December 23, 2004 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Being in touch with the absurdity of life got to lead to the absurdity of form. Dave Eggers discusses the Monty Pythons’ brand of comedy.
posted by semmi (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"the Monty Pythons"? is that the absurdity of form you mean?
posted by soyjoy at 11:04 AM on December 23, 2004

Is this the right room for an argument?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:08 AM on December 23, 2004

I don't want to SEE it as much as I want to be IN it.

If anybody else wants to help fund my screenplay based entirely on "Mr. Neutron" I got a change jar on the counter here... [shakes jar].
posted by tkchrist at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2004

weapons-grade pandemonium, I've told you once.
posted by Fourmyle at 11:17 AM on December 23, 2004

When he lists the shows since Python that have managed to get sketch comedy right he does a pretty good job, but it's a pity he doesn't mention SCTV. To my mind it's the only thing since that really comes close. Apart from the incredible quality of the writing and performing talent, what they have in common is that they're utterly nontopical -- they share a common approach of taking some conventional thing (typically but not always television) emptying it of content and filling it back up with something ridiculous, and in so doing highlight the core absurdities of things we've come to treat as ordinary.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:23 AM on December 23, 2004

George, I'm with ya on SCTV (at least until the last season or so, when it became all-Dave-Thomas-all-the-time). But Eggers does give them their props in the magazine article itself

...which I mistook this for, without clicking on the link, hence the somewhat snarky first comment. Er.
posted by soyjoy at 11:27 AM on December 23, 2004

And I don’t know if there’d be a place for him [Barthelme] now.

It lacks the stealth angle of the New Yorker work that Eggers mentions, But if Barthelme were alive today I think he'd be doing something like Paul Ford's Ftrain. Maybe.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:31 AM on December 23, 2004

Well let's keep it simple, how about Cheddar?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:40 AM on December 23, 2004

Having now - ahem - read the interview, I have to agree with most of what Eggers says, but I feel I can't trust him because of his pie-eyed reverence for The Meaning of Life, which I felt never should have been made. It is, as he points out, a very angry film, or more accurately, a collection of angry sketches, and has a handful of laughs here and there, but after the standard they set with actual movies like Holy Grail and Life of Brian, it was a profound disappointment, a huge anti-climax. Meaning of Life, feh.
posted by soyjoy at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2004

posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:53 PM on December 23, 2004

I won't ruin this thread for a pound.
posted by briank at 12:58 PM on December 23, 2004

He's pinin' for the fjords!
posted by tommasz at 1:27 PM on December 23, 2004

This is a job for Bicycle Repairman!
posted by fixedgear at 1:32 PM on December 23, 2004

He (Eggers) does mention SCTV in the great article he wrote in the most recent New Yorker. This interview is sort of a spin-off of the actual article.
posted by mike_bling at 1:57 PM on December 23, 2004

ignore that. (soyjoy took care of it.)
posted by mike_bling at 1:57 PM on December 23, 2004

One bit of the interview stood out, dealing with Cleese:

He thought they’d done everything they could do in the medium, so he moved on.

Which is also why Fawlty Towers ended after two series (twelve episodes). And I actually think that's a more interesting piece of work, because it's both absurdist and very, very tightly drawn. It's that line of comedy that, I think, runs through to Coogan's Alan Partridge and The Office: that focus on embarrassment, that squirm-inducing element which separates British comedy from American.

MPFC wasn't repeated often on the BBC (if at all) for a long time. The first full repeat I remember was when the scripts appeared, perhaps fifteen years ago. And what comes across is that a lot of the material was just not very good. Which is more of a testament of how much you could get away with on BBC2 in those days, than part of some grand comic theory.

Most annoying of all, Eggers' knowledge of British comedy seems to extend not much beyond Python, and it really shows. You can find shards of Python all over the place, from Spike Milligan's 'Q' (which bloody well predates them) to 'The Young Ones' to Alexei Sayle to 'The Fast Show' to Chris Morris. And as for this, from the main essay:

Jones is an aficionado of musicals, and he recently helped bring “The Play What I Wrote,” a successful British production about a pair of music-hall comics, from London to New York.

Now, perhaps Americans aren't acquainted with Morecambe and Wise (the not-so-veiled inspiration for the play's lead characters) but to pass over it so blankly -- after all, M&W were the dominant figures of British comedy at the time -- seems... weird. Perhaps it's just the time of year, and the realisation that the M&W Christmas special never made it across the pond.

Anyway, supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
posted by riviera at 2:45 PM on December 23, 2004

Oh, one last gripe:

I can’t remember anything since being that dark. I mean, nowadays, only animated stuff, like “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” can get away with that level of anger and bile and that sort of dim world view—but with them it goes down easier because they’re cartoons.

Two words: Nighty Night. Oh, and Human Remains, too.
posted by riviera at 2:54 PM on December 23, 2004

reverence for The Meaning of Life, which I felt never should have been made.

The BBC did hold them back a bit. I mean the relatively tame Undertaker's Sketch was only allowed to go on if the studio audience were seen to object to it. And the result of that is the only really ruined sketch in the whole series, because the audience reacts poorly: laughing and reacting too early, and because of fire restrictions only about a dozen of them were allowed to storm the set. And most of them are looking pretty happy about it; more like contestants on The Price is Right than an angry mob. I think if it hadn't been for the Beeb's timidity there'd have been far more dark stuff from the beginning.

So shut your festering gob, you tit. Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, toffee-nosed malodorous pervert!
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:37 PM on December 23, 2004

I'll stick up for The Meaning of Life. It's the best Buñuel movie Buñuel never made. For sheer angry, queasy bizarreness, it can hardly be beat. (Except by, erm, Buñuel.) Whatever you think of Mr. Creosote, he's not easily forgotten.

I feel similarly about Meaning of Life as I do about Chris Morris' Jam - not the radio show, which was achingly brilliant, but its strange TV cousin. Not exactly funny, not exactly brilliant, but definitely sharp and remarkable.

As for angry, bilious comedy, I'm going to second the recommendation Human Remains, which is my Current Favorite Thing. The episode with the singer is hysterical, but the episode with the pregnant woman is agonizing...

And as for Python influences, surely I should point out The Bed-Sitting Room by now.

There, I've done it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:50 PM on December 23, 2004

posted by Dr. Wu at 4:15 PM on December 23, 2004

My personal favourite, Bruces' Philosophers Song [mp3]
posted by MrMustard at 5:41 PM on December 23, 2004

I love me Pythons!
posted by billsaysthis at 7:36 PM on December 23, 2004

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