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National Lampoon’s Matty Simmons: Trying To Keep ’Em Laughing

October 2, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wheeler-dealer Matty Simmons is doing his darnedest to keep his humor empire on a roll.

The 59-year-old, cigar-smoking editor-in-chief of the raunchy National Lampoon magazine came back East last year - after spending seven years in Los Angeles - to make some much-needed changes at his family-dominated company, National Lampoon Inc.

His flagship magazine, which enjoyed much popularity in the mid-1970s, had lost more than half its 1 million circulation. Advertising revenue had eroded. Morale was bad.

But now, Simmons is nothing if not enthusiastic about National Lampoon Inc.

″I think right now we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been,″ Simmons said in an interview. ″The magazine has been turned around.″

The financial results are not so positive, not yet anyway. National Lampoon lost $716,100 in the first six months of this year.

″Those numbers reflect the previous policies of the previous management,″ said Simmons.

So, he said, he fired many of his advertising and editorial employees. He installed his sons Andrew and Michael as two of the four editors of National Lampoon magazine and brought back his art director.

And starting in January, National Lampoon began publishing a completely different format each month, devoting each issue to only one subject. The September issue, for example, was a parody of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.

Simmons’ daughter, Julie Simmons Lynch, serves as editor of another National Lampoon publication called Heavy Metal, which is an adult oriented magazine with science-fiction-fantasy-horror themes.

It was in 1971 that Simmons struck a deal with the editors of Harvard University’s century-old Lampoon. In five years, he turned the magazine into a national publication with a circulation of 1 million.

National Lampoon expanded rapidly, producing best-selling paperbacks, theater productions, nationally syndicated radio programs, and comedy albums.

The company went public in 1975; its stock is traded over-the-counter. The largest shareholder is Des Moines General Hospital, which holds about 9 percent of the stock. Simmons owns between 7 percent and 8 percent, as does his partner Leonard Mogel.

National Lampoon got into movies in 1978 with a splash, bringing out the super hit ″National Lampoon’s Animal House,″ which grossed $210 million at the box office.

Simmons has produced or co-produced all the National Lampoon movies, which include ″Class Reunion″ and ″Vacation.″ The latest was ″National Lampoon’s European Vacation,″ which opened July 26.

Simmons also produces a nationally syndicated radio series called ″True Facts.″

The Brooklyn native, who is short on specifics, said that he is negotiating to bring National Lampoon to television and that he is preparing for a major home comedy videocassette deal. In addition, he said he recently signed an exclusive licensing agreement to distribute a full line of National Lampoon sportswear.

But during all this National Lampoon’s circulation dropped to 450,000.

″We had come to a point where we simply didn’t have a very cohesive staff to put out a very funny magazine.″ Simmons said. ″We have come through a very bad period where the content and sales of the magazine both circulationwise and advertisingwise dropped substantially.″

The readers of National Lampoon, which has a $2 newsstand price, are mostly male, with an average age of 24, a high income and a high level of education, the company says.

And national Lampoon’s primary advertisers are in the cigarette, beer and liquor categories.

Simmons says the magazine has changed its brand of humor.

″Politics in the last decade have really not been anything that lent itself to humor. What we do now is humor based on ourselves. We make fun of ourselves and our contemporaries. That’s the kind of humor we now find most successful,″ he said.

The theme issues are ″working out very well. The August issue was the hottest seller in five years,″ he said.

It is possible that National Lampoon Inc. will show a profit in the second half of 1985, the first profit in several years, Simmons said.

Heavy Metal, which has a circulation of 155,000, is now losing $250,000 a year. So, starting next year, Heavy Metal, which Simmons said has a ″cult″ audience, will be published quarterly instead of montly and the price will rise to $3.95.

A Heavy Metal film was produced in 1981, and Simmon said it has become popular with midnight movie fans.

Asked how much he is worth, Simmons quips, ″About a buck eighty-five.″

A college dropout, Simmons said he joined the staff of the now defunct New York World Telegram and Sun newspaper when he was 17. He later worked in the credit card business and sports.

Simmons lives in New York with his wife, a retired singer and dancer, and travels frequently to the West Coast.

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