“I’d like to have an argument.” In 1969, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” quietly debuted on BBC1. The format of the show was a comedy troupe consisting of six men, five English and one American. While the format matched that of the common sketch show of the time, “Flying Circus” also married raunchy humor with political commentary. Furthermore, they made one important change: The sketches did not have to end with a punch line. It allowed for a more flexible structure within the full show, blending skits together and interspersing them with American Terry Gilliam’s cartoons.
Today, “Monty Python” is as funny as when the material originally aired. I was exposed to the sketches at a very early age, perhaps earlier than I should have been. Raised on the “Parrot Sketch” and “Vocational Guidance Counsellor,” I have always been drawn to British comedy and general silliness. My favorite sketch is the “Flying Lesson,” in which Terry Jones wants to become an airplane pilot but accidently goes to Graham Chapman, who tries to teach him how to fly. Python’s generation defined its content, yet did not confine it. Many sketches refer to specific members of Parliament and prominent members of British society of the time, but they are poked fun at in such a way that, even as a modern American, I can enjoy it.
They have a sketch titled “The Philosophers’ Football Match.” Throughout this sketch Michael Palin comments on German philosophers facing off against the Greek philosophers. Near the end, Palin rails off a variety of philosophical German positions as Socrates get a header, propelling the Greeks to victory. These men impacted today’s comedic minds. Judd Apatow, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have all credited “Python” for its influence on their respective styles. Hank Azaria has said that “the Simpsons” is completely based on Python’s structure.
Furthermore, “Monty Python” still directly affects comedy. This past week, Fordham’s own Mimes and Mummers put on “Spamalot,” the Broadway rendition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The tone of the play mirrors that of the television show with controversial and clever humor, and songs such as “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” and “The Song that Goes Like This.” The latter parodies the very structure of Broadway songs. During another song titled “His Name is Lancelot,” Sir Lancelot discovers he is gay. As the song ends, Lancelot declares to his love Prince Herbert saying, “Just think Herbert. In a thousand years time this will still be controversial.” Mimes did a great job capturing the spirit of Python with beautiful set design, great timing and fantastic actors. Directed by Tim Rozmus, the play included classic lines from both “Holy Grail” and “Flying Circus”.
The “Monty Python” crew now has a final show together titled “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go.” This is a live show running 10 performances at the O2 Arena in London. It will be a show highlighting their careers and reenacting some of the show’s greatest material. Regardless of your knowledge of “Monty Python,” now is as good a time as any to open YouTube and look up sketches. If you’ve never seen the show before, sit back, relax and enjoy. They will keep you entertained for hours.