Just make it 'redeemably funny' 'Animal House' producer tells today's comedies | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Just make it 'redeemably funny' 'Animal House' producer tells today's comedies

July 17, 2013 - 6:00 AM

TORONTO - When making a rowdy comedy, just make sure it's redeemably funny.

So goes the mantra of producer Matty Simmons, the co-founder of National Lampoon who also helped guide "National Lampoon's Animal House" to the big screen.

The 1978 frat comedy celebrates its 35th anniversary with a tribute at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox on Thursday, where Simmons, director John Landis and Canadian producer Ivan Reitman will reunite to discuss the making of a comedy classic.

Ahead of the tribute, the 86-year-old Simmons chatted from Los Angeles about the film's rocky beginnings, its wild off-campus parties and the irredeemable humour of today.

The Canadian Press: This is yet another milestone for "Animal House." What do you think of the tribute?

Matty Simmons: We've had so many anniversaries, it's been so long. It's an amazing movie because the lifespan of the movie has been unprecedented — there's almost no movie ever that's had the longevity of this movie. It still makes millions of dollars a year, it grosses millions of dollars a year in video and cable and foreign (sales), theatrical and everything else.

CP: It had a rocky start though, tell me about those early days.

Simmons: The chairman of the board at Warner Bros. film company said, "You're wasting your time, it'll never make a movie." And one way or the another I ended up at Universal and the head of the studio there hated it (but) finally said to me that because the Lampoon was so successful, "Well, we'll make this movie because of the name Lampoon. But can you make it for less than $3 million?" And I didn't have the slightest idea how much it would cost. And I was in his office and Ivan was with me and Ivan had made a couple of movies in Canada but the budgets were about $11. And I looked at Ivan and he shrugged and I turned to the head of the studio and I said "Absolutely, I guarantee it." And we made it for $2.8 million.

CP: I heard that Chevy Chase almost starred in the movie.

Simmons: Chevy had scored big on "Saturday Night Live" when we put "Animal House" together and he wanted to play Boon. And I really didn't want (him) to do it because John Belushi came from "Saturday Night Live" and I figured if Belushi came and Chase came, everybody would think this was a "Saturday Night Live" movie and I wanted it to be a National Lampoon movie. (Chevy) had another offer to be the star of "Foul Play" and we said "Look, you're a star there, you're getting five times as much money. You don't want to be in an ensemble movie." So he passed on "Animal House." ... And it worked out fine."

CP: It was an iconic role for John Belushi, what was your personal relationship with him like?

Simmons: He was like a son to me. I remember the day he died — what was that ABC news program that went on at night with Ted Koppel? ("Nightline") — they called me and asked me if I would be on the show the night he died and I just couldn't handle it. I said, "No, no, I want to be alone." He was a sweet guy, he was just a lovely guy. I mean, I know he had all his faults and was into drugs and booze and everything else but he was just a good guy. And an incredible talent.

CP: Was there any of that boozing and drugging on the set of "Animal House"?

Simmons: Not by John as much because he was there with his wife but at night there was.... The nights of the shoot the rest of the Deltas had rooms at the local inn and there would be parties every night.... It was mostly in Bruce McGill's room, his room was party central.... One day one of the professors from the University of Oregon dropped by, took off his boots, sat back and drank some beer. When he got up to leave, someone had nailed his boots to the floor.

CP: What do you think of today's comedies?

Simmons: Today they do more on TV than in those days in movies.... The problem is they use obscenity and sex as a gimmick to get laughs without the joke and that bothers me. I had a rule at the Lampoon — you can say anything you want to say as long as it's redeemably funny. But most of the humour today I don't find redeemably funny.... It's just not up to par. But that's an old man lamenting.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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