It’s exactly 50 years since Monty Python’s Flying Circus first hit our screens. Given that the troupe was really only active for a total period of about 14 years (barring the odd reunion), it says something about their longevity that we’re celebrating five decades of silly walks, fish slapping, lupin thievery, argument clinics, Blackmail, and much more besides.
When you look at it, they were hardly a prolific entity – 45 episodes on TV over a four season run, and four feature films (plus live shows here and there). Despite all of this, they’ve managed to make their mark not only on comedy, but on popular culture too, which is quite remarkable in light of the relatively short length of time which they were operating as a unit. But what exactly is it the Pythons have ever done for us?
Well, for one thing, if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t have a spam folder in your e-mails. Seven asteroids have also been named after Monty Python as a whole, as well as its six members. A fossil of a large prehistoric snake found in Australia was named after them: Montypythonoides riversleighensis. Ben & Jerry’s gave us a flavour of ice cream known as Vermonty Python. We also got the name Toad The Wet Sprocket from the Pythons, which was first used in an album sketch about a band, before it was then later adopted by a real-life group.
Okay, yes, there’s those things. But besides all the trivia, what have the Pythons ever done for us? Well, how about bringing to life that adage about comedy being the new rock ‘n’ roll, before it had ever been coined? A long time ahead of the likes of Newman and Baddiel doing Wembley in the 1990s, the Python team were playing the Hollywood Bowl; like any rock gig, the crowd knew all the words, and were there to (dead) parrot them as their favourite hits were performed live on stage.
They also used big production values and video screens, making it feel more like a concert. Not for nothing are the Pythons known as the Beatles of comedy. Monty Python took comedy out of the theatres, music halls, working men’s clubs and the like, and into stadia and arenas. It was apt they should end their performing career with a run of sellout shows at the O2. But besides revolutionising how comedy was played for live audiences, what have the Pythons ever done for us?
How about being some of the forerunners of creating a genuine cult following when it comes to comedy? When America’s PBS started showing Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the 1970s, the movie And Now For Something Completely Different started to garner a devoted audience on the US midnight movie circuit, as well as being shown on campuses, leading to an ardent fanbase being created. They were arguably the first comedy act to get such a band of admirers and groupies, and were on a par with The Rocky Horror Show at around the same time for the sheer levels of fanatical adoration.
So, notwithstanding the trivia, making comedy rock ‘n’ roll, and creating cult audiences aside, what have the Pythons ever done for us? Alright then, how about influencing generations of comedians who came after them? There’s a plethora of writers and performers who have cited Monty Python as their inspiration, from Mike Myers to Eddie Izzard, and Sanjeev Bhaskar to Seth MacFarlane. TV shows like Big Train, Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, and The Mighty Boosh owe a great deal to Monty Python.
Although they weren’t pioneers of surreal comedy – as they took the baton from The Goon Show and Spike Milligan’s Q series – they certainly seem to have popularised it with mainstream audiences; similarly, the Pythons weren’t the first ensemble sketch comedy group – they’d been preceded by the Oxford and Cambridge revues, who’d had some notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic – but they seem to have paved the way for those who followed, like The Kids In The Hall, The League of Gentlemen, and the Saturday Night Live cast.
Okay, so besides totally redefining sketch comedy for subsequent generations, plus all those other things, just what have the Pythons ever done for us? How about all the offshoots which came out of the six of them working together? Look at all Terry Gilliam’s feature films. Or series such as Ripping Yarns, Fawlty Towers, and all of Michael Palin’s travelogues. There’s also Eric Idle’s musical endeavours, from The Rutles to Spamalot, via the theme tune to One Foot In The Grave. And we haven’t even touched on Terry Jones’ movies, or his historical writings and programmes, plus many other post-Python productions.
Well, despite all of that, half a century on Monty Python is no more. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. It’s run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible. This is an ex-Python. So, Monty Python is dead (but it doesn’t want to go on the cart); long live Monty Python.
And as for that question about what the Pythons have ever done for us: is this the five-minute argument, or have you paid for the full half-hour?