Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


They presupposed a level of intelligence in their audience.
June 26, 2014 7:58 AM   Subscribe

"Maybe we smoked something; maybe we didn't. It didn't matter. It was just solid, absurdist, out-there humor." A Monty Python retrospective.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (112 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of the things I've come to find amusing is that their immense fanbase of American adolescents (which included myself) actually had no idea in most cases about the sorts of things the Pythons were sending up. We just loved the words, the characters, the tone and the silliness. We didn't know a thing about the world and background that it was reacting to and satirically deconstructing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:23 AM on June 26 [30 favorites]


Burma!
posted by Gungho at 8:25 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


We just loved the words, the characters, the tone and the silliness.

I started watching Monty Python in second or third grade, and this is why. I can only speculate how this affected my moral development…
posted by axoplasm at 8:28 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Why did you say "Burma?"
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:32 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


From the article:

When I interviewed him about the troupe’s 25th anniversary in 1994, actor Steve Coogan recited the entire “Cheese Shop” sketch word for word and unprompted. “My mum would get me to replicate the previous night’s show,” said Coogan in 2009. “There were no video recorders then, so I became like a VCR. I would get angry if I heard other people doing it and getting it wrong.”

One of the best things I read from when they were getting ready to first open Spamalot on Broadway was a story about an early rehearsal, where they were on a break and someone turned to Hank Azaria and complimented him for already having all the lines from the French Knight scene memorized. "....It's Monty Python," Azaria said. "I've had those lines memorized since I was twelve years old."

Also: is it me, or is it extremely fitting that Newsweek is the one to be running an article about "nobody really gets why Monty Python is so funny"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on June 26 [18 favorites]


So glad we have tickets to the live show broadcast.

I missed the bus on Python as a teenager because I was living abroad (in England, as it happens). But when I finally hit it, in college, by way of a gaming group, I was well-prepared for it. My first exposure to anything longer than a sketch was watching Holy Grail for a medieval literature class.

Also, based on that article, Peter Hitchens is just possibly more annoying than his brother (whom I find very annoying). He sounds exactly like the kind of guy Monty Python enjoy sending up.
posted by immlass at 8:36 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


“The attraction of much of it, like Beatles music, is a mystery to many, not just me,”

Wow, Hitchens goes retro - nobody has seriously suggested that there could be anything unfathomable about the appeal of the Beatles' music since about 1964.
posted by colie at 8:37 AM on June 26 [6 favorites]


I'd just turned thirteen when I first crossed paths with the Python apocalypse in 1972. It was immediately more important than anything that had ever happened, because it understood something fundamental. Beyond all its horrors, its hypocrisies, its tragedies, even its holocausts (or perhaps because of them), the world was funny if viewed correctly. I'm not sure if any of this made me a better person, but it's likely one of main reasons I'm still alive 42 years later.

Monty Python's best sketch ever
posted by philip-random at 8:39 AM on June 26 [9 favorites]


I panicked.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on June 26 [6 favorites]


Anyone who knows my job can guess my favorite skit.
posted by jonmc at 8:45 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Wow, Hitchens goes retro - nobody has seriously suggested that there could be anything unfathomable about the appeal of the Beatles' music since about 1964.

Actually, there's a very strong current of Beatles dislike among various younger groups (like millennials, gen-z, etc.) It's sort of part-and-parcel with their anti-anything-boomer-no-matter-how-good-it-might-actually-be worldview.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:45 AM on June 26


jonmc, I can't decide if that one or the cheese shop one is better.
posted by Melismata at 8:49 AM on June 26


Monty Python used to play on our local PBS station in the early 80s. The PBS schedule was always somewhat mystifying to me, but I managed to figure out when it was on. I was fooled by their false openings which made me thrilled - they screwed with their audience in ways that nobody else had. I mean, they risked losing viewers for the sake of jokes. SNL only wishes they could do that.

When I picked up the DVD for Holy Grail, it also had a false opening and damn it if I wasn't fooled again. I'm hoping the new stage show is some sort of epic bait and switch.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:49 AM on June 26 [4 favorites]


I had no idea about this. Excellent!
posted by suelac at 8:50 AM on June 26


The way my dad tells it he was flipping through channels when I was eleven or twelve and found Monty Python's Holy Grail was on and called me into the living room because he thought I'd like it. I stood there at the threshold of the room because I was in the middle of doing something else and didn't want to waste my time on whatever thing my dad thought would interest me. At some point he left to go to the store and when he came back I was still standing in exactly that same spot, having not moved for like an hour, just staring at the screen.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:50 AM on June 26 [16 favorites]


@phillip-random You are wrong.

I say, anyone for tennis?
posted by wensink at 8:51 AM on June 26 [9 favorites]


Python has been my touchstone since early days, if for no other reason than my mother was an Anglophile and worked for a small regional PBS station!

The humor worked for me because of its absurdist nature, and the knack they had for not beating a joke into the ground. To this day, I cannot watch SNL for more than a few minutes without thinking "this sketch isn't working, no one in the audience cares, why don't they just move on?". In that same amount of time, Python would have done three other sketches, and I would have laughed at all of them.
posted by scolbath at 8:52 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


“The attraction of much of it, like Beatles music, is a mystery to many, not just me,”

Wow, Hitchens goes retro


It's bog-standard Peteristic die-stamped opining. Gesturing vaguely at an theoretical horde of followers to give an impression of authority, check. Failing to allow for subjective differences in taste and views, check. Headline-bait contrarian pronouncements, check. FACTUAL WRONGNESS ON MATTERS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE, TRIPLE-CHECK.
posted by forgetful snow at 8:53 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


Python not funny?! Just looking at this picture from the article makes me giggle.
posted by jillithd at 8:53 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


While some of the criticisms about the Pythons' work are completely fair (the influence of the Goons, 10 crap sketches for every 1 classic, etc), I just found the "You like Python? Well fuck you!" tone of the article unnecessary.
posted by briank at 8:55 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


It's bog-standard Peteristic die-stamped opining.

Britain's standard-bearer for how to get a paycheck when your name is worth something -- no thanks to you -- and your mind isn't. See also everyone on Fox.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:58 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


But Hitchens' Python/Beatles denigration seems to come from a fusty place where professors or politicians would deny the value of popular culture on what they thought were objective grounds.

You can dislike the Pythons or Beatles on other, younger, hipster-type grounds, but only Hitchens seems to be still doing it from the platform of 'this ephemera simply cannot be understood by finer minds who are schooled in the nature of great art.'
posted by colie at 9:00 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


10 crap sketches for every 1 classic

There's a typo in that -- a leading "1" that shouldn't be there. Crikey I love Python. Even more now that I've lived and read and traveled and watched films and largely know what it's about. I'd rather watch Cleese stammering in the Grillomat Snack Bar in Paignton (or whatever someone might regard as their throwaway work) than 99% of SNL.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:03 AM on June 26 [4 favorites]


I just found the "You like Python? Well fuck you!" tone of the article unnecessary.

I didn't get that tone at all from the article.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:04 AM on June 26


From the article: "The Goon Show, a radio comedy starring Peter Sellers ...."

Well, there's no reason to treat seriously anything else it says. Might as well stop reading. Besides, it would probably aggravate my lurgi.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:10 AM on June 26 [6 favorites]


From the article:

Some critics have claimed that, apart from Gilliam’s extraordinary graphic links, little of their material was ever particularly original, though the Pythons have never made that claim. Two shows in particular are regularly cited as influences,

I do find this line of reasoning amusing (and annoying). It's the same basic perspective that gets Led Zeppelin shrugged off as mere rip-off artists, because of all those riffs etc they "borrowed". Its akin to viewing the art in question as a science, and not a very complex one at that, which is to say, once you break almost any cultural artifact down to the sum of its parts, its list of ingredients -- well, anybody could do it assuming they had access to the required resources. Which, keeping to the Led Zeppelin analogy, explains why Whitesnake is so revered the world over.

And as for the "10 crap sketches for every 1 classic" line ... all I can say is bullshit. Or to be more charitable, I guess you just don't get absurdity, life must be an awfully grey slog for you. Not saying that every one's a "Maserati" (to quote a Python line), just that were this baseball, Month Python would be magnitudes beyond Ty Cobb in the record books (and far nicer people in balance).
posted by philip-random at 9:10 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


But Hitchens' Python/Beatles denigration seems to come from a fusty place where professors or politicians would deny the value of popular culture on what they thought were objective grounds.

It has just struck me who Hitchens is reminding me of.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on June 26 [6 favorites]


While I love the Pythons (both their collective and later individual work) and I can recite several of the sketches and songs by heart, and I find the general tone of this article rather tone-deaf and wrong-headed, there is a slight undercurrent that I can relate to.

I don't find a lot of value in the repurposing of old material just to pay off your alimony bills. I was excited by the prospect of seeing "Spamalot" but when I was in the audience, I found I would have simply preferred to see a screening of the orginal Holy Grail movie.

This isn't specific to the Pythons. I have the same problem with Mel Brooks cannibalizing The Producers and Young Frankenstein to put them on Broadway.

I get it, they own the work, they certainly have a right to do a "Greatest Hits" album equivalent, but part of the reason they were so amazing was that episode after episode they came up with great new material. Would it be impossible to ask for a little bit more from the intervening decades?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:25 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I don't understand all the zero sum hate for SNL. I may "not care" for Mr. Bean, but I know Atkinson's work is essential, so my hat's off...
I once read a large coffee-table book, cover to cover, on the Pythons, and they expressed surprise with the level of anger and animosity a comedy could generate compared to nearly any other genre.
All the SNL dissing reminded me of their observation. And Mel Brooks' distinction between comedy and tragedy and that you can tell a lot more about someone from what kind of jokes they tell than any dogma they profess.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:33 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


In fairness, Spamalot is really Eric Idle, the rest of the team's involvement seems to have consisted of consenting to it. Idle, for all his immense talent, had been wandering in the wilderness of Usetabee for a while, touring with a succession of rehash shows and trying lots of things. Spamalot seems to have been a lightbulb that went on over his head when the stage version of The Producers A-Listed the living shit out of Mel Brooks and made him a whole lot richer.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:37 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


I don't find a lot of value in the repurposing of old material just to pay off your alimony bills.

Me, too. HUGE Python fan ever since my voice started changing (as already noted), but I have no particular interest in this reunion, and not just because the funniest member won't be there. I imagine that the best they can hope for is something akin to Paul McCartney's recent attempts to do justice to old Beatles songs. It just won't be remotely as good ... or necessary.
posted by philip-random at 9:41 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't characterize it as hate for SNL. Some of their stuff was brilliant, too. The Belushi Samurai sketches? Amazing! But far too often I feel like any funny idea they may have had they simply flew into the ground. Perhaps it was the live format, perhaps the attempt to collaborate (successfully or not so) with guest stars, perhaps the attempt to be topical - no idea.
posted by scolbath at 9:41 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Others have been asking if the Pythons were ever that funny.

I am gobsmacked if that is actually true. And man, what I wouldn't give to be able to see the reunion - they were such a huge part of who I am as an adult.

(Also, my 12-year-old son has inexplicably fallen in love with them; the answer to the question, "Dad, can we watch Monty Python together?" is always and will always be "yes.")
posted by jbickers at 9:42 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Mind you, this is a group that released a record that was literally called "Contractual Obligation Album". The concept isn't entirely new to them...
posted by Naberius at 9:50 AM on June 26 [4 favorites]


>It just won't be remotely as good ... or necessary.

Nevertheless, any Beatles or Pythons who are still standing are entitled to pass the hat to anybody who wants to put something in it. Are people worried that these artists will end up collecting more money than their work was worth? Spoiler: they won't.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:51 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Ripping Yarns was still airing when I lived in England as a boy, and I was fascinated by it. Still am. I didn't know about the whole convention of juvenile adventure stories that they were satirizing, but it didn't matter, as they managed to both tell great stories and satirize them at the same time.

It's amazing they could get any traction of their parody of Tom Brown's Schooldays (they called it Tomkinson's Schooldays), because the villain from the original, Flashman, is the main character of one of the most extraordinary sustained satires of the 20th century. Yet the Ripping Yarns version had its own satiric approach, with an entirely different approach. In their world, school bully is a formal position in schools; moreover, it's one that has more power even than the school administration, and schools vie with each other over who has the best bully. And this is in a school where children are expected to fight grizzly bears and get ritually nailed to a wall on St Tadger's Day.

It's strange that nowadays our vision of British schooling is Hogwarts, when it used to be a vision of such awful, entrenched sadism.
posted by maxsparber at 9:58 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]


Mind you, this is a group that released a record that was literally called "Contractual Obligation Album". The concept isn't entirely new to them...

Yes, and the reason that joke also worked is because it's a hilarious album, absolutely the opposite of a cash-in.

Bishop ... don't say "of fish."
posted by jbickers at 10:01 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


I love the throwaway description of Christopher Hitchens as a 'controversialist'. It's the perfect term for the job description of so many annoying public figures.
posted by echo target at 10:10 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Still waiting on that burma mystery...
posted by Philipschall at 10:28 AM on June 26


I've come to think that being a kid and not understanding the Brit political stuff made the Pythons more surreal to me.

I remember a line something like "... and started claiming he'd laid Stanley Baldwin."

Not knowing what that was about, it was just an absurdity.

One other thing, if you go and listen to the cheese shop sketch, you see it's just solid, by the book comedy. Tight snap, snap, snap delivery. You can see why Cleese loved Palin as a straight man/performing partner.
posted by Trochanter at 10:41 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Why did you say "Burma?"
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:32 AM on June 26 [+] [!]


I panicked.
posted by Gungho at 10:57 AM on June 26 [9 favorites]



But Hitchens' Python/Beatles denigration seems to come from a fusty place where professors or politicians would deny the value of popular culture on what they thought were objective grounds.

You can dislike the Pythons or Beatles on other, younger, hipster-type grounds, but only Hitchens seems to be still doing it from the platform of 'this ephemera simply cannot be understood by finer minds who are schooled in the nature of great art.'


Yass, well of course, Monty Python is not quite the thing, unless you hear it in the original Klingon.

Speaking of which:

Once upon a time there was a thing called progressive radio (not progressive rock: progressive radio). My not-quite-local progressive radio station played anything and everything, but had to 'sign off the air' at 2am; my nightly signal to consider maybe possibly turning out the light and going to sleep pretty soon.

Sometime between the release of the first Monty Python LP (1970) and the first appearance of the Flying Circus on the local PBS station (1974), the radio station started the practice of 'concluding their broadcast day' not with The "National Anthem" or boghelpus, "High Flight", but "The Lumberjack Song" from the first Python LP.

Since we hadn't yet seen MP on teevy, and few Americans had the LP(s), this was offered completely out of context. I don't recall them playing any other MP tracks, nor identifying the source. Just more weirdness on the weird radio.

Anyway, they'd kill the transmitter power right at the end of Cleese's "Dear Sirs . . ." letter, so unless I dropped The Grey Lensman or whatever and switched stations, my own broadcast day ended, not with:

" . . and the hooooome of thuuuuuuu braaaave . . . FZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ"

but with

" . . . and only a few of them are transvestitesFZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ"

Heh. I also recall seeing the first local PBS broadcast of the "Dull Life of the Stockbroker" episode a couple years later. Apparently no-one in the pipeline was aware of or expected the few seconds of full nudal frontity there; later broadcasts were edited.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:03 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


For what it's worth, the people rebelling against Python should be the younger generation of comedians (I felt The Young Ones was in part inspired by and in part a reaction against Python and I'm sure there's been other stuff since the 80's that did the same but I've not seen it). That parts of the establishment are still railing at them makes it seem like they're still subversive 40 years later.

And being disappointed with them for trying to make money? They're professional performers. They should be getting paid. They didn't do the show or films for free. And too old? If they're still funny who cares how old they are?

There's plenty to criticize about Python - the occasional homophobia and sexism spring to mind - but the alleged controversies this article identifies are laughable in a way that involves no laughter.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:18 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


There's plenty to criticize about Python - the occasional homophobia and sexism spring to mind

...the various sketches with blackface and cringe-worthy 'African native' characters....
posted by shakespeherian at 11:32 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I will forever associate Python with sitting in the upstairs family room in front of our giant TV, one of those encased in plastic that was supposed to look like wood and got hot on the top, at 1am, giggling wildly to myself but trying to be quiet because I knew my parents would not be ok with jokes involving cartoon naked people.

I understood almost none of it, in terms of what the parodies referred to. At that age, I had the vague impression that people in England had simply decided to keep dressing like it was the 70s. It was like a transmission from another, more interesting planet. But it was unremittingly silly as well as smart. You don't need a PhD to enjoy the Spam sketch, or a bunch of men dressed as women hitting each other with handbags to reenact the Battle of Hastings.
posted by emjaybee at 11:39 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


There's plenty to criticize about Python - the occasional homophobia and sexism spring to mind

...the various sketches with blackface and cringe-worthy 'African native' characters....


... and all manner of other racist, xenophobic invective casually tossed off for cheap laughs. And so on ...

The Python secret seems to be that there was no inside, no in-group all huddled around pointing at the "others" and laughing. EVERYTHING was up for grabs, very much including themselves. So yeah, they constantly crossed what we'd now call the "line" in terms of appropriateness, but from where I'm sitting, thank all gods that they did.

Python was very many things but it was never earnest.
posted by philip-random at 12:07 PM on June 26 [6 favorites]


One of the best things I read from when they were getting ready to first open Spamalot on Broadway was a story about an early rehearsal, where they were on a break and someone turned to Hank Azaria and complimented him for already having all the lines from the French Knight scene memorized. "....It's Monty Python," Azaria said. "I've had those lines memorized since I was twelve years old."

What I remember from Spamalot was being annoyed that the famous bits weren't done exactly right. They were close but it created all kinds of dissonance with the real ones.

the best they can hope for is something akin to Paul McCartney's recent attempts to do justice to old Beatles songs. It just won't be remotely as good ... or necessary.

Oh intercourse the reunion!
*smash*
posted by petebest at 1:14 PM on June 26


It's worth mentioning that much if not all of the supposedly homophobic material was written by and acted in by Graham Chapman, who was gay and out to his teammates. The British satire boom as a whole was inhabited by an awful lot of not particularly closeted homosexuals, who took a great deal of delight in "camping it up", in a way that we would regard as extrarordinarily offensive now, particularly in the US. The BBC censors were always having to rein them in... but for the opposite reason they would now: not because it was offensive to gays but because they believed the conventional mindset of the audience wouldn't want to see that sort of thing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:19 PM on June 26 [7 favorites]


So yeah, they constantly crossed what we'd now call the "line" in terms of appropriateness, but from where I'm sitting, thank all gods that they did.

Eh, no, it's pretty gross.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:21 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


There's plenty to criticize about Python - the occasional homophobia and sexism spring to mind

...the various sketches with blackface and cringe-worthy 'African native' characters....

... and all manner of other racist, xenophobic invective casually tossed off for cheap laughs. And so on ...


Well, the Predjudice sketch is so over-the-top that I think even the most satire-impaired would recognize it for what it is. There's some specific stuff that isn't easily defensible in 2014. I mean, even the humor in a classic like "The Lumberjack Song" is predicated partially on the disgust the chorus feels for the singer's cross dressing. I can't be the only person who had high school and college friends in the 80's who really enjoyed asking/accusing "are you a poofta?" in imitation of the Australian philosophers.

Python was working in a specific late 60's/early 70's context in England and some of the humor that was appropriate then isn't appropriate now (which is how it should be as society moves forward). I don't have an issue with what they did at the time they did it (anymore than I have an issue with Shakespeare for writing "Merchant of Venice") but I think its all right to acknowledge that some of their work doesn't hold up because the world has changed. It doesn't diminish from their brilliance to acknowledge it or criticize it anymore than it diminishes the gems of the Disney and Warner Brother catalogs to acknowledge that some of their cartoons are sketchy and racist as hell.

Some of Monty Python' work, on the other hand, is timeless, beautiful and perfect.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:23 PM on June 26 [5 favorites]


Dead parrot sketch.

I just wanted to come in here and say that.
posted by LMGM at 1:24 PM on June 26


Some of Monty Python' work, on the other hand, is timeless, beautiful and perfect .

No it isn't.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:27 PM on June 26 [12 favorites]


Monty Python is one of my scared texts, and I am anticipating this reunion with hope and dread. I just pray it doesn't suck. Feeling truly embarrassed for these guys is too awful to consider.

...the various sketches with blackface and cringe-worthy 'African native' characters....

To be fair, that seemed to be all-too-common in the satire of the era. Either white guys were doing blackface, or they were creating black characters who shucked and jived and waved switchblades around. Underground comix, for instance, were lousy with it. Growing up in the 1980s as a fan of Python and R. Crumb, I had to just grit my teeth occasionally and accept it was just a "thing" of the time. At least in Crumb's case I think he was using the racist imagery to make a point. With Python, it always seemed like it was purely for shock value. (In Python's defense they didn't do much of it, and it never struck me as genuinely hateful.)

I never found them homophobic at all. Yes, they had campy soldiers and campy judges and so on... but is camp offensive in and of itself? I always thought those bits were about the shock of taking a super-butch institution and queening it up, something I'm always in favor of. (And Chapman was gay, so I thought that gave them some real gay-cred.)

A few years ago Family Guy took a shot at Python, referring to them dismissively as "not funny, not interesting" and then doing a send-up where some guy has a hedgehog named Kevin and every time it takes a step, it goes boing. (I'm paraphrasing.) I'm not a MacFarlane-hater, but it struck me as one of the dumbest things the show ever did. I mean, maybe the South Park guys could get away with knocking Python. Maybe. But Family Guy is not South Park.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:34 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post, an excuse to impose a few of my favourites on others, after swearing off Monty Python imitations on threat of divorce:

John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson.

Johann Gambolputty
posted by crazylegs at 1:57 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Ursula Hitler (jeez, your handle sounds like a cross between Python and "Bottom"): South Park actually did a Python *TRIBUTE* in the form of a version of the Dead Parrot sketch!!!
posted by scolbath at 1:59 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


One of the things I've come to find amusing is that their immense fanbase of American adolescents (which included myself) actually had no idea in most cases about the sorts of things the Pythons were sending up. We just loved the words, the characters, the tone and the silliness. We didn't know a thing about the world and background that it was reacting to and satirically deconstructing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:23 PM on June 26


Hence the incredibly exasperating (for Brits) tendency of many American Python fans to say things like "Oh, I love British humour! Monty Py - THON, Benny Hill, Are You Being Served?..."

The idea that someone could be so utterly point-missing as to lump Python in with the truly execrable Hill and Grace Brothers used to send us into fits of splenetic rage. But the above comment explains it, of course.
posted by Decani at 2:32 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Actually, my name is a Python reference. And I call myself this in real life, not just online. That's how much of a fangirl dork I am for Python.

I knew the South Park guys were Python fans, actually, so they weren't the best example for me to use. I was trying to come up with a comedy group that was near-universally beloved, a group so good that even the haters had to admit there was something special there. I suppose I could have gone for the Kids in the Hall, but IIRC they were all Python fanatics too. Generally, if a comedy group is really funny and innovative, the odds are they will be huge fans of Python.

I figured out early in life that if people hate Python, there's just no point wasting my energy on them. We will never understand or like each other. Same thing with the Beatles. As soon as somebody gets really snuffy about how the Beatles are soooo fucking overrated, I know I can leave the table and walk as far as possible in the opposite direction, confident that I'm not missing anything. It's not that Python or the Beatles are flawless. It's that you kind of have to be a joyless asshole to truly hate them.

The remarkable thing about that South Park homage is that a lot of the jokes seem perfectly in character for South Park. "There, he moved!" "He didn't move, you were just kicking him!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:37 PM on June 26 [9 favorites]


... and all manner of other racist, xenophobic invective casually tossed off for cheap laughs.

Fuck me, dude. Talk about missing the point of that sketch. Maybe the Python, she is not for you.
posted by Decani at 3:04 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Dinsdale?
...
Diiinsdale?

posted by Golem XIV at 3:35 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


actually had no idea in most cases about the sorts of things the Pythons were sending up

Very true.

In a similar manner, I remember laughing at the SCTV episode where staff went on strike and they had to borrow a temporary feed from the CBC. Three years later, on a trip to Canada, I turned on the TV, and there was Hinterland Who's Who. Mind....blown.
posted by gimonca at 3:38 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


... and all manner of other racist, xenophobic invective casually tossed off for cheap laughs.

Fuck me, dude. Talk about missing the point of that sketch. Maybe the Python, she is not for you.


sorry, guess I played that a bit too straight-faced. I think that particular sketch remains hilarious.

Eh, no, it's pretty gross.
posted by shakespeherian


seriously -- take any random half-hour chunk of the Python TV stuff and break it down in terms of who's being ridiculed ... and I guarantee you that the straight, white male Englishman will always come out on top.
posted by philip-random at 3:42 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Re: Argument Clinic

In every known instance the recorded sketch is much better than the television version. And much harder to find on The YouTube.

I wish you'd all stop bickering and eat me
posted by petebest at 3:45 PM on June 26


seriously -- take any random half-hour chunk of the Python TV stuff and break it down in terms of who's being ridiculed ... and I guarantee you that the straight, white male Englishman will always come out on top.
posted by philip-random at 11:42 PM on June 26


Wow. You really don't get it, do you? Python took the piss out of the straight, white, middle-to-upper class Englishman more than anyone else. From the screamingly obvious to the only-slightly-more-subtle.
posted by Decani at 4:00 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Argument Clinic on album - starts at 8:42
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:01 PM on June 26


Wow, I really don't get it, do I? I just re-read your comment with my brain in, and realised that that's exactly what you said. My brain hurts!
posted by Decani at 4:03 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


There there Decani. Have a crunchy frog.
posted by JHarris at 4:04 PM on June 26 [6 favorites]


By the way, Spike Milligan has been mentioned, and quite rightly. Python always acknowledged their debt to him, but it's also true to say that while they certainly owed him a lot, they developed their own brand big style. For those who don't think they owed him a lot, watch their "Spot the Brain Cell" sketch. And then watch this.
posted by Decani at 4:08 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


My brain hurts!

You'll need to see a specialist
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:09 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


JHarris: After Constable Clitoris ate one of those, I couldn't possibly.
posted by Decani at 4:09 PM on June 26


Metafilter: I wish you'd all stop bickering and eat me
 
posted by Herodios at 4:18 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


As I just basically did this to philip-random, I present... well, this, as a peace offering.
posted by Decani at 4:26 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Spike Milligan has been mentioned ...

Or, as he was referred to in one Goon Show, "Spike Milligna, the well-known typographical error".
posted by benito.strauss at 4:31 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Ah, but times were different back then, benito.
posted by Decani at 4:40 PM on June 26


glad to see we're all getting along now
posted by philip-random at 4:46 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Decani: "tendency of many American Python fans to say things like "Oh, I love British humour! Monty Py - THON, Benny Hill, Are You Being Served?...""

Question: Does this actually ever happen? I mean the Benny Hill part, not the Are You Being Served part. I've heard multiple Brits complain about how Americans like Benny Hill...but I've never met an American who actually liked Benny Hill. I suspect that it's just some confusion in that all Americans (of a certain age, I guess) know Benny Hill, and that's being mistaken for "liking" Benny Hill.

When I hear "I love British Comedy" from fellow Americans, it's always been "Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, the Young Ones, Red Dwarf" or, for people who don't like scatological humor, etc., "Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, the Office".
posted by Bugbread at 5:49 PM on June 26


Also, I don't understand how computer technology has advanced so far, and so many geeks love Monty Python, but nobody has digitally removed the laughter from Flying Circus.
posted by Bugbread at 5:53 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Question: Does this actually ever happen?

Oh. My. God. Yes.
posted by Decani at 5:58 PM on June 26


How old are the people saying it? I'm having a really hard time imagining anyone from my generation (around age 40) saying it, but maybe somewhat older folks? People in their 50s or 60s?
posted by Bugbread at 6:00 PM on June 26


Maybe, Bugbread. I'm in my mid-fifties, and I grew up hearing and reading American folks saying this. The extent to which Python was associated with Hill was so great I... remembered it. To this day. :-)
posted by Decani at 6:05 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


For me, this sums up the essence of the appeal of Python. Clever, silly, self-deprecating, knowing and, most importantly of all, damned funny all at the same time.

Owner: What can I do for you, Sir?

Customer: Well, I was sitting in the public library on Thurmon Street just now, skimming through Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole, and I suddenly came over all peckish.

Owner: Peckish, sir?

Customer: Esurient.

Owner: Eh?

Customer: 'Ee, ah were all 'ungry-like!
posted by Decani at 6:19 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Benny Hill fandom is fading in the US, mostly because his shows aren't re-run here anymore. But I grew up a fan of Python, The Young Ones, Blackadder, etc., and I liked Hill a lot too. A lot of Americans liked the "cheekiness" of it. (Bear in mind that we were seeing heavily-edited versions that featured bits from different decades, and no actual nudity, so it was substantially different from what UK folks saw.)

Stuff like Are You Being Served? and The Good Life may have found an audience in the US, but I don't imagine there was much overlap with the Python crowd unless you're talking about fans who were such anglophiles they'd watch everything from the UK. Hill had a certain naughty, silly, Austin Powers-esque zing, but Are You Being Served? just seemed like one of those tedious shows your grandparents watched.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:36 PM on June 26


Benny Hill was insufferable; but Are You Being Served? was actually quite watchable, and John Inman had (and continues to have) many American fans.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:45 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


After its stint on the local PBS station (L.A. area, early 70s), a commercial station played Python for a brief while. When that ran out they switched to Benny Hill in the same time slot. I assume the station thought "We should get more of that British comedy", and whoever had the rights to Benny Hill managed to make the sale. Most people I knew saw that it wasn't at all the same thing, but there were some who put them in the same category. (They would be people in their 40s and 50s today).

It's hard to explain just how difficult it was to lay your hands on bits of culture back then. This was before people had VHS machines - you couldn't even get someone to send you a bootleg taped off the air.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:46 PM on June 26


I would also like to add that while Python is, very reasonably, seen as British humour, it would have been a lesser thing without the mad, surreal, splattery animations of Terry Gilliam. The lone American. Also, Cardinal Fang.
posted by Decani at 6:47 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


How old are the people saying it? I'm having a really hard time imagining anyone from my generation (around age 40) saying it, but maybe somewhat older folks? People in their 50s or 60s?

Well . . . my father is 90 and he and my mother loved the hell out of Are You Being Served, Benny Hill, Keeping Up Appearances -- and Fawlty Towers. My mother liked Mr. Bean, too.

I'm dead sure they never watched Red Dwarf, The Young Ones, AbFab or Blackadder.

I believe my mother watched some of Doctor Who #4 and #5 in the 1970s. We all watched The Prisoner and The Avengers in the 1960s. (The parents also tolerated Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, and UFO, which was nice, cuz we only had one teevy set).

As above, I got into Python before it was on teevy here, thanks to progressive radio, and watched the first run on PBS. Later I enjoyed The Young Ones, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, and Chef! I overlapped my parents with Fawlty Towers and Mr. Bean.

I introduced my younger sibs (now in their mid-50s) to Python on LP, and they saw the films, but never did watch the teevy series. I don't think they got into any other 'britcoms' either.

BUT: they are quite dedicated to Python on LP and at some point showed Father the Python movies on VHS -- and he howled with laughter, particularly "Romans Go Home!" and "Splitters!" And he's heard us do "Cheese Shop", "Dead Parrot" and some others so many times over the years he knows where the quotes go ("uncontaminated by cheese" for example) though he's probably never seen the originals. He also joins in on the Spam Chorus.

Once I got him to participate in a re-enactment of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, because a) he's a ham and b) of course, he had it tough, and c) it echoes a family joke about how the parents (who did grow up in The Great Depression) had to walk to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways, etc. etc.

He loved it.

So I guess you could call my 90 year old father a Benny Hill fan and a Monty Python fan.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:52 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Are You Being Served? just seemed like one of those tedious shows your grandparents watched.

My grandmother watched Star Trek and Mission Impossible and Get Smart (though she grew up on Vaudeville and Tarzan and John Carter and Marie Corelli novels).
 
posted by Herodios at 8:09 PM on June 26


I saw python on PBS in the early 70's, when I was just entering high school. Some of those sketches always stay with you. The twin peaks of Kilimanjaro. The new postbox. The Ministry of Silly Walks. And of course many of the others mentioned here.
posted by dougfelt at 9:13 PM on June 26


SPAM SPAM SPAM.

Every annoying piece-of-shit junk email we encounter we feel powerful over because

SPAM SPAM SPAM.
posted by Jesse the K at 9:46 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


It's not particularly silly, is it?
posted by ephemerae at 10:39 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Are You Being Served? just seemed like one of those tedious shows your grandparents watched.

Perhaps that sounded like a harsher knock against grandparents than I meant it to be. (My grandma was awesome!) I was just thinking of those Sunday evenings when your parents would take you over to the grandparents' place and they'd be watching Lawrence Welk and other stuff that just could not possibly interest some punk kid. It was grandparent TV, the same way that hard little butterscotch chewies were grandparent candy.

I miss my grandma. I'd gladly watch Lawrence Welk with her now!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:54 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


if it makes you feel better, my dad loved Are You Being Served? as he got older (grandparent phase) and it genuinely perplexed him that I didn't as well. There were English accents. There was a laugh track. There was an effeminate character. How was that not like Monty Python?

We'd usually end up watching golf or football.
posted by philip-random at 12:03 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Benny Hill pfft.

Hardcore offensive stereotype-seeking Anglocomedy-philes must revere Dick Emery.
posted by colie at 1:05 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize disliking Mr. Bean was a thing. Oh, sure, the movie, but at least 50% of the TV show was hilarious.

I mean, if you tuned in expecting Blackadder or just got sick of how ubiquitous the character became, I get not liking it, but, I mean, come on! (Not Monty Python, Mr. Bean)
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:04 AM on June 27


Hardcore offensive stereotype-seeking Anglocomedy-philes must revere Dick Emery.
posted by colie at 9:05 AM on June 27


Ooh, you are awful! But I like you! *SHOVE*
posted by Decani at 5:52 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Are You Being Served was pleasant in small doses, but how many seasons did they do? (Wikipedia says ten.) So many shows, with the same people, doing basically the same jokes, standing on the same X marks on the same set, it seemed like.

Benny Hill arrived in the US in the late 70s, early 80s. It wasn't on PBS stations, it was in regular syndication and bought by individual, local commerical stations, then shown at odd hours. It was on very late Sunday nights in MSP, as I recall. I can't remember a single Benny Hill sketch, just montages of stop action old men chasing half-dressed young women through a park to a background of Yakety Sax.

The early 80s saw PBS stations start to bring in more Britcoms. We'd get shows in the 10:00 p.m. time slot. By the late 80s, as Britcoms drifted over to basic cable, Eastenders was starting to show up in that time slot, too.

How many shows could Penelope Keith possibly be in? To the Manor Born sticks in my memory, but there were many more.

Reginald Perrin was one of the best 70s Britcoms to show up on PBS in the early eighties. Still memorable, still quotable.

By the mid-to-late 80s, basic cable networks started showing Britcoms as well. A&E showed Blackadder. MTV picked up The Young Ones. Absolutely Fabulous on Comedy Central.
posted by gimonca at 5:54 AM on June 27


To understand Python you also need to understand the English Music Hall tradition. The surrealism is all Goon Show and Lewis Carroll English psychedelia, sure, but the other big ingredient is the irreverence shown to preposterous English figures of authority from the middle and upper reaches of the class system, and that is not something invented by Peter Cook in Beyond the Fringe, contrary to popular belief.

In fact pompous twits doing silly walks were a constant feature of Music Hall, and pretty much any of Eric Idle's songs would have been at home there as well, word for word.

Benny Hill and Dick Emery took only the smutty and idiotic characters from Music Hall but Python took the sharpest class observations from this most working-class of comedy styles and brought it to the middle classes for the first time, which they could do because they were all educated upper middle class themselves.

For this to work they had to soften the edges a bit, which they did with the lashings of surrealism, rather than the original Music Hall which would have had crafty low-class characters winning out at the end of the day and cuckolding the rich twits etc. The Beatles, despite being lower middle class unlike the Pythons, had already shown how to bring figures of authority into a psychedelic love-world with Sgt Pepper and Lovely Rita and other characters who were all in this retro mix in late 60s England.
posted by colie at 6:26 AM on June 27 [7 favorites]


Music hall and silly walks... the legendary Max Wall. Check it out from 1:40.
posted by Decani at 7:27 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


For this to work they had to soften the edges a bit, which they did with the lashings of surrealism, rather than the original Music Hall which would have had crafty low-class characters winning out at the end of the day and cuckolding the rich twits etc.

I'm with you, but allow me to shift the emphasis. It (Python) worked (still works) so well because there are no winners anywhere. Everybody and everything is a target which means (as I noted earlier) there is no smug inner circle to their humor. We're all naked. Which probably explains why children of a certain age warm to it so immediately even if they're miles from grasping all the innuendo. Because when you're a kid, you have no agency, no illusion of power/position. Even if your dad's the seventh richest man in the world, you've still got to do what he tells you or you're in the shit. You're always an outsider.

And yeah, I think the same applies to the Beatles, though sort of in reverse. They were the group that EVERYONE could dance to, sing along to -- from She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah to I Am The Walrus to Yesterday to Within You Without You. Something for everyone.

I can't begin to think of what a current 2014 version of this might be.
posted by philip-random at 9:05 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Every time we have a Monty Python thread I lose about an hour or two to youtube
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:44 AM on June 27


(Python) worked (still works) so well because there are no winners anywhere.

Not sure about this... in narrative comedy, don't we always need somebody to be putting one over another person, even though the tables can turn at any time and often before the protagonists realise it?

The Music Hall/Vaudeville stuff was brought to the screen far earlier by the Marx Brothers, who devised movies that consisted almost entirely of low-class guys (one of which was pretending to be a high-class guy) scamming high-class guys.
posted by colie at 11:13 AM on June 27


(Python) worked (still works) so well because there are no winners anywhere.

I don't get this concept. I also don't get the concept that comedy is always "punching up" or "punching down."

There's a ton of different kinds of comedy. Sometimes its just an absurd idea or a silly sketch. Sometimes its pushing boundaries of good taste. Sometimes its cats being cats. And, yes, sometimes its skewering class structure. Sometimes its a lot of other things, too.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:21 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


There's a ton of different kinds of comedy.

I guess that's what I was trying to say. There is nothing consistent about Python humor. There's no particular point of view other than everything goes, no sacred cows. No set format, no particular genre, no political or artistic or social agenda, no guiding principle at all beyond MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH and (perhaps) BE BRAVE.

In the wrong hands, this could've been disastrous (or merely bad). But given the prodigious level of talent involved and the 1/2 hour sitcom format (thinking of the original TV show here), it added up to a scattershot eruption of broad, sly, puerile, grotesque, subtle, absurd, offensive, ultimately surreal (in the best possible way) FUN that left you reeling in its wake, maybe changed.
posted by philip-random at 10:40 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


There's plenty to criticize about Python - the occasional homophobia and sexism spring to mind

I realize this has been commented on already, but homophobia was almost never present. Quite the opposite.

(from memory, Palin as A Man In The Street, Cleese as a London bobby)

Palin: That man! He just stole a fiver from me!

Cleese: Fraid we can't help you there sir.

Palin: Ummmm... want to come back to my place?

Cleese: Yeah, alright.

here's no particular point of view other than everything goes, no sacred cows. No set format, no particular genre, no political or artistic or social agenda, no guiding principle at all beyond MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH and (perhaps) BE BRAVE.

There's no 'perhaps' about it at all. While Goon Show etc may have opened the doors to that kind of surrealist humour, Python broke an amazing amount of new ground, and paved the way for shows like SNL (which was much funnier 25+ years ago than it is now, ugh), SCTV (Canada represent!), Kids In The Hall (Canada again! And the most Pythonesque comedy troupe I can think of in terms of both makeup and style), even MADTV (which was good for two years and then disappeared into a black hole of suckage, and on reflection was more of a reaction to SNL than following in Python's footsteps).

Actually come to think of it most of the best group comedy has been staffed, written, produced, or performed by Canadians. We're funny, eh!

Also I cannot believe someone mentioned Tomkinson's Schooldays. I loved every damn thing about that.

And for the record, count me in as both a Python and AYBS? fan. Also Blackadder, Bean, AbFab, Red Dwarf (although perhaps not so much anymore; I marathon rewatched seasons 1/2/3 recently and a lot of the humour simply hasn't held up the same way Python has)... but never Benny Hill. Ugh. Everything about that show was terrible.

Oh! And Keeping Up Appearances. It's pronounced Boo-kay.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:07 AM on June 30


There's plenty to criticize about Python - the occasional homophobia and sexism spring to mind


They're all married, and living quite well in a council estate near Dulwich.
posted by Decani at 12:07 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that using men being in love as a punch line for a joke is necessary proof that there's not some homophobia at the heart of those sketches...
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:16 PM on June 30


Joey, did you watch the sketch? It's actually poking fun at a quirk of grammar and taking it to an extreme length.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:19 PM on June 30


I've watched the sketch many times and enjoy most of it. I'm a huge Python fan. I also know part of why my high school friends enjoyed some of these sketches in the 80's was because they could laugh at gay people. "Ha ha, poofta." "Ha ha, that lumberjack dresses like a girl." "Ha ha, 'I bet you're gay,' 'No I'm not'"

Hey, it was a different time. One of the Pythons is quoted in one of the books I own as saying that they had Carol Cleveland for when "they needed real tits instead of fake tits." As I said earlier, I don't hold this against them anymore than I hold Merchant of Venice against Shakespeare. I don't think it hurts to acknowledge that some of the humor they produced was in the vein of "let's laugh at these gay people."

Intention of the sketches can be debated, but one of the practical effects of some of the sketches in certain parts of the world was to reinforce that "these men are gay let's laugh at them" was an acceptable punch line to a sketch. I teach high school kids how to create comedy and to this day, a certain number of the sketches they right are around that very theme. They're so used to laughing at the idea of two men together that they often don't even realize that that could possibly be hurtful.

I acknowledge that I might be overly sensitive to this, but this is Metafilter and if I can't overthink a plate of beans here, I don't know where else I can.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:02 PM on June 30


I'm going to the show.
Y'all have my permission to envy me now.

*bounce* *bounce* *bounce* *bounce*
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:10 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


So we saw the show Friday night, and we loved it a lot... Mr Too-Ticky and I both. We were so glad we went. No spoilers for now though, because the very last show will be streamed to cinemas all around the world later today, in about five hours from now.

If you're an admirer of the plumage of the Norwegian Blue, and wondering whether to go see the live broadcast:
Yes, you should go and see it. Not just because it's your last chance ever to see the gang live (mostly), but also because it's really good. You can trust me on this. Look, just go, allright?
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:33 AM on July 20


the very last show will be streamed to cinemas all around the world later today, in about five hours from now.

And will be on DVD in time for Christmas, is my guess.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:41 AM on July 20


Wouldn't surprise me one bit. Still, there's something to be said for the live aspect, and also for watching it on the big screen.

When we saw it on Friday, there were certainly things that happened that did not happen every night, and might not appear on a DVD. There were some slight but funny bloopers, and also some ad libbing going on. So there's that.

Been there, done that, LOLled IRL, got the T-shirt (yes!), would do it again except that won't be possible.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:50 AM on July 20


Saw it in the theater yesterday afternoon. So glad I did. There were some issues with the audio (you had to strain to hear the dialogue most of the time), but even so, it was three hours of sheer joy. There was a moment during the hybrid "dead parrot/cheese shop" sketch when Palin couldn't keep from cracking up, and they both looked for a moment like they were kids again and were having a blast.
posted by jbickers at 5:19 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


« Older The Absolutist: [The New Yorker]...  |  A new study suggests that dads... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments