My Favourite Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketches.
Few comedy shows have affected or influenced me as much as Python. My own comedy poetry material often leads my audience members to tell me I’m very Monty Python and John Cooper Clark, which I consider a great honour.
Long before their Life Of Brian & Holy Grail films, I was a big Python fan, doing Silly Walks on my way to school, talking in daft screechy voices, and quoting lines from the shows at the slightest cue, much to the bafflement of anyone unfamiliar with the series.
At parties, hours have passed with myself and others lovingly reciting random chunks of Python script to one another from memory or singing the songs, including the rude ones from the more adult live shows we had on record.
A film compilation of the best sketches, called And Now For Something Completely Different helped to make some sketches into automatic classics – most people remember the Dead Parrot sketch in which a shop-keeper absurdly denies a parrot is deceased despite all evidence to the contrary, with the bird actually being banged on the shop counter in front of him. The ‘dead parrot’ phrase became a euphemism for bad political manifestoes in British politics.
Here are some of my own personal favourite Python moments from the series, rather than from the equally excellent films.
10/. SPAM – A café selling nothing but Spam, populated entirely by Vikings who chant Spam over and over again, faces the problem of a non-Viking customer with a dislike for Spam meat. Python at its silliest.
9/. MARRIAGE GUIDANCE – A man seeks marital advice, oblivious that the marriage guidance councillor is seducing his wife right under his nose. Probably one of the few sketches where Carole Cleveland, the only regular female member of the comedy team, (the men dressed up as women in many sketches) gets to really do much other than look pretty.
8/. ELECTION NIGHT – A big influence on real British politics, the election involves candidates representing the Loony parties getting better votes than the real politicians – this led Screaming Lord Sutch to establish the Monster Raving Loony Party Of Great Britain, who helped make me stay up watching real election coverage every four years or so.
7/. GUMBY FLOWER ARRANGING SKETCH – One I copy at fancy dress events a lot – Gumby, with his Sidcup hat on, made from a knotted handkerchief, smashing flowers into a vase with a hammer, thinking he’s done a good job.
6/. SCOTT OF THE SAHARA – A great spoof of low budget film making, with the action transplanted from the snow to the desert so they could film on a coastal beach. Scott’s fights with a man in a lion suit who tries to hit him with a chair in blatant contempt for realism helps to make the sketch work.
5/. THE TERRY GILIAM CARTOONS – These were always a highlight of the shows, beautifully drawn, coloured and often very surreal too.
4/. THE MAN FROM CONSTABLE’S HAYWAIN – Characters from great paintings step out of the frames and go on strike until they get better heating in the art galleries. One of the more intellectually referenced sketches in the series.
3/. THE CHEESESHOP SKETCH One of the show’s ‘excuses’ sketches, as with the Parrot sketch – a cheese-shop seems to have no cheeses whatsoever in stock, much to the annoyance of a customer with a near encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure cheeses.
Both of my favourite sketches were initially unseen on British television as they were made for a European Montrose Festival Of Comedy special that was not released in the UK until some time after the series went off the air. Both sketches were shown in the filmed concert event Monty Python Live At The American Bowl, when the team became popular in the States due to the success of the films.
2/. THE PHILOSOPHER’S FOOTBALL MATCH – Greek philosophers like Plato & Socrates take on German intellectuals, and the referees and linesmen are Chinese sages like Confucius & Lau-Tzu all playing football, but all walk round pondering the game instead of kicking the ball, until one of them puts an idea into practice. Hysterical.
1/. BICYCLE REPAIR MAN – to me this was the ultimate Python sketch – In a world where everyone is Superman, including hair-dressers and bus-conductors, one Superman alone is able to turn into a bike repairer and the Supermen regard him in awe as he goes about his work. I once actually went to a fancy dress party as Bicycle repairman.