The Shrubbery
August 1999
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Monty Python- A Historical Overview and Appreciation

by Gordon Dymowski (Mrs.)

Pop quiz! What do the following have in common: The Kids in the Hall, Eddie Izzard, The Shrubbery, Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers, Mr. Show, Red Dwarf, and the Vacant Lot?

All of them have one common influence, one great sun source from which their inspiration flows: Monty Python.(Heck, if it weren't for Python, this zine would probably have some really dumb name, like Jess & Jason's Chuckle Hut...but more on that later...)

This column is the result of an e-mail sent to me by Y.L. Ng, who very politely asked me to write more about Python, in order to avoid them going down the historical gutter. (That's my addition, not what he said). In a interests of keeping the youth of America culturally literate (as well as a blatant attempt to kiss the collective heinies of our readership and get more e-mail at Gordon_D@theshrubbery.com, I am taking it upon myself to write about the genius of Monty Python, whom I first watched in defiance of my parents back when I was eight years old.

Monty Python is not a person, but a group of men whom, 30 years ago, BBC Producer Barry Took had brought together to change the shape of television comedy. They were the best and the brightest: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, who would collaborate on a show that made the rules, bent them, and broke them all at the same time. It was a show that could range from outright silliness to sharp intellectual humor, with nary a break in between. It was one of the few comedies that assumed that its audience was intelligent, and didn't pander to the lowest common denominator that remains to this day. It built slowly in England, and surprisingly took off in America (where all six agreed the show would not work). Yes, these six geniuses proved that the combination of silliness, smartness, rude behavior, razor sharp wordplay, and a surreal stream-of-consciousness feel, was a very heady mixture indeed.

(For more information, be sure to read The First 28 Years of Monty Python by Kim "Howard" Johnson - no relation to my grandfather or the hotel guy. They all have their ho-jo workin', if you catch my meaning. If you're illiterate, or books are too much, then check out the Life of Python documentary that came out 10 years ago. Either way, you'll have a blast. I mean this. They also have a series of albums out - if you can, hunt down their out-of-print 6 CD boxed Instant CD Collection, or get their more readily available greatest hits album entitled The Final Rip-Off

Gradually, their vision spread to the silver screen, and their first movie, a "greatest hits" compilation entitled And Now For Something Completely Different, didn't do so well. However, with Monty Python & the Holy Grail, they not only conquered America with their take on Arthurian legend, but also inspired two college students to name their online zine...well, you know the story. Their third film, Life of Brian, is their most unappreciated work, being widely misinterpreted as a satire on the life of Christ (If you liked the Jesus issue of The Shrubbery that appeared awhile ago, you'll enjoy this film, which is a sharp critique of religious movements. If you didn't, then stick to sipping espressos and reading Kierkegaard, because you'll most likely never get it.) Their final film as a troupe, The Meaning of Life, is a bit more uneven, but also has its moments.

One of the most remarkable things about Monty Python is how thoroughly they've woven their way into our popular culture's collective consciousness. Like the great ones both musical (the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, the Sex Pistols, et al), and comedic (the Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce, the Kids in the Hall, et al), they seem less a product of their time and more timeless because of that. It's a quality that can appeal to all without pandering to all - very few people are clueless when it comes to "ex-parrots", "spam", and saying, "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK." Python, like so many others, seem less like a trend and more like a historical inevitability. (Of course, it's just as likely I'm taking straight outta my bum, so there.)

Monty Python is one of the greatest comedic influences of the 20th century. Even before and after Python, they have a great body of collective work that cannot be touched. (And for a listing of this, check out Kim "Howard" Johnson's Life Before and After Python. If it weren't for MP, I'm sure all of us would be living in a more boring, straightjacketed world. So, be sure to dive into the pool of Python, and keep the dream alive!

And if you wanna argue, e-mail me at Gordon_D@theshrubbery.com. Until next month...keep your feet on the ground, and don't eat stuff off of the sidewalk.

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