“And now for something completely different.” If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you almost certainly know that statement, and that it was made famous by (cue acid-trip animation) Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Graham Chapman met while students at Oxford and Cambridge. There, they cut their comedic teeth, drawing in large part from the priviledged, raised-pinky social circles in which they’d grown up — and could parody so perfectly. From the process-for-the-sake-of-process Ministry of Silly Walks, to the bland monotones of “Yes, it was the middle one” (in How Not to be Seen), the Pythons could absolutely nail Britishisms like no one had before. (Little Britain does a very good job of it today, IMHO, albeit in quite a different way.)
I actually was not a die-hard Python fan (as much as some people I knew), and in fact wasn’t aware until now that several of the guys wrote and produced a children’s program from 1967 to ’69 called Do Not Adjust Your Set. (Forgive me for telling any hardcore Python fans something they no doubt already know.) It was the success of that show that prompted ITV to give them a crack at late-night comedy.
I have very fond memories of staying up late to watch Monty Python (the opening theme — including the giant farting foot — is playing in my mind as I type this). Terry Gilliam’s animation gave it a wonderful childish quality, and even though I didn’t quite appreciate the full extent of the humour at the time, much of it was simply so ridiculous (“Tis but a scratch.” “Your arm’s off!” “No it’s not.”) that it was just fun to watch.
To get into the Python sketches in any detail would be too much to take on in one blog post. I will, however, say that my own personal favourite is the Philosophers’ Football Match. My God — what a brilliant sketch. (When the gun goes off, and they all simply start strolling and pondering… It cracks me up every single time.)
According to Wikipedia, “The Pythons’ influence on comedy has been compared to the Beatles’ influence on music… three of the six Pythons members were voted by fellow comedians and comedy insiders to be among the top 50 greatest comedians ever: Cleese at No. 2, Idle at No. 21, and Palin at No. 30.”
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink — say no more, say no more.
The black knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail Does this need an introduction? (Digging up this clip, I realized I’d forgotten about the coconuts… still can’t stop laughing.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno (4 min, 26 sec)
How Not to be Seen The PSA intro. The nothing shot of trees. And John Cleese’s BBCesque monotone: “This is Mr. E. R. Bradshaw, from Napier Court, Black Lion Road, London, SE14.” Too perfect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zekiZYSVdeQ (2 min, 35 sec)
The Philosophers’ Football Match “Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics; Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination; and Marx is claiming it was offside.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5fGSBsfq8 (3 min, 47 seconds)
I’m a Lumberjack As a Canadian, I had to include this one. I get a mild kick out of the reference to dressing in drag: the Brits always seem to love that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZa26_esLBE (2 min, 40 sec)
Camelot: it’s only a model This little snippet is another Python fave of mine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc (12 sec)