Last night a friend of mine, a one Samantha Leopoldi, confessed that she had never seen any Monty Python sketches.
Now, this would be a cause for concern amongst anyone, but Sam is a young lady of specific nerdish inclinations that made the revelation doubly shocking. She attends ComicCon, loves sci-fi and fantasy, and is a huge Harry Potter fan. She walks through the fields of geekery where not seeing Monty Python is as big of an abomination as asking “Darth who?”
She lamented we were making too big of a show of her education gap, but I don’t think she realizes the full and deep influence that Cleese, Chapman, Palin, Idle, Jones, and Graham had upon the world. Their impact on comedy has been (rightly) compared to the Beatles’ influence on music. A whole generation of British and American comics look to them as the Masters, and Python is credited with influencing everything from Saturday Night Live to the Simpsons and South Park.
Comedy should not be polite. It helps us stop taking ourselves so seriously.
– Jay Roach on Monty Python
Fortunately, young Miss Sam has friends, and I consulted on Twitter for the Five Best Monty Python sketches in which to instruct her. There was some understandable debate, but here is how the votes came in (and a few stray gems)
#5 – The Spanish Inquisition
I bet nooooobody expected this!
I always did fear the comfy chair.
#4 – SPAM!
This one needs no introduction. Wait… DAMMIT! Well, mucked that up, didn’t I?
Not only is this sketch the likely reason we use “spam” to describe noisy and unwanted email, but it is a sweet combination of Pythonian silliness and cultural commentary – during food shortages Spam was widely distributed in the UK during WWII. This sketch was one of my favorites long before email even existed.
#3 – The Lumberjack Song
One of the earliest Monty Python songs I learned as a kid, and it made me all sorts of friends and worried my mother. I included the full version of the sketch with the barbershop lead-in, as I think it helps set up the payoff…
In later performances the last line was sometimes changed to “papa”, I guess because it wasn’t weird enough as-is.
#2 – The Ministry of Silly Walks
Another commentary on British culture and government, but just so brilliantly silly it works fine entirely on its own. Also an example of the incredible physical comedic abilities of John Cleese.
I saw John Cleese perform live once, and he said silly walks are the thing people most ask him to do in person. He sounded not only right sick of it, but at 70 years old I don’t think it would be a good idea to even try.
Also, why isn’t he SIR John Cleese yet? Knight the bastard, already.
#1 – The Dead Parrot Sketch
I’m not sure this slot was ever really in contention. Dead Parrot pokes fun at poor customer service, the many names we have for dying, and is one of the most famous sketches in the history of British Television.
Ah, the poor Norwegian Blue…
Jeff’s Bonus – The Argument Clinic
I never met a meta I didn’t like, and this sketch has it all. It starts off mildly surreal, gets really surreal, then leaves all that behind and just exits reality through the loading dock.
Smart, fast, layered, self-mocking, and bizarre, it’s Python in top form.
Something Completely Different
I could do this all day long. Just pulling these clips together makes me want to go back and watch the whole bloody series. Here’s a few others that were suggested…
- Philosophy Football – Python comedy was wicked, wicked smart. There were some jokes I didn’t get until years later, and I’m sure there are things in the Flying Circus I still miss. Here, German and Greek philosophers square up in a game of football (or “soccer” to us Yanks)
- Albatross – Yell this at a concert and odds are someone will call back “What flavor is it?” If not, leave.
- Nudge Nudge – Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more!
I think that should about cover the TV series, and the movies are a whole different kettle of fish. However, if I have made any egregious omissions please let me know.
Oh… and don’t forget to always look on the bright side of life…