EXCLUSIVE: Kevin Frakes and Raj B. Singh have tapped Evan Shapiro to become president of National Lampoon. Frakes and Singh, who bought the brand two years ago, have also acquired Shapiro’s eshapTV and will fold the comedy projects he has been developing into the National Lampoon brand.
PalmStar media spent $12 million in 2017 to acquire all the assets of the brand, including the National Lampoon trademark and a library of print, audio and movie content generated over 50 years. One part of Shapiro’s emergence here is a partnership with alt-comedy podcast network Forever Dog, that will carry reboots of the National Lampoon Radio Hour that launched the likes of Bill Murray and Gilda Radner. They are also republishing online pages from the original National Lampoon magazine, and will reboot as a stage and TV show Lemmings, which launched Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, John Belushi and others.
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He’s an Emmy and Peabody Award winner, who originally converted the Independent Film Channel into comedy network IFC. He subsequently started a TV division for Participant and then became head of NBCUniversal’s streaming service before exiting in 2017.
He has spent the past two years operating independently as a producer under his eshapTV banner. Shapiro has been the exec producer of more than 150 series, specials and documentaries including Portlandia, Take My Wife, Wyatt Cenac’s Night Train, Dan Harmon’s Harmonquest, Laurie Kilmartin’s 45 Jokes About My Dead Dad, Janeane Garofalo’s If I May, Jena Friedman’s American C*nt, the Kirby Dick-directed docu on the movie ratings board This Film Is Not Yet Rated, and Paul Reiser’s There’s Johnny. At eshapTV, his most recent release, the stand-up special Funny Women Of A Certain Age premiered in March on Showtime, featuring female comedians over 40.
While Palmstar has been lining up features to ignite the Lampoon brand on the movie side, Shapiro’s experience on multiple platforms gives them the chance to reignite the rebel comedy spirit of the original brand that launched the aforementioned comedy legends and John Hughes, Christopher Guest, and Harold Ramis. Comedy has more currency now — and there is a lot more competition for it than in Lampoon’s heyday, including Netflix, The Onion, Funnyordie.com among them — but Frakes, Singh and Shapiro see an opportunity, especially with younger audiences, to tie a once great brand into emerging diverse talent, with platforms including audio and podcasts. There is an opportunity to build a brand and monetize beyond traditional TV and films, which they intend to make as well.
Once signifying comedy’s brightest minds, the National Lampoon had long been mismanaged with bad content, lawsuits, debt, stock that became nearly worthless and two prison sentences for company higher-ups. That allowed PalmStar and its investors to acquire the brand for a bargain, and they felt the missteps of the past aren’t a concern to consumers, not as much as a fondness for the brand ,from movies like Animal House and the Vacation movies. They’ve been deliberate before rolling out. They all acknowledge this is a daunting task, reconnecting into the best things associated with an iconic brand in a digital age. Getting Shapiro is a major step, they said.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with enormously talented and influential comedy minds,” said Shapiro. “But the chance to take up the mantel of The National Lampoon and use it as a megaphone for the next wave of young and diverse comedic talent, is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Said Singh: “We’ve been precious with the label since we acquired it. Evan rounds out the leadership we deemed necessary to make the greatest impact, considering how important talent incubation is to us. Pair that with the explosion of media formats, and you have the ingredients for telling stories for everyone: blurring convention and genre, with broad and niche appeal. What’s not to like?”
Said Frakes: “We’re all very excited to acquire Evan’s slate and bring him into our family. I’m personally most excited about the content we have been developing together for the last few months that we will be announcing shortly,” said Frakes.
The company will continue to develop a slate of 40+ projects hatched by Shapiro. Among them, Shapiro brings four series in partnership with Margaret Cho’s production company, Animal Family, including the previously announced series from Katie Malia Almost Asian; there is also Little LA, a series focused on a real-life neighborhood in Mexico City inhabited by repatriated dreamers who don’t know much about Mexico, written by Alexandra Rivera (Bob the Drag Queen: Suspiciously Large Woman) and co-produced by Mexican production partners Veta Films/Ronin; and Let’s Go Atsuko!, which they describe as a ‘woke Japanese Game Show’ created by comedian Atsuko Okatsuka; and Cracking The Girl Code, the real life story of Andy Gonzales and Sophie Hauser, two young women coders who met at Girls Who Code boot camp and created a viral hit video game called Tampon Run.
“The idea of being able to bring National Lampoon brands like Radio Hour and Lemmings forward and marry it with the discovery of new voices and new points of view is I think incredibly fitting,” Shapiro said. “Beyond that, now more than ever, comedy is a lifestyle. Comedy was an interesting element of popular culture in the ’70s when National Lampoon was launched and frankly, a lot of of the great minds of comedy were brought up and weaned on Lampoon ethos. In the magazine, you talk about John Hughes and Larry David, and Harold Ramis. Now, people who love comedy, which is the vast majority of the country, they listen to three or four comedy podcasts a week. They go see live comedy. They watch it on TV. The ability to build a new age studio around that ethos and distribute to all players, there couldn’t be a better time.”
Shapiro is tapping into the Lampoon brand right away, developing a new comedy anthology series based on the more than 4,000 short stories from the original National Lampoon Magazine. Among the contributors are John Hughes, PJ O’Rourke, Michael O’Donoghue, and Anne Beatts. The project is being done in collaboration with Artists First and Peter Principato, who will also be exec producer.
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