The Harvard Lampoon, together they started the National Lampoon, which has come to be one of the more iconic and very outrageous comedy magazines to date. With the help of Beard’s skills and Kenney’s persistence, they landed a deal to publish the magazine Kenney had dreamt of. Soon enough, Kenney and Beard had an entire team of like-minded edgy comedians working with them and expanding their creative forces.

In the ‘70s, criticism of politics, sex and religion was barely at the cusp of what it is now. There had never been an idea like the National Lampoon, especially one that succeeded in taking on such heavy topics in a very satirical way. Though initially considered a dead end, Kenney and Beard managed to gather several fellow comedians like Chevy Chase and rallied them together to make a successful magazine.

However, with success comes hardships and that is where the crux of this movie takes off. Doug embarks on his own mission while struggling with addiction, as cocaine was the fad of the era. Dealing with his own inner demons while still trying to stay on top of his comedy career, we see Doug constantly trying to push the envelope by coming up with the next funny movie or sketch. Throughout the film,  viewers get a clear idea of who Doug Kenney is and why telling his story on the screen is important. He brought to life a new generation of comedians and introduced a new approach to comedy by pushing the limits to get a laugh. The story of Doug Kenney is full of laughs, smiles and even some tears, but it is worth the watch. So sit back and watch this crazy piece of comedy history unfold right before your eyes.