And now for something completely different
May 11, 2021
May 11, 1969 was one of the most important days in television, nay, world history. Why, you might ask? It was on that day when the British sketch comedy show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was launched.
The name of the show alone is nonsensical. But then again, pretty much everything they did over the years bordered on the ridiculous.
That said, Monty Python forever changed the face of sketch comedy, stretching the boundaries of good taste and was, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, “an important moment in the evolution of television comedy.”
Python was the brainchild of six writers, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The fact that they were writers – and not actors or stand up comedians – provided the environment needed for their unpolished, fly by the seat of their pants, style of comedy.
Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“…Jones remembered an animation Gilliam had created for Do Not Adjust Your Set called ‘Beware of the Elephants,’ which had intrigued him with its stream-of-consciousness style. Jones felt it would be a good concept to apply to the series: allowing sketches to blend into one another. Palin had been equally fascinated by another of Gilliam’s efforts, entitled ‘Christmas Cards,’ and agreed that it represented ‘a way of doing things differently.’ Since Cleese, Chapman, and Idle were less concerned with the overall flow of the programme, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam became largely responsible for the presentation style of the Flying Circus series, in which disparate sketches are linked to give each episode the appearance of a single stream-of-consciousness… (snip)
Writing started at 9 am and finished at 5 pm. Typically, Cleese and Chapman worked as one pair isolated from the others, as did Jones and Palin, while Idle wrote alone. After a few days, they would join together with Gilliam, critique their scripts, and exchange ideas. Their approach to writing was democratic. If the majority found an idea humorous, it was included in the show. The casting of roles for the sketches was a similarly unselfish process, since each member viewed himself primarily as a ‘writer,’ rather than an actor eager for screen time. When the themes for sketches were chosen, Gilliam had a free hand in bridging them with animations, using a camera, scissors, and airbrush.”
In the four years the comedy show aired in Britain it became a cultural phenomenon. It was exported to the United States after season two, airing on PBS. Americans loved the British humor and embraced not only the TV show, but the multiple movies produced by the group.
In the late 70’s I saw my first Python movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at a drive in movie. I’m a terrible drive in movie goer because, for some reason, I always tend to fall asleep at some point. My date could not understand how I could do that since he was laughing through the whole thing. Eventually I saw the movie again in later years and appreciated the humor of Knights that say “Ni”, the encounter with the Black Knight who loses limb after limb, the killer bunny and, of course, the ridiculous question as to the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. The entire movie was irreverent and poked great fun at the Arthurian legend.
By the time my son was in junior high, I had introduced him to the comedy of Alan Sherman, and he also like Weird Al Yankovic. So for his birthday that year the hubby and I got him the complete Monty Python Flying Circus on DVD.
We had hit the Holy Grail of perfect gifts. Most days after school he would pop one of the DVD’s into the player and he and his sister would watch the shows. Soon laughter erupted from the family room and Python sayings were quoted at the dinner table. My kids learned how to walk silly, and imitate the voice and mannerism of a ‘Gumby’ who believes in peace and smashing bricks together. Randomly, someone might declare “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
The son invited his friends over to watch Monty Python, playing favorite sketches over and over. We felt responsible for introducing the irreverence to a new generation. The kids loved it and I never got complaints from other parents.
Like all things, his obsession eventually passed, but the enjoyment continues on. Occasionally, one of us will find ourselves quoting MP and it always brings out a smile.
This video covers 10 of the most memorable sketches. But, truly, you could spend all afternoon on YouTube going from one to the next and not run out of material.
The Infallible Wikipedia article: