"I'll give you 13 shows, but that's all," said the BBC's head of light entertainment in 1969, and Monty Python's Flying Circus aired to a perplexed, but eventually grateful, British audience on Monday 5 October that same year. Over the subsequent 45 shows, the rules of television comedy were rewritten as John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam created lunatic characters and sketches, as funny today as they were 40 years ago.The Oxbridge-educated group brought silliness and erudition in nearly equal amounts to television sketch comedy. Not exactly sui generis -- the Pythons had roots in pantomime, music hall, and British radio and movie comedies of the 1940s and '50s, as well as the satirical shows at Oxford and Cambridge, the Edinburgh Fringe, and even Beyond the Fringe -- when it reached America via public television, Monty Python seemed revolutionary.
In Milwaukee in the mid-1970s, Monty Python's Flying Circus was played on Tuesday evenings at 10:30 on WMVS-TV (Channel 10), so on Wednesday mornings, the senior lounge, the Blue & Gold Room, and the cafeteria at Marquette University High School were all abuzz with teenage boys imitating and trying their best to recreate, verbatim, the sketches they had seen the night before. It's a tribute to the quality of Python performances that, even after a single viewing, they could be recreated (at least by the smartest ones). Later, when vinyl LP recordings became available, memorization became easier, if a bit less daunting. We would spend hours on "The Argument Clinic," "Dead Parrot," and, among many others, "The Spanish Inquisition." (Bet you didn't expect that!) For a sample of Monty Python's influence on MUHS students, check out "Life on Film" from 2007.
It was under the influence of Monty Python -- how else would 16-year-old Midwesterners be introduced to existential philosophers? -- that I and some of my classmates came up with this cheer for the MUHS sports teams (nicknamed the Hilltoppers):
Socrates, Plato, Bertrand RussellIt might not have inspired anyone to audition for place kicker, but whoever said public TV can't be educational?
Here we go, Toppers --
Monty Python's Flying Circus is being celebrated all over the web today. For instance, Stephen Beard, a correspondence for public radio's Marketplace, had a report on today's broadcast about how many of the early Monty Python sketches reflected the socio-economic realities of Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.
Entertainment Weekly's Josh Wolk offers "10 Ways Monty Python Changed Comedy," in which he mentions The Whitest Kids U' Know (brainchild of Charlottesville's Trevor Moore and his co-conspirators) in the same breath as Python and The Kids in the Hall.
Michael Saba at Paste Magazine offers four of his favorite Python moments, with videos culled from YouTube.
The Christian Science Monitor notes:
It's Monty Python week on IFC, where the cable film channel marks the 40th anniversary of the cheeky, British comedy troupe. Events will include a six-episode interview/documentary, "Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)," featuring all of the remaining group members discussing the ensemble's cultural impact and legacy. The week will also include, of course, the classic Python films.Radio Times has a whole set of Monty Python features, including a collection of Python-related covers, film reviews (for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, Monty Python's Life Of Brian, and Erik the Viking), and a blog post with Terry Jones' favorite Python moments.
And here, ladies and Bruces, from a live performance at the Hollywood Bowl, Monty Python performs "The Philosophers' Song":
"I drink, therefore I am." Now that's a way to get high school boys interested in serious philosophical discourse!
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