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The Beatles of Comedy
January 7, 2013 6:12 AM   Subscribe

Working up material for the project, Cleese and Chapman took another pass at the car-salesman idea. It had possibilities, Cleese felt, that they had failed to exploit. What if they shifted the action to a pet shop? What if the malfunctioning car became a dead animal? A dog, say. Or a parrot.
posted by Chrysostom (77 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
The dead-parrot sketch debuted on episode eight of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which aired in Britain on December 7, 1969.

That would have been my sixth birthday! A useless bit of trivia if there ever was one, but I am sure I will carry it with me for the rest of my life, futilely waiting for a good excuse to bring it up.

During the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, Idle turned up to sing the song live, flanked by a contingent of exhibitionist nuns wearing Union Jack underpants.

That was a bizarre moment and had me laughing my ass off.
posted by TedW at 6:27 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It’s hard to rewatch Python’s old shows without feeling a nostalgic pang for a time when the world had a better sense of humor.

This forever.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:30 AM on January 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Eh, that time period also produced humor like Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, YMMV.
posted by The Whelk at 6:33 AM on January 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Misty-eyed nostalgia for nothing-is-sacred irreverence? Now that smacks of the absurd.
posted by Kit W at 6:36 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


The PBS sale was fortunate for Python in more ways than one: when the offer came in, the BBC was on the point of wiping the tapes for reuse.

Holy shit. I really do not want to live in that alternate universe.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 AM on January 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


At times, Dempsey sounds like a Victorian editor of Shakespeare, scolding the Bard for making Hamlet say bawdy Elizabethan things. He takes it for granted that our values are more enlightened than the Pythons’ were; he is confident that we’ve come a long way since then. But how far have we come, really, if we now require footnotes to assure each other that we don’t approve of husbands strangling wives? Have we really become so scared of one another?

I liked the article but it gets pretty disingenuous right around here-- after a litany of examples of the Pythons being culturally insensitive (including blackface and a character named 'Mrs. Nigger-Baiter') the article suddenly pretends that it hasn't mentioned any of those things except the bit about the art critic strangling his wife.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:37 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have to take issue with the title of this FPP. If we're going to use the popular music metaphor, I don't know if the Beatles are an apt selection, seeing as they were immensely popular in the US and all over.

Speaking as an American, Monty Python is more like Blur, the Jam, or maybe even the Sex Pistols: Popular in Britain, respected and recognizable in the States... but most Americans can only name or reference one or two works when prompted (this being one of them). That's not to say MPFC wasn't huge with Americans who go into comedy and the Usenet/Gopher users, but those are people who are into comedy and classic art/media/literature.

If I don't have to use a British band, I think "Velvet Underground of Comedy" may be more apt.

Just my opinion. Classic sketch, nonetheless.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:39 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bathtub Bobsled: "I have to take issue with the title of this FPP. If we're going to use the popular music metaphor, I don't know if the Beatles are an apt selection, seeing as they were immensely popular in the US and all over."

It's the title of the linked article, not my personal opinion of which band is most analogous to Python.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:44 AM on January 7, 2013



Working up material for the project, Cleese and Chapman took another pass at the car-salesman idea. It had possibilities, Cleese felt, that they had failed to exploit. What if they shifted the action to a pet shop? What if the malfunctioning car became a dead animal? A dog, say. Or a parrot.

This quote gives the impression that Cleese changed the defective car to a defective parrot. Cleese has gone on record that Cleese-Chapman were a writing team in that Cleese did 99& of what we think of as writing, while Chapman would sit quietly and occasionally throw in the surreal idea that made it work. Specifically, he's said that changing the car into a parrot was Chapman's sole contribution to the Dead Parrot sketch.

In the age of the DVD box set, publishing a bumper collection of Python’s TV scripts seems a quixotic venture. At whom is this book aimed? Python fans who don’t have TVs? As script collections go, however, All the Bits is a deluxe affair. . . .

A somewhat less deluxe affair, All The Words consisting essentially of the original television scripts -- without comment or exegesis -- was published in 1989.

At the end of the third season, Cleese withdrew from the show. . . The others went on without him for one more season, consisting of only six episodes. The patchiness of those final shows vindicated Cleese’s decision to bail out.

Yes, but among(st) those six eps were Michael Ellis and Mr. Neutron, which I would not want the world to be without.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:47 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


> I liked the article but it gets pretty disingenuous right around here

Kinda' agree, kinda' don't. I read it as a placeholder reference to all their egregious offenses, since reciting all of them every time would get abusive in its own right, and settling on a hotter moral offense than murder would inevitably distract people from the analysis to dwell on the offense being named.
posted by ardgedee at 6:49 AM on January 7, 2013


Rock Steady: "The PBS sale was fortunate for Python in more ways than one: when the offer came in, the BBC was on the point of wiping the tapes for reuse.

Holy shit. I really do not want to live in that alternate universe.
"

Well they did wipe a whole lot of Dr. Who and lots of other early BBC stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 6:51 AM on January 7, 2013


Yeah, but saying 'The Pythons don't really advocate spousal homicide!' is pretty obvious. Saying 'The Pythons don't really advocate the use of blackface!' makes no sense and I'm not sure what We're Too Serious Nowadays reasoning can excuse that bit.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:52 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


octothorpe: Well they did wipe a whole lot of Dr. Who and lots of other early BBC stuff.

Oh yeah, I know, and while I love me some Doctor Who, I'd trade the whole series for Flying Circus.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:54 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not to say MPFC wasn't huge with Americans who go into comedy and the Usenet/Gopher users, but those are people who are into comedy and classic art/media/literature.

Really? Then how was it that my mother introduced me to MPFC in 1970's? My mother who was an RN, married to a window washer, having 4 children at the time? Funny is funny. We used to watch Laugh-In and the Smothers Brothers and listen to Alan Sherman. But the one that endured is MPFC. Even 30 years later she'd blurt out "Oh Intercourse the Penguin!" whenever she meant to say go f yerself. Lady that she was.
posted by Gungho at 6:55 AM on January 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Beatles of Comedy

This is a long-established tagline about the Pythons, and one that they themselves embraced (at least ironically).

They are the Beatles of Comedy in three (at least) distinct ways:
  1. Global impact, including the conquest of American culture. The Pythons led a second British Invasion (of comedy) that corresponds nicely with the earlier musical one led by the Beatles.
  2. A DIY spirit: The team set a new standard for a self-contained writing, performing, producing unit, when the members were still fairly young and inexperienced. Cocky.
  3. Maintaining a consistently high level of quality while refusing to repeat themselves. This is what the author of the linked article is on to when he says, "What set them apart—what made them the Beatles of comedy—was the uncanny wattage of their collective energy. Their ratio of classic stuff to dud stuff was freakishly high".
posted by Herodios at 6:56 AM on January 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Python was huge for me as a young teenager. I used to listen to their "Live a Drury Lane" album while getting ready for school, like it was an alternative "Dark Side of the Moon".
posted by davebush at 7:00 AM on January 7, 2013


Undertaker sketch = Butcher cover

Eric the Half a Bee = Yellow Submarine

Life of Brian = 'More popular than Jesus'

The Meaning of Life = Wings
posted by shakespeherian at 7:02 AM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


The Meaning of Life = Wings

Counterpoint: Mr Creosote
posted by DU at 7:10 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't they be considered The Rutles of comedy?
posted by TedW at 7:12 AM on January 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


shakespeherian, I would like to see a complete Beatles to Python concordance, thx.

Mr. Creosote = Maybe I'm Amazed
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mr Uncle Albert Creosote
posted by shakespeherian at 7:17 AM on January 7, 2013


Most people who think that MPFC is wonderful also tend to be people who haven't seen all of the series, or who have only seen the condensed "Best of" shows that they mistake for the original series. I had a friend who had slavishly videotaped all the MPFC series when BBC 2 showed them in the 1990's, and he insisted on playing (and quoting) them to us whenever we went around to his house.

In reality, most of the MPFC sketches are awful. You'd occasionally see one of the more famous sketches, but it was sandwiched in large amounts of unfunny filler. Most of the sketches simply don't stand up well to the test of time.

I think that they were brilliant in doing what they were doing at the time, but I can also see that they were throwing huge amounts of material into the mix and seeing where their explorations would end up.
posted by fishboy at 7:25 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh. What a weird article. Generally quite lovely, then takes a weird-ass turn into hand-wringing about the Good Old Days that seems less based on Monty Python themselves than about the author's apparent peevedness about political correctness.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:26 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


So anyway, back when I was 14 and this cute half Irish guy was 13, he made me a mixtape of selections from "Not the 9 O Clock News" among other things ...

The Dead Parrot Sketch.

*draws curtains over history with a reminiscent nostalgic smile*

Thank you for this post. That was my first mixtape/boy/oooo puberty ....

Misty-eyed nostalgia for nothing-is-sacred irreverence? Now that smacks of the absurd.

Does not!
posted by infini at 7:26 AM on January 7, 2013


In reality, most of the MPFC sketches are awful. You'd occasionally see one of the more famous sketches, but it was sandwiched in large amounts of unfunny filler. Most of the sketches simply don't stand up well to the test of time.

This is true about classic SNL as well. People compare it to the SNL of today as if everything back then was brilliant. In reality, most of SNL has always been bad, but even today they throw out the occasional gem that will be remembered forever. This might just be true of any comedy sketch show.

Nothing wrong with only remembering the good stuff, though.
posted by bondcliff at 7:31 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most people who think that MPFC is wonderful also tend to be people who haven't seen all of the series, or who have only seen the condensed "Best of" shows that they mistake for the original series.

As someone who has seen the entire series multiple times: Disagree. There are certainly less-funny bits, the occasional cringer, the odd sketch where there's too little focus for things to really become funny, and a handful of nearly-episode-length bits that I don't particularly care for, but I'd say the wheat-to-chaff ratio of Flying Circus is matched only by Mr. Show in the weirdo-sketch-comedy world.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:34 AM on January 7, 2013 [12 favorites]




fishboy: In reality, most of the MPFC sketches are awful. You'd occasionally see one of the more famous sketches, but it was sandwiched in large amounts of unfunny filler. Most of the sketches simply don't stand up well to the test of time.

I couldn't disagree with you more. I mean, it's comedy, so non disputandis and all that, but the density of funny in a randomly-chosen Flying Circus episode is rivaled by few things in my mind.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


My teens happened in the 90s, when I had the late-night-TV option of watching Monty Python's Flying Circus on Bravo or watching the latest Saturday Night Live, so comments like this

but it was sandwiched in large amounts of unfunny filler

make me lauuuuuuuugh
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2013


@infini - Does too! If you're going to be irreverent, then you can't afford to look backwards at what a golden age the past was, because that is being reverent.

It's like those awful people who quote the Pythons to death every chance they get. If they were funny because they were bold and experimental and trying new things - which they were, which is why some of it was brilliant and some of it wasn't - then it's ironically against that spirit to repeat them like a mantra or get all nostalgic about it like the good ole days are gone and everything is so stifling now. (Frankly I think that if you can't be funny without avoiding blackface then you aren't funny, but that's another argument.) Newness is not best respected by enshrining it.

Things are only stifling if you lack the creativity and imagination and daring to strike out in a new direction. And okay, not everyone is an accomplished comedian or whatever, but whining about how impossible it would be nowadays is really missing the point. Funny comedians are funny in response to their environment, and they adapt to it.

Really, he comes across as saying that the Pythons couldn't work unless they could exist in a time when there was no political correctness gone maaaaad. I prefer to think better of them, and of artists in general.

Ach, I've got all these sayings rattling around in my head about conservatives admiring dead radicals and preserving fire rather than worshipping ashes. Probably if the Pythons piled them all up together, they could have gotten something funny out of it.
posted by Kit W at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2013


conservatives admiring dead radicals who are just resting
posted by shakespeherian at 7:38 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


TedW, I always think of "The Rutles" when I hear someone say that "Spinal Tap" invented the mockumentary.

Several RealAudio (*shudder*) links available among the history at www.rutlemania.org.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:45 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kit W: If you're going to be irreverent, then you can't afford to look backwards at what a golden age the past was, because that is being reverent.

But we are not trying to make irreverent comedy here or even be irreverent at all, we are just remembering and discussing irreverent comedy of the past. Are you saying we should not even remember it because that would sully its irreverence or something?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2013


fishboy: In reality, most of the MPFC sketches are awful.

As one who is watching all the original episodes (what timing!), I must strenuously disagree with this opinion.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the hit/miss ratio of the sketches, but rewatching all the episodes with my son has reinforced, for me, how densely constructed the shows were. For one thing, the episodes have a logic to them -- almost a beginning, middle and end, or the surreal equivalent. For another, there's more going on in throwaway lines of dialogue than there is in most whole sketches of other groups. They were very unlike SNL in both regards.
posted by argybarg at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


And oftentimes, one sketch just flowed into the next.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:48 AM on January 7, 2013


It's like those awful people who quote the Pythons to death every chance they get.

I haven't come across one of those in a while (and I was one of those). There seemed to be a mass Python phase, a mass Star Trek TNG phase, a Simpsons phase with some Seinfeld elements, and then..? Probably the internettes took over, and either our teevee watching became too fragmented, or our humour became more reading- or visually-based rather than oral. Maybe both. LOLcats and various memes being the eventual successors to Monty Python quoting. Or something like that.

Lord knows if I make Community quotes in RL, I'm going to be met with a lot of blank stares. But a Python quoter? In the wild? It's been a long time...
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:50 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


LOLcats and various memes being the eventual successors to Monty Python quoting.

epic bacon for the win
posted by Greg Nog at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


In reality, most of the MPFC sketches are awful. You'd occasionally see one of the more famous sketches, but it was sandwiched in large amounts of unfunny filler. Most of the sketches simply don't stand up well to the test of time.

The flipside of misty eyed nostalgia and hero worship is standing at a distance of decades and pointing out that only a certain percentage of an artists' work met the high standard we associate with them. Both stances are a misapplication of the magic of time and memory's editing and filtering.

nb. This from one who watched the original eps on PBS in the 1970s and loved them all.
posted by Herodios at 7:53 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


But we are not trying to make irreverent comedy here or even be irreverent at all, we are just remembering and discussing irreverent comedy of the past. Are you saying we should not even remember it because that would sully its irreverence or something?

I'm not talking about this discussion, I'm talking about the article this post linked to. If you look at the whole comment, you'll see that at the end I mention what 'he comes across as saying'. Everything else was in response to points about the article other people were making.

Really, no need to take it personally. I was doing what everybody else was doing, which is talking about the article under discussion.

--

But a Python quoter? In the wild? It's been a long time...

*shrug* I don't hang out with quoters of any kind more than I can avoid, so it's been a while; you may be right. I had a particularly ghastly party experience some time ago, which probably left a deep impression...

But still, basic point: quoting anything to death is not funny.

--

Regarding the blackface et al - the thing is, I don't think it does the Pythons a disservice to make a mild point that nowadays you probably wouldn't see them - or a similar group of young comedians - making use of racial stereotypes. The Pythons were playing around with culture as they saw it; racial stereotypes were part of culture at the time (still are, of course, but in a different way). Now the cruder dress-up versions have largely been pushed out of comedy, or at least of high-quality comedy, partly because people have made it clear that they're offensive, and partly because when you have even a moderate understanding of racial history, they just aren't funny. And if it's not funny, it's not good comedy.

And if someone's writing an introduction to a book, I don't see what's wrong with saying something about that. You've got to say something, after all, and talking about then-versus-now seems entirely relevant.
posted by Kit W at 7:56 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My first romance can't be misty eyed nostalgia just because it was primarily composed of Monty Python jokes?
posted by infini at 8:01 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]



All I know is that I grew up with Python. I recall watching the show in the late 70's which would put me around age 8. My remember Mom not being happy that we watched though I couldn't understand at the time why. It was so 'neat!'. I think it was the graphics they used that caught us first, so different then anything else these Canadian kids ever saw and the people on it did silly things! Doubt I really understood a quarter of what they were really talking about.

"Silly walks!'

In my teen years the show and the movies were really popular among us young people. Not only silly and funny but the irreverence that now was better understood spoke to us I guess. Python jokes and quotes were used in communicating and there were those that could quote whole movies. Looking back I think it was the irreverence and seemingly rebellious nature of the comedy that was appealing.

Over the years I've found that especially among teens it seems that in each decade some of them discover it. I worked with a couple of teen groups a couple of years ago and many of them knew Python. It was amazing the reaction I got when they were chattering about something funny that happened (not Python related) and I interjected with a random "Knights of Ni!!" Laughter and Ni ni, all around. It was barely related to what they were talking about but in some absurb and I guess Pythonesque way it fit.

There is something lasting about it that speaks to some people. Darned if I can articulate exactly what it is though.
posted by Jalliah at 8:03 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


@Infini: Again, I'm not talking about people's personal lives. I'm talking about what I thought was the subject under discussion, which is the article linked to. In it, a professional writer advances a critical opinion, to wit, that the irreverence of the Pythons was the product of a golden age before Political Correctness Went Mad. I consider this approach to be rather missing the point, and said so.

That's it. I'm talking about the article. 'You' in this context is the generic 'you' denoting 'A person advancing a critical theory.'

I'd like to be able to disagree with a critical standpoint without it turning into something else.
posted by Kit W at 8:09 AM on January 7, 2013


@@Kit W

Then don't quote a section of the entirety of my comment out of context to hammer your point
posted by infini at 8:10 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is abuse.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:12 AM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not sure what is going on, but it seems to be turning acrimonious, so I'm going to stop commenting on this thread.
posted by Kit W at 8:13 AM on January 7, 2013


I believe the proper rebuttal is "Shut Your Festering Gob, You Tit!"
posted by bondcliff at 8:14 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always think of "The Rutles" when I hear someone say that "Spinal Tap" invented the mockumentary.

Some further thoughts:
Though the precise origins of the genre are not known, examples emerged during the 1950s, when archival film footage became relatively easy to locate. A very early example was a short piece on the "Swiss Spaghetti Harvest" that appeared as an April fools' joke on the British television program Panorama in 1957*.
[. . . ]
"Various April Fool's Day news reports, and vérité style film and television during the 1960s and 1970s, served as precursor to the genre."

-- WP
Via that same article:

Luis Buñuel's Land Without Bread (1933)
Orson Welles's The War of the Worlds (1938)
Arguably, A Hard Day's Night (1964)
David Holzman's Diary (1967)
Pat Paulsen For President (1968)
Take the Money and Run (1969)

Earlier examples from Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974)
"Hell's Grannies"
"Piranha Brothers"
"The Funniest Joke in the World"

Then there was Stan Freberg, notably, in 1960 Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years ("Life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff").

------------
* When the Pythons were in their teens.
posted by Herodios at 8:21 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone who has seen the entire series multiple times: Disagree. There are certainly less-funny bits, the occasional cringer, the odd sketch where there's too little focus for things to really become funny, and a handful of nearly-episode-length bits that I don't particularly care for, but I'd say the wheat-to-chaff ratio of Flying Circus is matched only by Mr. Show in the weirdo-sketch-comedy world.

I like Mr. Show more than I like most sketch comedy, because sketch comedy is usually terrible, but I must disagree that it matches MPFC for its ratio of good to bad. Mr. Show has that SNL feel of "we're running this shit INTO THE GROOOUND" that completely turns me off and sometimes takes a while to recover from afterwards, so that even decent bits aren't enough to get back into the flow. Flying Circus, on the other hand, is usually interesting even when it's not funny, and I find it enjoyable to watch even the less brilliant sketches for the sake of watching where they're taken next. Similarly, there're a bunch of episodes that go with concepts that don't quite work, but they're interesting to watch nonetheless, not to mention Monty Python has a tendency to interrupt their own progress with a gag or a new sketch that's funnier for the unexpectedness.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:34 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I admit I've been writing and erasing, writing and erasing a comment, sparks shooting from my left ear as my right eye spins lazily like a broken slot machine wheel. My problem is this - I think that the innocence that has been lost from comedy has been lost due to over analysis. But in order to prove my point, I have to analyze comedy. So I'm left jabbering about butterflies pinned under glass until a friendly person comes along and sticks a paperclip in the hole in my back and performs a hard reset.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]




My problem is this - I think that the innocence that has been lost from comedy has been lost due to over analysis. But in order to prove my point, I have to analyze comedy.

It's a fair cop.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:48 AM on January 7, 2013




That would have been my sixth birthday! A useless bit of trivia if there ever was one, but I am sure I will carry it with me for the rest of my life, futilely waiting for a good excuse to bring it up.

My sixth birthday was the day Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival -- pissed everybody off. Which is cool ... but I think I might prefer the Parrot.
posted by philip-random at 9:07 AM on January 7, 2013


>> The PBS sale was fortunate for Python in more ways than one: when the offer came in, the BBC was on the point of wiping the tapes for reuse.
> Holy shit. I really do not want to live in that alternate universe.


I'm already bummed that we live in a universe in which the notebook of Michael Palin's diary which covered the period in which the series was produced went missing. I would give a great deal to read it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:13 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Beatles of Comedy

Eric Idle wrote somewhere that George Harrison first said this to him -- something to the effect that the Anglophone pop culture world wanted something to fill the void left by the Beatles breakup and that Python ended up picking up that energy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:22 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


In reality, most of the MPFC sketches are awful. You'd occasionally see one of the more famous sketches, but it was sandwiched in large amounts of unfunny filler. Most of the sketches simply don't stand up well to the test of time.

Excuse me? Next thing, you'll be saying the Beatles' Revolution 9 is shit.

I am genuinely curious as to what this majority of unfamous awful sketches are, because I've got the box set for the series and don't recall seeing them. Yeah, there's an occasional dud (how could there not be? hell the Beatles gave us Obladee-Obladuuuhhh), but the honey to shit ratio tilts massively in Python's favor ... or like Rory M just said ...

Mr. Show has that SNL feel of "we're running this shit INTO THE GROOOUND" that completely turns me off and sometimes takes a while to recover from afterwards, so that even decent bits aren't enough to get back into the flow. Flying Circus, on the other hand, is usually interesting even when it's not funny, and I find it enjoyable to watch even the less brilliant sketches for the sake of watching where they're taken next.

Also, this ... Not in any greatest collections that I'm aware of.
posted by philip-random at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2013


Some of the best sketches of the first SNL cast were in episodes where Michael Palin and Eric Idle guested (separately); and based on the style and language were probably written by them. They don't seem to be online in video form but from memory, Idle's "genetically engineering your baby" sketch (seems way ahead of its time now), Palin's "Miles Cowperthwaite" Dickens sendups and Sherlock Holmes sketches were really superb and very, very Pythonic.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this article. It reminds me that I loved Monty Python more than almost anything else in the world.

I first heard MPFC on a reel-to-reel tape. My dad's buddy had taped it from TV while stationed overseas. It seemed to open up this entire universe of creative possibilities that I had never thought about.

Also, this might just be my 1980s nerd bias towards "Monty Python," but I always thought the Flying Circus's hit-to-miss ratio was way higher than Saturday Night Live's. Well...at least modern SNL.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:34 AM on January 7, 2013


"The Beatles of Comedy": Eric Idle wrote somewhere that George Harrison first said this to him -- something to the effect that the Anglophone pop culture world wanted something to fill the void left by the Beatles breakup and that Python ended up picking up that energy.

I've heard this too - in an interview for the Concert for George DVD, Michael Palin said that George told him he'd watched the first Python episode shortly after an acrimonious session with the Beatles, and George had been depressed because he could tell the Beatles were going to break up - but then he turned this on and watched it and felt comforted, because it felt like that spirit of fun and wackiness that had used to be in the Beatles had moved into Python and George felt like, "oh, well, that's okay then." He actually wrote a letter to the BBC that night begging them "Please keep this show on the air, seriously", and it sort of helped.

Then there's also the whole thing with George hearing about the funding for Life of Brian falling through two days before they began filming, and immediately calling his accountant to ask "So, I guess I need to actually start a film company in order to fund this movie, can we do that in 24 hours?" He did that because that's how badly he wanted to see the next Monty Python film. Eric Idle calls it "the most money anyone's ever paid for a cinema ticket".

....Another thing Michael Palin said was that George Harrison actually was one of those annoying people who always quotes Monty Python, only it was even worse because he was quoting it to them. Like, they'd be sitting around making small talk, and then the conversation would hit a lull and George would bust out with, "'Ello, I wish to register a complaint,'" and expect the others to join in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [24 favorites]


I'm still pondering the PC argument (whether it's relevant or takes away from enjoying Python in the context they created in) but while I don't know what particular ax this author has to grind, I also noticed the swipe at the reflexive anti-intellectualism of the right (the footnote to Tina Fey's act of erudition in quoting David Foster Wallace.) So maybe he's complaining not only about PC sensitivities, but the general sundering of the "culture wars".
posted by Schmucko at 10:42 AM on January 7, 2013


and then the conversation would hit a lull and George would bust out with, "'Ello, I wish to register a complaint,'" and expect the others to join in.

I've also heard that Elvis went through a phase of relentlessly quoting "Nudge, Nudge" to people in his household, to their pained amusement. I'd have given a lot to see that. Some Wikipedia editor attributes this to the Rutles DVD commentary, but think I heard of it when Idle mentioned it back when he was moderating pythonline in the mid-90s.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:46 AM on January 7, 2013


to be clear, Monty Python was six people, only one of whom was responsible for the Rutles. Sadly, the Rutles is at best one-sixth as good as Python, a nifty idea for a sketch or two expanded into something way too long. I'm not remotely surprised to see the thing existed on Saturday Night Live before the actual film (All You Need is Cash) because it's pretty much textbook SNL "we're running this shit INTO THE GROOOUND" ... as Rory Marinich so eloquently put it earlier.
posted by philip-random at 12:16 PM on January 7, 2013


Now I want to see Kilimanjaro Expedition performed by George Harrison and Elvis Presley.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:45 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


A mostly good essay, but this bit was a stretch to make his "contemporary comedy is about social anxiety because PC run amok" point:

The writers of Seinfeld, the smartest TV show of the post-Python era

I think Seinfeld is indeed a smart show, but is really mostly funny in its social context; I'm finding it's not aging well. (For my money, the smartest comedy TV show of the post-Python era is Arrested Development.)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:48 PM on January 7, 2013


Regarding nostalgia for a time of irreverence, I am reminded by an Alfred Jarry quote that goes something like "We won't have destroyed everything until we've destroyed the ruins as well, but the only way I can see to do that is to build a lot of nice buildings out of them."

Regarding changing standards of appropriateness for comedy, the homophobia in a certain few Python sketches is jarring to me now in a way that it wasn't even in the early 80's. I think reminding people who've never seen Python before that the show was made in a different time with different standards is a pretty reasonable thing to do.

I think the author hits the nail on the head with in regards to one element of the Python's genius. If they had an idea that was worth a fifteen second sketch, the sketch would be fifteen seconds. Brevity was their secret weapon. Brevity and surprise. Brevity, surprise and a near-fanatical devotion to the Pope.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:53 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]




Yeah, Neil Innes' Beatles pastiches on The Rutles are brilliant. I wasn't always laughing, but I was always thinking "Jeff Lynne only wishes he could riff this well on The Beatles' catalog."
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:07 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Rutles started out as a sketch on Idle/Innes' short (and admittedly very weak) Rutland Weekend Television series. Idle then brought one of the filmed segments to SNL as a joke response to Lorne Michaels' not particularly serious attempt to get the Beatles to have a reunion on the show. (This mock offer actually triggered a bunch of interesting events and might-have-beens, at least one of which was the basis of a not very good made-for-cable movie.)

The audience response was so overwhelming, with people creating their own Rutles memorabilia (the sort of thing that would be commonplace today but fan-activity was far, far thinner back then), that Michaels asked Idle for more, and Idle began to pull out funny ideas that he'd been sort of storing up for a joke documentary.

And philip-random, that's just your opinion; there are others. Such as mine for example, which is that the only bits of All You Need Is Cash that aren't totally brilliant are the SNL cast member cameos, which feel very tacked-on because they probably were.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:12 PM on January 7, 2013


Although Belushi as Allen Klein is hilarious. (Practicing sincerity in the mirror.)
posted by Philofacts at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2013


George Harrison, the "Seventh Python" on Rutland Weekend Television.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:10 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


the homophobia in a certain few Python sketches is jarring to me now in a way that it wasn't even in the early 80's

If there's homophobia in the Python sketches, surely it can only be there to skewer attitudes prevalent in the community at the time. I'm pretty sure none of the other five were frightened or repelled by Graham's sexuality.
posted by flabdablet at 4:15 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Harrison, the "Seventh Python" on Rutland Weekend Television.


....Thank you for that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 PM on January 7, 2013


And in return: Here is what Monty Python did during the tribute concert for George after his death. (For the full effect: this bit came immediately following a 10-minute classical Indian piece Ravi Shankar wrote expressly for George.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


If there's homophobia in the Python sketches, surely it can only be there to skewer attitudes prevalent in the community at the time. I'm pretty sure none of the other five were frightened or repelled by Graham's sexuality.

Possible, since Chapman did come out to in 1969. Regardless of the intent at the time, when I've shown some of their sketches to my students, the GLBT kids have expressed profound discomfort at some of the characterizations. When I teach sketch writing, I do my best now to do a little history lesson if I'm going to show a Monty Python sketch that might come across as "laughing at" instead of "laughing with."

Mind you, I'm of the belief that they were skewering racists and being critical of how normal domestic violence was treated at the time in their sketches. Standards change with time and yesterday's satire sometimes needs some additional context for some of today's young people to get what was intended.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:30 AM on January 8, 2013


Mr. Show has that SNL feel of "we're running this shit INTO THE GROOOUND" that completely turns me off and sometimes takes a while to recover from afterwards, so that even decent bits aren't enough to get back into the flow.

Not to sound like some sort of pretentious analyst, but Mr. Show ran shit into the ground intentionally, as a knowing reference to the limitations of sketch comedy. What they then tried to do (and generally succeeded at doing, sometimes spectacularly), was flog it to the point that it became a sort of assault on sensibilities and became funny again. I don't think you're wrong to not like it-- antagonizing the audience is a risky maneuver and some folks are not going to enjoy it. But it goes beyond "shit, we need to get seven minutes out of this idea."
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:36 AM on January 8, 2013


And now for something completely devoid of Harrison...

from the article, about how jam-packed of bit ideas they were:

When a sketch about striking miners starts to conk out, we cut to a news desk, at which Palin delivers some urgent bulletins. “And finally, in the Disgusting-Objects International at Wembley tonight, England beat Spain by a plate of braised pus to a putrid heron.” A less inspired bunch of writers would have spun that notion out into a full sketch, if not an entire half hour. For Python, the idea lasts precisely as long as it takes Palin to say it.

Hell, some of their ideas they didn't even flesh out THAT much. (What the hell was up with "lemon curry" anyway?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:16 PM on January 8, 2013


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