Monty Python's Flying Circus
Synopsis of TV Show
“And now for something completely different…”
A man with three buttocks. A pet shop that sells dead parrots. Nappy-wearing idiots named Gumby. A Minister of Silly Walks. The Spanish Inquisition (you weren’t expecting them, were you?). These bits of comic fancy weren’t just completely different, they were completely ludicrous. The five Brits and one American collectively known as Monty Python were responsible for some of the silliest moments on television, and their sketches have become campfire and school talent show staples on both sides of the Atlantic. When Americans talk about “British humor,” they usually mean Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
British actor/writer/comedians Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin joined American writer/animator Terry Gilliam to form the legendary Monty Python troupe in the late 60’s. The result of this combination first assaulted the BBC airwaves in the fall of 1969. Dubbed Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the half-hour program was a wild blend of sketches, animation and blackout gags, often tied together by a single theme (but just as often not).
Each Pythonian had a different style, but all shared at least one common philosophy: everything funny goes, nothing is taboo, and drag is mandatory. They were social satirists, spoofers, and flat-out absurdists, but they were always fun to watch. Their resume of classic sketches is extensive (which hasn’t prevented fans from committing the catalog to memory), but aside from those already mentioned earlier, here are a few highlights:
“The Argument Clinic” – A man looking to purchase an argument instead finds himself purchasing a series of simple contradictions.
“The Lumberjack Sketch” – A would-be lumberjack sings of his (ahem) “manly” life’s dream.
“Nudge Nudge” – Running innuendo from one man on a bench to another (“Know what I mean, eh? Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more!”)
“The North Minehead Bye-Election” – A cleverly-renamed Adolph Hitler (he now goes by “Mr. Hilter”) plans to run for local British office with the help of his Nazi cohorts.
“The Funniest Joke in the World” – A joke with the power to kill laughing helps turn the tide of World War II.
“The 127th Upper-Class Twit of the Year Show” – The staging of said athletic competition, with events including jumping three layers of matchboxes, kicking the beggar, insulting the waiter, taking bras off from the front, and shooting yourself in the head.
“Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days” – A pleasant country outing turns into an increasingly ridiculous bloodbath.
“The SPAM Diner” – The only restaurant where everything’s got a bit of SPAM in it, and where Vikings sing the praises of the canned meat.
Tying together these wide-ranging sketches were brief animated segments from Gilliam, who used a novel “cut-and-paste-collage” animation style to tell tales of carnivorous baby carriages, dancing teeth, killer cars, plenty of nude photographs, and that ubiquitous stomping foot.
Together, the various Monty Python elements combined into a show that had “instant cult classic” written all over it. Monty Python’s Flying Circus ran for five seasons on the BBC (John Cleese left after four), and once the show’s British run ended, episodes began filtering onto American PBS stations. As news of the bizarre comic program spread across college campuses and other bastions of fandom, the Pythonians became comic heroes to kids and adults hungry for a different style of humor.
The Monty Python gang reunited for a handful of films and comedy concerts over the years, including 1971’s And Now for Something Completely Different (featuring redone versions of favorite bits), 1975’s King Arthur spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the controversial Monty Python's Life of Brian in 1979. After 1983’s Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life, the group went their separate ways, though former members often worked on each other’s projects.
Hopes of another reunion were dashed when Graham Chapman passed away in 1989, but the Monty Python legend is alive and well today. The lines are still quoted, the routines still mimicked, the humor still imitated by Brit-comedy fans everywhere. Something completely different, something completely hilarious.
Release History of Prime Time Show10/5/69 - 12/5/74 BBC
TV Sub Categoriescomedy
Television NetworkBBC, PBS, MTV
Television StudioBBC, Python (Monty) Pictures Ltd.
TV CastVarious Graham Chapman
Various John Cleese
Various Terry Gilliam
Various Eric Idle
Various Terry Jones
Various Michael Palin
Various Carol Cleveland
Various Connie Booth
Various (1969-72) Ian Davidson
Various (1969-72) Rita Davies
Various (1974) Peter Brett
Various (1974) Neil Innes
Various (1974) Bob E. Raymond