Sean Kelly, a tongue-in-cheek master of literary and musical parody who helped infuse National Lampoon with the sharp and often crude humor for which it became known, died July 11 in Manhattan. He was 81 years old.
His wife, Patricia Todd, said the cause of his death, at a hospital, was heart and kidney failure.
Mr. Kelly began writing for Lampoon shortly after it began in 1970, as it was developing a reputation for unbridled irreverence towards politics, sex, and popular culture, pushing humor for baby boomers beyond established boundaries. by Mad magazine. He later became editor and, in 1975, he was appointed editor-in-chief.
“The first five years at Lampoon, no one said to anyone, ‘No, that’s not fun,’ or ‘That’s going too far,’” Kelly said in a 2013 interview at Strand Bookstore in New York with Ellin Stein. , author of “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick: National Satire and the Comedy Insurgents That Captured the Mainstream.”
“We respected each other, so if someone was making a joke that you thought was in bad taste, you let it go because Michael O’Donoghue knew what he was doing,” he added, referring to the magazine’s most incendiary writer.
The goals of Mr. Kelly’s satire were very varied.
With Michel Choquette, he conceived a map of world paranoia and wrote Son-o’-God Comics, about a petty Jew who becomes a superhero Jesus, which was illustrated by Neal Adams, best known at the time for drawing Batman.
He imitated James Joyce’s idiosyncratic use of English in “Finnegans Wake” with “Finnswake Again”, which was reprinted in James Joyce Quarterly. And, with Tony Hendra, he parodied the children’s books Babar the Elephant in a monkey-raising story that ends with Babar and his wife, Celeste, hanging on meat hooks.
Christopher Cerf, with whom Mr. Kelly worked on Lampoon and later collaborated on the parody “TS Eliot’s ‘Waste Land’ Theme Park” for “The Book of Sequels” (1990), said in a telephone interview, “The humor Sean’s was very biting, but he found a precise spot to drive it in. O’Donoghue would blow it all up.Sean would place the explosives carefully.
Mr. Kelly, known for his song parodies, wrote most of the lyrics for “National Lampoon’s Lemmings,” a 1973 Off Broadway revue that poked fun at the 1969 Woodstock music festival and introduced audiences to future “Saturday Night Live” performers John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest. Mr. Kelly received a Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Lyricist.
“We didn’t do ‘to the beat of’ skits, which is fine, but it’s a bit Catskills,” he told Ms. Stein. “The music itself was a parody of music.”
Mr. Kelly was promoted in 1975 from editor to editor-in-chief, along with Mr. Hendra. He replaced Henry Beard and Doug Kenney, who accepted acquisitions. Kelly and Hendra were fired three years later after a falling out with the magazine’s owner, Matty Simmons, and were replaced by PJ O’Rourke, who died in February. Mr. Kelly returned as senior editor after Mr. O’Rourke’s departure in 1981 and continued to provide guidance to the staff until 1984.
Sean Charles Kelly was born on July 22, 1940, in Cushing, Quebec, and grew up in Montreal and Owen Sound, Ontario. His mother, Grace (Whelehan) Kelly, was a librarian; his father, Charles, was a cartoonist for RCA Victor Records. Young Sean briefly became a star in Canada when he won a substantial amount of money on a children’s radio game show.
After graduating in 1963 from Loyola College (now Concordia University) in Montreal, Mr. Kelly was a radio actor, copywriter and teacher. In 1970, his upstairs neighbor, Mr. Choquette, had heard of the Lampoon and told Mr. Kelly that she wanted to write for him.
“I thought maybe I could come to New York and get rich and famous and get massive amounts of drugs and sex, none of which worked,” Kelly said in “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead,” a 2015 documentary about Lampoon. history.
While at Lampoon and decades later, Mr. Kelly was a prolific author. His books include “Boom Baby Moon” (1993), which spoofed the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon” with lines like “Goodnight intercom in my crib / Goodnight fireproof food bib.”
Mr. Kelly appealed to his Roman Catholic upbringing and Irish heritage when he teamed up with Rosemary Rogers to write “Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About All the Saints You’ll Ever Need” (1993), “Who the Hell…: A Guide for the Whole Damn Gang” (1996) and “How to Be Irish (Even If You Already Are)” (1999).
His television writing credits include the PBS children’s series “Between the Lions,” for which he won a Daytime Emmy and for which, Cerf said, he adapted “Who’s on First?” of Abbott and Costello. routine to teach children the concepts of who, what, when, where, and why. He also wrote for “Shining Time Station” and “Goosebumps” and, in 1980, for “Saturday Night Live.”
From 2001 until his retirement in 2016, Mr. Kelly taught creative writing, satire, and children’s literature at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
In addition to his wife, with whom he lived in Brooklyn, he is survived by his daughters, Erin Kelly, Siobhan Kelly, and Honore Marchant-Kelly; his sons Christopher, a writer on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” and Charles; nine granddaughters; A grandson; and his sisters, Ann and Rosemary Kelly. His marriages to Valerie Marchant and Norma Lewis ended in divorce.
Mr. Kelly frequently collaborated with Rick Meyerowitz, a noted Lampoon illustrator. The two merged their eclectic and quirky interests, confident that no topic was off limits.
One day, Mr. Meyerowitz showed Mr. Kelly an illustration of Paul Bunyan and Smokey Bear.
“I had this idea: What if the two of them, Bunyan, who wanted to cut down trees, and Smokey, who wanted to save the forest, met and had a fight?” Meyerowitz said by phone. “It was pretty gory, and Sean wrote ‘The Ballad of Pulp and Paper’.” He said in part:
But one winter day while cutting
Along with Babe, his big blue ox,
This horrible bear came roaring out of its den
And he challenged Paul to box.
“You’re stupid and bad and crazy about money
and your harvest is torment and ruin,
But you will treat me before your next tree!
yelled the ecoloco fool.