Daniel Cooper Salmon
Essay 3, Semester 2, Composition 2
Date Due: February 21
Word count: 1,257
And Now For Something Completely Different, An Analysis Of The Humor Of Monty Python’s Flying Circus
“No matter where you look even in some of the remotest parts of the planet, you can't avoid Monty Python. Just ask Michael Palin. The Monty Python member was recently in the Himalayas. As he climbed a peak in the Annapurna group, making a steep ascent of one of the highest mountains in the world, he stopped to catch his breath. At that moment a pair of mountain climbers came by. They saw Palin and a thousand Python references must have hit: "The Lumberjack Song." "It's the Mind." "The Cheese Shop." "Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days.' " "The Parrot Sketch." "Nudge-nudge, wink-wink." "And now for something completely different." "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"” (Todd Leopoid)
“Python has been called "the Beatles of comedy," and its impact can be seen in everything from "Saturday Night Live" to "The Simpsons" to "South Park."” (Todd Leopoid)
Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, John Cleese, a lump of Whizzo Butter (or was it a dead crab?), and Micheal Palin were the first members of Monty Python. Terry Gilliam is an American whose main role is that of the cartoonist, whose drawings were most famous for their links between sketches. Gilliam make up the last of the infamous six. Python has produced 3 full length movies, (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life), a TV show that ran for 5 years (Monty Python’s Flying Circus), 17 music albums, 2 plays (both based on the movies), a few books and millions of adoring fans. Python has had a massive effect on modern American society as well as modern American humor.
“One of the most common ways that Monty Python has affected modern humor is with the phrase, “And now for something completely different.” Many people know this phrase and know that it refers to a random, absurdist type of humor, even if they’ve never heard of Monty Python.” (Jeff Salmon)
S. Hambridge and A. Lunde explains a way that Monty Python has influenced America outside of the world of humor in that, “The term "spam" as it is used to denote mass unsolicited mailings or netnews postings is derived from a Monty Python sketch set in a movie/tv studio cafeteria. During that sketch, the word "spam" takes over each item offered on the menu until the entire dialogue consists of nothing but "spam spam spam spam spam spam and spam."”
Even though Monty Python is very important to the origins of modern humor they are still pagan. This is an English comedy group and English humor having crass content traces its roots all the way back to The Canterbury Tales. Crass humor itself can be traced back even farther to the time of the ancient Greek and can be seen in such plays as The Clouds, by Aristophanes. So throughout time humor has contained crass, sinful things and in this respect the moderns are no better then the ancients. In spite of this it is still useful to study Monty Python to understand much of the culture of today. In order to study Monty Python’s humor well we must look at the ways it acts act under certain similar circumstances as well as looking at a large amount of content. Monty Python’s Flying Circus fulfills both these needs in that every single episode was about 30 minutes long and there were 45 episodes. This adds up to a total of 22 and a half hours of Monty Python, where as the three movies they created add up to a total of only about 7 hours. Therefore Flying Circus is clearly the best choice of media productions to study.
(1) Making the audience expect one thing then giving them another, (2) Making a character have too much concern over a minor detail, (5-“Three sir!”) Having to do with another TV item, and (4) Just being random. These are the categories that Monty Python uses in Flying Circus.
A solid 80% of Monty Python humor falls under the first category. A classic example of this section is “The Smuggler”. This sketch is about a man trying to make his way through a customs checkpoint with a case obviously loaded with illegal watches. He tries to cover up this fact through various lame lies and the audience expects that he gets caught and arrested. But the customs officer doesn’t believe that he’s smuggling, even when the smuggler opens his case to reveal “2000” timepieces, “Look, for all I know sir, you could have bought those [watches] in London before you ever went to Switzerland!” The officer even forces him out of the station; “So we can catch the real smugglers!”
The most famous phrase that came from this genre of humor is “And now for something completely different.” This phrase was often followed by the exact same thing, then the exact same thing again. At this point the audience would often decide that whenever it says “And now for something completely different” they’re going to get the exact same thing. But Monty Python (in their genius) will actually give them something completely different therefore still giving the audience what they won’t expect.
The second type of humor is having a character have too much concern concern over a minor detail. “The Restaurant Sketch” is the best example of this, where a man and his wife are in a restaurant and the man finds that his fork is a bit dirty. The man is not upset and he’s not making a big deal out of it and just passingly requests that the waiter bring him another one. In the end the waiter, the manager the headwaiter, the dishwashers and one of the cooks come out and are all majorly upset about the fact that the fork. The dirty fork is a small thing, but the whole restaurant staff is overly concerned with this minor detail.
In the third category is the type of sketch where which Monty Python has something to do with a TV item. This includes a lot of content with things like including fake commercials done with Terry Gilliam’s cartoons, crazy, mini-shows in an episode, pretending that the person watching the show on TV had switched channels, pretending that a different show altogether had come on, and devoting a whole 30 minute episode to one story.
For the last genre, frankly some of the things that Monty Python does are just too random to classify. Where else can one classify things like Kamikaze Scotsmen, or a sketch where two journalists fighting over who gives a report, the ‘Confuse-A-Cat’ sketch, or replacing ‘train’ with ‘camel’ in an interview. What other genre could contain things like ‘having a knight in full armor slap people over the heads with a rubber chicken’, or ‘having a horse-race replaced with half a dozen 'Queen Victorias'’, ‘soccer being played be famous philosophers’, or the 'Upper class Twit of The Year' sketch, or ‘a scene where a news reporter is kidnapped and dumped (desk and all) headlong into the ocean’? Where else can someone classify such wonderfully silly nonsense? Nowhere. But this isn’t just the silly category that nobody actually likes- from this genre comes much of the most funny and most well-known humor of Monty Python.
The patterns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus should have become clearer through this report. Monty Python has some wacky, zany craziness that is extremely funny, (but not too funny-think ‘The funniest joke in the world”) and it has majorly affected modern humor and modern America.
(Indirectly) Fogg, Adam,
(For his posting the lists of Flying Circus Sketches and scripts.)
Hambridge, S. and Lunde, A. DON’T SPEW- A Set of Guidelines for Mass Unsolicited Mailings and Postings, June 1999
Leopoid, Todd. How Monty Python changed the world, December 11, 2003
Montgomery, Katie and Maddie, for use of their picture.
Phillips, Daisy, for use of her picture.
Salmon, Jeff and Deirdre. Personal interview, February 16th, 2012
Nota Bene: I made that diagram myself. I hope you enjoyed my essay!