Once upon a time, in a far-away land called England, a handful of British lads (and one American) came together to create some of the greatest comedy in the history of…. well, comedy.
Of course, I’m referring to the comedy troupe known as Monty Python, who pushed the boundaries of comedy with their astoundingly funny series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The complete series is gross, naughty, sometimes quite offensive to modern sensibilities – and because of these things, it’s also gloriously witty, strange, subversive, and intensely weird. Not to mention full of glorious spam, wonderful spam.
For dozens of episodes, these guys served up skits on every insane subject you can think of: defense against fresh fruit, the Ministry of Funny Walks, sitcoms based on the family life of Attila the Hun, lupin bandit Dennis Moore, obscene children’s books, semaphores, racing twits, village idiots, goats, psychotic barbers, Vikings, “ALBATROSS!”, killer sheep, lobotomies, pantomime horses, Tudor pornography, Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, the dirty vicar, and giant alien blancmanges who are turning people into Scotsmen.
Certain sketches have reached the point of immortality, especially John Cleese’s “dead parrot” sketch, in which he plays an increasingly peeved guy who is trying to return a parrot that was “nailed to its perch.” Also Eric Idle playing the obnoxious guy who constantly thinks of sex, and refers to it as “wink wink, nudge nudge… say no MORE!” And of course, THE SPANISH INQUISTION, whose chief weapons are fear, surprise…
There are also some running jokes, like the pantomime Princess Margaret, and a mysterious knight who walks through hitting people with a dead chicken. And of course, Terry Gilliam’s cartoons interspersing the skits — goofy, surreal, sort of like Saturday morning cartoons if Dali were doing the animating. Somehow the use of photographs to animate these little interludes makes them even more bizarre and wonderful.
Okay, not every skit is funny — the “Mouse Problem” sketch takes a great idea and stretches it thin. We get it, it’s like they’re talking about gay people, but it’s actually about guys who feel like they’re actually giant mice. But more often than not, they ARE quite funny. They also mock just about anything, from government officials to art to censorship (unsurprisingly, since they themselves were often censored) to the military (“Real guns, sir. Not toy ones, sir. Proper ones, sir. They’ve all got ’em. All of ’em, sir. And some of ’em have got tanks!” “Watkins, they ARE on our side”).
And all of this by men who often dress up as the world’s most unattractive girls (John Cleese being the most comically ugly of them), with only a tiny budget and minimal cast. The 70s production values are omnipresent, and they are decidedly unpolitically correct. But in a weird way, these only make it even funnier than it would have been otherwise — the writing and acting are pure, raw, unrefined comedy, not caring what anyone else thinks.
Probably the most memorable actors here are Cleese and Idle. Cleese does his psychotic shrieks better than anyone, as well as having that rubbery lanky body that twists itself into Silly Walks. And Idle not only has amazing comic timing, but he can adjust his voice and body language to… anything, from domestic goddesses to sleazy TV hosts. But the other actors are quite good too, especially Michael Palin, especially when he’s playing someone timid or crazy.
This classic comedy series not only became a pop culture staple, but it’s still fresh and funny more than thirty years after it was made. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Complete Series” is definitely a must-have.
And now for something completely different…