On October 5, 1969, a truly surreal and original half-hour comedy skit show premiered on the BBC. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” debuted quietly but became a phenomenon. George Harrison was quoted as saying that the spirit of the Beatles had passed on to Monty Python.
“And now for something completely different,” Dead Parrot Sketch, Ministry of Silly Walks, the Spanish Inquisition, The Argument, Fish Slapping Dance, Gumbys, Upper Class Twit of the Year, the Lumberjack Sketch, Mary Queen of Scots, and of course, Spam, come immediately to mind. Even though the series was very British, as were the references, the zany humor was, and still is, universal. Besides the original series which ran for four seasons, the Pythons also did live performances and three films together, along with specials and documentaries which were released to coincide with the 20th and 30th anniversaries of the “Flying Circus” show.
“We were only writing for ourselves.”
Three of the remaining five “Pythons,” Terry Jones, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam, appeared on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” to promote the new 6 hour documentary, “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut),” which debuts on the Independent Film Channel ( IFC ) October 18th through October 23rd. (The Pythons missing were Eric Idle and Michael Palin. The sixth member, Graham Chapman, passed away in 1989.)
Olbermann, a self-described rabid “Monty Python” fan, said his own sense of humor was influenced as a fifteen-year-old seeing the British show. “Why did it work?” Olbermann asked. “We were only writing for ourselves,” Terry Jones admitted. John Cleese said that the humor was ” genuinely original.” Although the comedy troupe knew nothing about the ratings for the show when it started, after about four or five episodes, they started to get letters from school children, their only early feedback . It was Terry Gilliam’s theory that bright eleven-year-olds instinctively understand the “Python” comedic sense. “I keep bumping into people with children and they all keep saying ‘Oh my kid, he just discovered Python.’ And I say How old is he? And invariably, 11 is the number.” Keith Olbermann observed that kids got the humor because they recognized how dumb some adults were to other adults.
NPR reviewed the six hour mega-documentary and noted that the Pythons “can’t help but send up the documentary form a little. Its individual hours sport such titles as The Not-So-Interesting Beginnings and The Much Funnier Second Episode...There’s an added joke, in that each hour has its own theme song, which is sung with increased frustration over how endless the documentary is, and how familiar the material.”
But then, that’s always been the point. The Pythons have been about not taking themselves or the world seriously. They crafted a comedic style of absurdity mixed with sarcasm and poked society in the eye. That’s what made their humor so inventive and why the sketches have stayed fresh for all these years. In a era where everyone seems to take everyone and everything so deadly seriously, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is a welcome respite from the relentlessly humorless political correctness of today. “Know what I mean? Wink, wink! Nudge, nudge!”
Countdown with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC