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October 4, 2019 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Monty Python's Flying Circus' 50th Anniversary On Sunday, October 5, 1969 a group of six young chaps, most of whom had begun performing separately and together several years earlier at Cambridge and/or Oxford and had already become familiar faces on a handful of BBC comedy programmes. made their debut broadcast of a show that could have been called "Bunn, Wackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot".

The group officially retired with a series of sold out live performances at the O2 in 2014, the last of which was broadcast worldwide via satellite in movie theaters, spurred in part by Terry Jones' diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia that has robbed him of the ability to speak. Other than Jones and Graham Chapman, who died in 1989, the others continue to perform in the busy twilight of their solo careers.

While Python was undeniably one of the defining elements of comedy for most of us who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, it's now an over-polished gem, turned into a zillion catchphrases and references, while usually overlooking the problematic bits of homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, and so on. Nevertheless, the Pythons remain cherished icons half a century on
posted by briank (88 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Please allow me to port this perfectly turned phrase from the current Achewood thread to this thread (h/t Etrigan): "You can keep it, but keep it in context."
posted by Horkus at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2019 [18 favorites]


45 half-hour episodes, four (original) films. You could watch their entire output in a single weekend and still have enough time to sleep and go out for meals, and it's the antecedent of more than half of the comedy in the English-speaking world today. Absolutely amazing.

Oh, and also seven asteroids.
posted by Etrigan at 12:52 PM on October 4, 2019 [12 favorites]


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It's
posted by Chuffy at 12:55 PM on October 4, 2019 [29 favorites]


The Larch.
posted by dnash at 1:02 PM on October 4, 2019 [15 favorites]


Monty Python's Flying Circus taught me that England is an ugly place, but at least you can show butts on TV there.
posted by swift at 1:07 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Monty Python's Flying Circus taught me that England is an ugly place, but at least you can show butts on TV there.

In a similar vein, Benny Hill taught me you can show a large quantity of boobs.
posted by Fizz at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think the most interesting thing I ever read about Python is a piece that talked about the humor and where it came from. The piece used the example of the graffiti scene where the centurion corrects the Latin and how that was taken pretty much directly from the experience of a British schoolboy. With the reforms of the educational system over time, such a thing had been removed from the collective experience of British children who would grow up laughing at the bit, but not truly understanding the fundamental element from which it sprang.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


I watched it obsessively in the during it's first run on PBS in the early seventies and loved it but always had the feeling that I was only getting about half the jokes.
posted by octothorpe at 1:13 PM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


That's because there are only half the jokes.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 1:14 PM on October 4, 2019 [24 favorites]


Whenever I think of Terry Jones, I think of how Michael Palin still takes him down to the pub every week or so and talks to him to keep his spirits up. That's a mensch.

Today I found out that Douglas Adams did some work on the last season of Python. I hadn't known that; I wish I had known it when I was 13 or so and everything funny from Great Britain seemed to come from the same magical, hilarious set of people.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2019 [20 favorites]


Oh, you're no fun anymore.
posted by SansPoint at 1:19 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


I believe that their truly awful American accents in The Meaning of Life helped raise several generations of British actors and comics to not do terrible American/Southern/Texan mangles.
Also I learned all the words to The Philosophers song and will sing it for another glass of wine at any time.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 1:20 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think that with Government backing it could be made very silly.
posted by St. Oops at 1:33 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


They showed me that humor could be slapstick and verbally smart at the same time. They showed me that there is an *amazing* variety of cheeses in the world, and that "Walpoling" is, or should be, a verb. They showed me that history shouldn't be obscure, and that all of it is mockable.
Presenter: So with the scores all equal now we go onto our second round, and Lenin it's your starter for ten. Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1959. What was the name of the song? ... Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr's song in the 1959 Eurovision Song Contest? Anybody? Yes, Mao Tse-tung?

Mao Tse-tung: 'Sing Little Birdie'?
They helped to embrace non sequiturs.

Hand me that vole, would you?
posted by conscious matter at 1:37 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


Regarding that almost-name of the show, Election Night Special included candidate Jethro Q. Bunn Whackett Buzzard Stubble and Boot Walrustitty (Silly Party).
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:44 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


I only recently (possibly on the blue?) found out that the theme song for the "Attila the Hun Show" was nearly a frame-by-frame remake of the contemporary opening of the otherwise now little-remembered Debbie Reynolds Show.
posted by gimonca at 2:04 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


A few years ago, Eric Idle and John Cleese performed at my town. Aside from a crotchety “Fuck Selfies” song, they mostly reenacted old Python sketches and songs and had a Q&A. I was struck, however, when the songs came up, everybody in the audience not only knew all the words but sang along with gusto. It was like a church revival. Instead of gospel hymns, it was "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life".
posted by Eikonaut at 2:12 PM on October 4, 2019 [16 favorites]


Those of you who think Monty Python was wacky and anarchic need to have a listen to The Goon Show (whence comes part of my username), which the Pythons cited as an inspiration. It manages to be more surreal and unleashed, while simultaneously having a plot for each episode and continuing characters.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:13 PM on October 4, 2019 [21 favorites]


Three of my favorite Monty Python anecdotes don't even involve members of Python (at least not principally):

1. One of the biggest reasons that Python stayed on the air as long as it did was because George Harrison saw the first episode, after having just come from a contentious day in the studio with the other Beatles. I can't remember whether they were recording Let It Be or Abbe Road, but it was tense and icky and everyone was cranky and the writing was starting to be on the wall that this was the end of the Beatles, and George headed for home all depressed and wondering all "man, whatever happened to us," and he turned on the TV and suddenly there was this, this bit of zany and nonsense that felt like "oh, hey, that's that spirit of fun and looniness that the Beatles used to have," and it cheered him up and comforted him, like whatever spirit of fun that had used to be hanging around the Beatles hadn't died, it had just relocated into Python. When the episode was over, George wrote a letter to the BBC basically ordering them to "keep these guys on the air, please!"

2. George later became good friends with the Pythons (including famously funding Life of Brian with only about 24 hours' notice after their initial investor pulled out 3 days before filming). And - you know how there's always that one guy who will quote from Python and expect you to instantly pick it up and riff with him? George was that guy, only he was that guy when he was hanging out with the other guys in Python. Like, they'd be hanging around talking about the news or something, and there'd be a lull in the conversation and George would turn to Terry Jones with a grin and say "I will not buy this record, it is scratched!" and wait for him to say the next line.

3. Speaking of being That Guy: during the rehearsals for the first production of Spamalot, there apparently was a moment when Hank Azaria was hanging out with the director on a break, and the director told him "I'm really impressed, you already know all the lines for the Knights of Ni scene. We've only been rehearsing for like a week."

And Hank Azaria just stared at him a moment and said "It's Monty Python. I've had the lines memorized since I was twelve."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:15 PM on October 4, 2019 [84 favorites]


Nevertheless, the Pythons remain cherished icons half a century on

I see what you did there.
posted by Mchelly at 2:25 PM on October 4, 2019


How I learned that incongruity is always funny.
posted by scratch at 2:34 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


Etrigan, don't forget the six original records!!! (not that it adds that much content, but there is some original stuff there)
posted by scolbath at 2:47 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


Python is likely to live on for a long time. My 16 year old daughter watched Holy Grail for the first time a few months back, has already re-watched a couple of times, and can quote from it extensively. Life of Brian strikes me as similarly timeless.
posted by Frayed Knot at 2:51 PM on October 4, 2019 [7 favorites]


"Find the Fish..."
posted by Windopaene at 3:02 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Find the Fish..."

Uuuuuughhhh that is the part of Meaning of Life that I hate the mostest.
posted by hanov3r at 3:09 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]




It's completely insane. It has nothing to do with anything. That's what makes it wonderful.
posted by Windopaene at 3:47 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


Can I tell you how glad I am that I was never caught as a teen watching this scene at home? My being unable to sit down for days would've only been the beginning of it.

Daaavid Bloggs! the one and only super to see you who are you working for come and work for me I'll call you tomorrow!
posted by droplet at 4:13 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I clearly remember watching this when it came out first, and it remains one of my favourite memories of an otherwise rather grim early adolescence. That uncontrollable mad, painful laughter that happens so often when you are a kid, and so seldom in adulthood.

Incidentally, my favourite of the proposed alternative names for Monty Python was "Owl-Stretching Time".
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:08 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


Flagged as spam spam spam backed beans and spam.
posted by vrakatar at 5:16 PM on October 4, 2019 [10 favorites]


First time seeing Holy Grail my jaw hurt from laughing. I blame Biggus Dickus.
posted by Ber at 5:29 PM on October 4, 2019


Etrigan, don't forget the six original records!!!

OMG my favorite python story!

Early pressings of Contractual Obligation Album had "Farewell to John Denver," in which an announcer announced "And now, the sound of John Denver being strangled!" followed by someone singing "You caaaame on my pillllow arrrrgh"

Apparently Denver objected fairly strenuously.

So later pressings replaced it with something to the effect of "This segment has been removed for copyright reasons," which sounds like the sort of silly thing that they'd do but was in fact just the plain truth.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


Splunge.
posted by zaixfeep at 5:43 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


No time to lose.
posted by jabo at 5:46 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


The thing about Monty Python sketches is that you can invoke an entire sketch with a single word or phrase.

Spam! Luxury! Pinin' for the fjords! Tinny! I have whole episodes lodged in my head. And I'm not some crazed fan; I'm a casual viewer who has suddenly found his hovercraft full of eels and is wondering how they got there.
posted by SPrintF at 5:47 PM on October 4, 2019 [11 favorites]


while usually overlooking the problematic bits of homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, and so on

I think this is because they come across as fundamentally empathetic and humanist. Instead of being superior to their targets, they *are* their targets -- as are all of us, human and flawed.
posted by Slothrup at 5:47 PM on October 4, 2019 [14 favorites]


"Find the Fish..."

Uuuuuughhhh that is the part of Meaning of Life that I hate the mostest.
posted by hanov3r


Hint: The camera filming them has a fish-eye lens, which I assume gives away where the fish is.
posted by zaixfeep at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Breedin' like files..."
posted by Freedomboy at 6:42 PM on October 4, 2019


I have that record still, I think, somewhere...

Might have ended up in Finland though...
posted by Windopaene at 6:57 PM on October 4, 2019


"There's a penguin on the telly!"
posted by tzikeh at 6:57 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


They stamp them when they're small...
posted by Windopaene at 7:00 PM on October 4, 2019


Just scrolling past the picture of the frenchmen lecturing in front of the sheep was enough to make me laugh. I haven't seen that sketch in probably 20 years and it's still that funny to me.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:07 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


Stop that! It's silly!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:21 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've never been able to truly figure out whether each episode of the television actually did have an internal theme which it took me years of watching to figure out, or whether I've watched Python stoned so many times across the years that my pot-influenced brain has just decided each episode has an internal theme.

At some point, it really doesn't matter, does it?
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


Might have ended up in Finland though...

Finland? That's the country where I quite want to be!
posted by hippybear at 7:23 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


Such a delirious delight to see from America.

Now Python feels like the original Twilight Zone: a folkloric touchstone.
posted by doctornemo at 7:30 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


the fact that Terry Gilliam was involved, and was an american, made me feel like not all was lost here, in the colonies.

also, watching early SNL rip off certain aspects of python made me feel like not all was lost, here in the colonies.
posted by valkane at 8:25 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Ionesco never gets enough credit.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:48 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


Early pressings of Contractual Obligation Album had "Farewell to John Denver,"

Holy cow, I did not know that I actually had the original pressing of that album!
posted by mach at 9:31 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


The cassette of the album also came with that particular joke. Were there following "pressings" of the cassette? My version has this...
posted by hippybear at 9:47 PM on October 4, 2019


Mrs. Smegma, will you stand up, please?
posted by dry white toast at 9:48 PM on October 4, 2019


Second only to Monty Python in my life as far as development of comedy goes is The Firesign Theatre, who are a parallel pathway into sketch humor. Related, but not entirely overlapping.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


As an outsider, recalling the way Python portrayed the British ruling class has been enormously helpful in understanding why Brexit continues to be a Thing.
posted by dry white toast at 10:29 PM on October 4, 2019 [11 favorites]


INTERCOURSE THE PENGUIN!
posted by loquacious at 11:05 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was brought up on a heavy diet on Monty Python and it's made me the man I am today: A mad authority figure.
posted by ephemerae at 1:19 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


and also seven asteroids

and a programming language.
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 AM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I must say "How to Identify trees from far away" episode 12B, helped me identify my first Larch just last week. I am being serious here. Larix decidua.
posted by epjr at 6:02 AM on October 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Having watched a lot of Monty Python before moving to Britain helped me immensely.

Me: Arrgh!! Why does he keep saying Yes when he obviously means No! Why doesn't he say he just can't do it!!?
My partner: You think the Cheese sketch was funny don't you? Well, it was actually documentary
Me: Ahhh...

Me: My god! What is wrong with that man? Why does he speak and act like that??
Her: Upper Class Twit
Me: Ahhh...
posted by vacapinta at 6:57 AM on October 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


Etrigan, don't forget the six original records!!! (not that it adds that much content, but there is some original stuff there)
The great thing about the two Python records I've heard (thanks dad!) is that the original content is just for the medium of the record - there are sketches on there that only work in audio, and there are things that use the physical medium of the record itself to make the joke.

And while I agree that there are problematic things in it on various axes which are often glossed over, to put it in its context - the last episode of Monty Python aired on British tv in 1974. The last episode of the Black and White Minstrel Show aired on British tv in 1978. I'm not going to say it's a beacon of progressive values or any such nonsense, but it was a damn sight better than a lot of contemporary telly.

I do think that people who like Python should check out the Goon Show, but with the caveat that it's much more loose and off the wall, and at times can end up being just strange and disconnected rather than funny. What is much more like Python is Spike Milligan's tv show Q... but that is problematic in the extreme - it was racist enough to cause comment at the time, which for 70s British tv is saying a lot. It's also more hit and miss in terms of the comedy, even in the sketches which don't have toe-curlingly awful racism in them.
posted by Vortisaur at 7:39 AM on October 5, 2019


“But it's my only line!”
posted by ob1quixote at 7:39 AM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Today I found out that Douglas Adams did some work on the last season of Python.

I don’t think he did. He worked on Graham Chapman’s autobiography shortly after graduating from Cambridge. Is that what you’re think of? He was too young to work on Flying Circus and the pythons wrote all the material.
posted by w0mbat at 8:08 AM on October 5, 2019


Adams has a writing credit on Episode 45 of MPFC.
posted by octothorpe at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


First time seeing Holy Grail my jaw hurt from laughing. I blame Biggus Dickus.

He has a wife, you know.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:31 AM on October 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Splunge.
posted by zaixfeep


You called?
posted by Splunge at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Was and am a huge fan, and just in the last couple of weeks turned my youngest son onto it. But whoopsie, the funny has a pretty ugly payload, we need to be selective...

This is in general a really strange phenomenon, seeing something that was contemporary to me again, in modern times.

Still love it. But HOLY SHIT the early 70s were an ugly racist homophobic place. Terrible terrible low-effort blackface type comedy, my god it is cringeworthy. It is funny because he is not white, see? I watched that in the 70s and it just washed over me.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:29 AM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Adams has a writing credit on Episode 45 of MPFC.

Wow. I had no idea. I suppose Graham Chapman was lacking his regular co-writer as that was the short season where they didn't have Cleese. I see Graham co-wrote something in that episode with Neil Innes too.
posted by w0mbat at 12:00 PM on October 5, 2019


The other fun trivia was that both sides of the The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief record were labeled "Side 2", although it was actually three sided. Depending on how the LP needle landed in the groove, it would play one of two concentric tracks.
posted by autopilot at 12:03 PM on October 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I came here for an argument!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:26 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


No you didn't
posted by Windopaene at 1:58 PM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Favorite Python story, I think it was Eric Idle who told this one...

In the last season, Graham Chapman had come out of the closet and they had started to get a lot of hate mail. Idle remembers getting one letter that said "I insist you fire the sodomite pervert from your show and do not allow him to appear on the TV again." They got this letter just before they started airing the final season in which John Cleese did not appear.

Idle says he always wondered what the letter-writer thought about that.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


I credit them for adding “sniveling little rat-faced git” to my collection of insults.
posted by tommasz at 2:57 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


As I recall from (I think) Neil Gaiman's biography of Douglas Adams, he also appears as an extra in one sketch, as a doctor in a surgical mask.
posted by rifflesby at 5:21 PM on October 5, 2019


There's also Idle's anecdote about how someone wrote in saying Graham should be stoned. "So we went out and got him proper stoned. Of course he was already stoned most of the time, so there was really no way to tell."
posted by SansPoint at 8:38 PM on October 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


Some years before Python, Spike Milligan was offering a Series of Unrelated Incidents at Current Market Value (BBC 5.9.1961)
posted by flabdablet at 6:59 AM on October 6, 2019


I've recently rewatched a lot of the program for the first time in decades. I loved it as a teenager. I served briefly as the dictator for life of the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things at my school. We managed to receive school funds to use for purchasing snacks for film nights, though we had to modify the organizational constitution rather significantly from its original version.

Watching them today is a weird mix of, "I remember this fondly," "I never saw this before, it must not have been syndicated in the early '90s," and "goddamn, that's a lot of yellow-face, making fun of housewives, and treating the existence of gay men as a punchline, even by the standards of the time." I suppose it's hard not to punch down when everyone in the credits has an oxbridge rowing team jacket in their closet. Which isn't to say I don't agree with them about most things or appreciate their work.

On reflection, I can say that I'm really glad I discovered them when I was twelve. I'm not sure watching them again in 2019 was a good idea. Hopefully it remains useful for other twelve year olds today. But, I'd prefer the expurgated version.
posted by eotvos at 11:00 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


>I'd prefer the expurgated version

The Executive Version has so much more to offer
posted by Myeral at 7:25 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I too was exposed too young via PBS and therefore didn't get half the jokes. As a result, I thought random-for-the-sake-of-random non sequitur humor was much funnier than it actually was.

I didn't really understand this until exposing my own son way too early. Sorry, everybody!
posted by whuppy at 8:59 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Again I will ask... does each episode actually have a thread that binds it together into a larger whole? Because I feel like that thread is there for every episode. It isn't all random non-sequiturs. There's something unifying and there is a message in each show.

I'm not stoned enough right now to provide any examples.
posted by hippybear at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Hippybear, I think it's more likely that they're trying to make it look like there's a unifying thread, or that the only "unifying thread" is "this just happens to be the stuff that happened to be on everyone's brains this week and they all just riffed off it".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:49 AM on October 7, 2019


Part of it too is that virtually all Python sketches have some kind of link to the next sketch. There's very rarely an applause break and/or fade out between sketches, like you get on most sketch shows, then or now.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2019


Luxury!

I still say this on a regular basis when anyone makes some mild complaint about the office. I don't think many people get it, but it makes me smile.

NEver knew about the George Harrison stuff. That puts this oddity into much better context.

Those of you wanting to dig into the proto-Python antecedents shouldn't miss At Last the 1948 Show. It's been on Prime recently. It definitely contains some of the core strands of their DNA.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Cycling Tour episode (series 3, episode 8) is an actual linear story.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:42 PM on October 7, 2019


I think it's more likely that they're trying to make it look like there's a unifying thread

Idle and Cleese on the writing process
posted by flabdablet at 10:51 PM on October 7, 2019


The Cycling Tour episode (series 3, episode 8) is an actual linear story.

That's one episode out of how many?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 AM on October 8, 2019


A few years ago, I realized that the full-frontal shot of Graham Chapman in Life Of Brian was actually the first time I saw any instance of male genitalia.

I'm not sure if that explains anything about me or what.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:48 AM on October 8, 2019


That's one episode out of how many?

45, plus the two German episodes.

I believe they did the Cycling Tour just as a proof of concept type thing - you could tell a sequential story with Python humor, if you chose to.

The Michael Ellis and Mr. Neutron episodes from series four also come pretty close to being a single story.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:38 AM on October 8, 2019


Idle remembers getting one letter that said "I insist you fire the sodomite pervert from your show and do not allow him to appear on the TV again."

The correct response would be to write back and say "Could you be more specific? We have it narrowed down to four"
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:57 AM on October 9, 2019


On a whim watched the first few episodes of series 2 last night, and I was surprised by how consistently and confidently funny it was - it helps that those eps are hit after hit after hit, admittedly (Blackmail, Spanish Inquisition, Chemist Shop, Surrounded By Film, many of Gilliam's most famous animations). Realising that there was something quite pointed in Chapman's insistence on turning members of the Metropolitan Police (at that time famously corrupt and deeply, brutally homophobic) and other members of the establishment into screaming queens.

It's the same age as the Marx Brothers movies were when I watched them as a teenager. I am old and time is weird, but mad is never not funny.
posted by Grangousier at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


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