For morbid kicks, it’s hard to beat the acknowledgments of the bizarre oddity Fat, Drunk, & Stupid: The Inside Story Behind The Making Of Animal House. Animal House producer Matty Simmons is almost breathtaking in his lack of insight about the film, and one clue as to why comes early on, when he thanks his oldest daughter for spending “long hours and days and months trying to translate her old man’s memories into something comprehensible. Since I write with pen and tape recorder, I’m sure there were times when she doubted that English is my first and only language.” That sounds dire—and the pile-up of clichés, inanities, and barely digested thought in the pages that follow more than live up to those lines’ promise.
Simmons was the publisher of National Lampoon, the humor magazine under whose auspices Animal House came to fruition—meaning he was one of the people working there whose job wasn’t to be funny. Nevertheless, Fat, Drunk, & Stupid could just as easily be a parody of a breezy, blowsy, I-was-there cash-in. There’s a paint-by-numbers feel to nearly everything here, from Simmons’ rundown of the film’s characters (“There’s Otter: scoundrel, womanizer, and leader. Boone, lover of jazz, beer, and his girl Katy—not necessarily in that order”), to his evaluations of its performances (“Jamie Widdoes as Hoover, the Delta president, was on target,” followed shortly by, “James Daughton’s portrayal of Omega president Greg Marmalard was utterly on target”). There are interviews with several of the film’s participants—actors Karen Allen and Tim Matheson, director John Landis—but those are flabby as well, too often winding around to their points rather than hitting them straight on, then moving forward.
The lack of rigor is easy enough to dismiss when someone’s just talking into a tape recorder. On the page, it’s another matter. Sometimes it’s simply inexplicable, as when Simmons, discussing the later Lampoon TV-movie Christmas Vacation 2, casually mentions, “There were also many problems with [Randy] Quaid’s wife on the set, but that story’s been told and retold.” Not here it hasn’t; the point of a book like this one is to answer questions, not to send readers off to Wikipedia to find out what the hell the author is talking about. Blame Simmons or blame his daughter, but blame someone.