Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Monty Python Message

Monty Python, contrary to what many thought at the time, was a comedy group comprised of Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese and Micheal Palin. They created the highly popular British comedy hit series Monty Python's Flying Circus and the films Life of Brian, Holy Grail, Meaning of Life and And Now For Something Completely Different.

It is hard to know for certain the best way to describe the style of humour the young guys used back in the 1970s. British - definitely, juvenile - possibly, cheeky - absolutely! Perhaps controversial, radical... offensive? The Python team worked in a time where political correctness was not at the top of everybody's priority list. They dared to say things nobody else seemed to have the courage to say. They made silly jokes that took you back to child-like humour but somehow translated it for adults. They could poke fun at anyone and everyone and because there was no discrimination in their rudeness they couldn't be accused of being racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic. Surely?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail came first in the run of films in 1975, followed by Life of Brian in 1979 and The Meaning of Life in 1983. The Holy Grail was a parody of the many films made about English Knights and saw King Arthur on a quest, charged by God to find the Holy Grail itself - with hilarious and Pythonesque results and an ending that remains one of the most surprising ever made. Then came Life of Brian, a tale about a man born on the same day as Jesus who gets confused for the messiah and people start to follow him. This film was unsurprisingly met with harsh criticism by the Christian leaders and many others who felt it was the lowest form of humour and ridiculing their lord. The Pythons had to defend their work and insist that it was not insulting the religion.

This was not the first time the Python lads had to defend their comedy style. In December of 1975, Monty Python's Flying Circus was broadcast across the United States for the first time on ABC - only without the naughty bits. Seeing as the humour is quintessentially naughty, the Pythons realised that removing the naughty bits made it far less funny - so Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin dared to take on the network and get the naughty bits put back in.

The Telegraph
The Pythons are still regarded as the height of British comedy by many and many of it's original group still work, in one way or another in the business - whether it be acting, hosting, directing or writing. Eric Idle wrote Spamalot, the hit musical show lovingly based on The Holy Grail and popular in theatres across the world. And for Londoners who love the Python humour - until October 15th, there is a far-too-short run of the comedy genius that is No Naughty Bits at Hampstead Theatre. The play takes a hilarious look at what happened when Gilliam (the abrasive American) and Palin (the polite Brit) took on the American network.

I cannot recommend this enough to Python fans and newcomers alike. Watching American executives disect the jokes line by line is painfully funny and the American vs British tastes and ideas on censorship never fails to entertain. There are a couple of inside jokes for those who have followed the Pythons - like John Cleese being too busy to go to the US because he's doing his hotel show (a reference to Fawlty Towers to those who don't know) - and laughs that will have you surprised by your own volume. It's SO funny... I even saw Terry Gilliam himself laughing along.

The Monty Python humour is more than just naughty words, it's comedic timing, theatricality and a brilliant collaborative effort by all six. It's the kind of humour that would not be as funny if you tried to do it yourself because you are not a Python. So my advice to you is this - let the Pythons take you to their wacky, clever and brilliantly funny world. Check out the play, see the films, look up the sketches. You will not be disappointed!


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