OK, so that happened. Obvious attempts to steal jokes from the greats aside, Monty Python was the first thing that I remember nerding out over. I still remember where I was when I first saw And Now for Something Completely Different. I was at a friend’s house while I was in middle school, and this was the best thing I had ever seen. I understand that ANfSCD doesn’t have the shining reputation that Holy Grail or Life of Brian enjoy now, but, as a way to hook a new viewer, it was perfect.
Shortly after, I saw Holy Grail and that was it. Every single joke worked for me, and that’s not counting the hundreds of jokes that I didn’t notice the first half dozen times I saw it. I don’t want to recount every moment of this pinnacle of comedy, but I have to gush over the structure. Somehow, this movie avoided being a collection of sketches and turned into a gleefully anarchist film that parodied the entire medium. Seriously, the best ending ever.
The other movies were less mind-shattering for me, which is to say that they are only incredible. I still adore Life of Brian even though it fell flat in a few spots. It felt more uneven than Holy Grail, which is odd when you consider that it was more tightly plotted and conceived. It is still one of the best critiques of organized religion that I have seen. Also, Eric Idle’s original idea for the title was marvelous: Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory. We cannot have a serious discussion of this movie without mentioning the incredible song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” That out of the way, let’s discuss the meaning of life.
Meaning of Life is the most interesting film to me, because it seems obvious in retrospect that the group was dispersing. Terry Gilliam’s contribution was the ambitious and ridiculous Crimson Permanent Assurance, which had almost no connection to anything at all. The entire movie was a group of sketches that were only loosely connected to each other and never quite gelled. I still love it, though. And, if I’m honest, it has my personal favorite Python bit ever. Something about the scene where Eric Idle and Michael Palin are dressed in a tiger suit is the funniest thing to me.
But, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. (Ed. Seriously?) I want to talk about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This is the best television show ever written, imagined, or performed. Ever. There are several factors that contributed to the perfection of this show. Honestly, I think I could write a doctoral dissertation on this show. The sheer mad randomness that pervades every episode has never been rivaled. From well-known classics like the “Dead Parrot Sketch” to tiny perfect little bits of comedy like the “Fish Slapping Dance,” nearly every bit, sketch, and character could be considered a comedy classic. I would contend that the Election Night Special from Series 2 still stands as a critique of modern election coverage, despite the fact that it was filmed in 1970. This gets to the thing that Python did so right. Whenever possible, the characters and scenarios were not specific. They rarely made fun of politicians by name, but instead mocked their behavior. This way the jokes still work after 40 years.
The key to Monty Python’s success is that it is always funny. None of the jokes were subjected to any standard other than “Do they make the group laugh?” This principle is why, of the 45 episodes of the TV series, four films, one live recording, 13 or so albums, and a few books, there are no real low points.
I don’t know how to wrap this up except to say that Monty Python made me the man I am today. Seriously. My sense of humor has been warped and stretched by overexposure to their surrealism. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that I am defined by one trait more than any other: my goofy sense of humor and geeky taste. Two traits: my sense of humor, geeky taste, and ruthless efficiency. Several traits: most notably, my sense of humor. Monty Python might not have made me a better man, but while they were busy reinventing comedy, they also made me a more interesting man.
P.S. Lemon Curry?