Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different. - Monty Python for Geeks.

I woke this morning to check my usual routine of e-mail and social media sites, and noticed something... odd... on Facebook. Many friends, from many different walks of life, had quotes published to their respective statuses that were oddly familiar. With a little food in me and some of the morning fog cleared from my head, I made the connection. All the various statements and unusual quotes were from Monty Python's Flying Circus, or one of the Python films. The majority of the geeks I've met in my time, aside from the odd perpetual contrarian, have a deep abiding love for the British Comedy Troupe. Gamers, in particular, are capable of quoting large sections of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” verbatim.

In college, I videotaped a marathon of the entire series, and never watched it again (at least on VHS.)

The Monty Python Comedy Troupe, formed in 1969 by five British men and one American expatriate, in large part defines British Comedy to American audiences. The mixture of dry intellectual wit with surrealist slapstick and non-sequiturs characterizes a style of humor that not everyone appreciates, or even understands. The troupe consisted of Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam (the animator and aforementioned American.) The sketch comedy show “Monty Python's Flying Circus” ran from 1969 through 1974 for three and a half seasons, with John Cleese absent from the fourth abbreviated season. It was during the run of the television show that the first Python Movie: And Now For Something Completely Different was released, made up of sketches from the show and marketed towards exposing Monty Python to American audiences (which it did not.)

The end of the television program and the years immediately after had some of the greatest impact on geek culture because of two things, the discovery of Douglas Adams, and the first post-Flying Circus Film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The man who would go on to write the Sci-fi comedy epic series “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, was discovered by Graham Chapman originally, and he was one of only two people not a part of the troupe to ever get a writing credit for the TV show. He also appeared in several episodes, the first of which was episode 42 (a number which would have some significance in his work later.) The Holy Grail retold the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table in a frequently silly and over-the-top typical Python style.

One of the very first DVDs I ever bought.

Something set in a medieval adventure setting with knights, horses and even a fire-throwing wizard all cast in the British comedy style was something that geeks world wide could get into. In America in particular, by 1975 when the film was released, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was undergoing a major revival, and Dungeons and Dragons games were starting to pop up across the country. The Knights who say Ni!, Tim the Enchanter and the dread rabbit of Caerbannog have appeared in games, comics and novels in one form or another ever since, where ever a geeky fan has wanted to pay homage. For years, one of the more popular themes for early versions of Windows was a pack including graphics and Python quotes, most from The Holy Grail.

The next feature film came from an inside joke, as whenever the press would ask the members of the troupe about their next feature film, even though they hadn't even decided on making one, the stock answer to shut them up was “Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory”. This joke developed into a serious idea for giving the Bible's New Testament the Python treatment in making The Life of Brian, and led to the film that was the group's most controversial as well as highest rated by film critics. The controversy over the film was in spite of the fact that Christ himself was treated with respect throughout, while the story focused on a similar infant born one manger over whose life took a series of parallels to Jesus' own worthy of comic lampooning attitudes and actions of the times. Both times Christ himself is portrayed in the film (briefly) the character is played straight.

All 6 members of one of the greatest comedy teams ever.

The last two films, Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and The Meaning of Life were a return to sketch comedy in the style of the early television work, and the troupe broke apart as a team following the 1983 production of the latter. Over the next six years, solo projects and collaborations of several of the members followed, with Terry Gilliam in particular enjoying success as a film director. The final reunion of all six members was for the 20th anniversary special “Parrot Sketch Not Inlcuded.” The eve of the actual 20th anniversary in 1989 closed the book on official Monty Python projects with the death of Graham Chapman.

The years post Monty Python have seen the troupe's influence continue on geek culture as the surviving members have lent their ideas and voices to many video games, including several games directly based on the troupe's earlier work for the PC (Flying Circus - 1990, Complete Waste of Time - 1994, Quest for the Holy Grail -1996 and Meaning of Life – 1997.) John Cleese is a regular contributor to science fiction projects, continues to act and lends his talents as a voice actor, most recently in Fable 3. The computer world named unsolicited e-mails “spam” based on a classic Python sketch, and the Python computing language got its name from the troupe.

Did *you* know that the concept of Spam, and Spam-filtering all
came from a comedy sketch with a diner full of vikings?

Personally, I'll always have a special place for this body of work, as it introduced me to a style of humor that has stuck with me throughout the years. Anyone else have any memories of Python comedy, maybe some of my younger readers hadn't heard much or (gasp) anything about these guys, and will be inspired to check it out. Let me know.
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8 comments:

Alpha said...

John Cleese has aged well.

BigMike said...

Old geeks love them so much we force new geeks to watch and love them ;) May that circle never be broken.... What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Dave said...

Always loved the Pythons.

The Angry Lurker said...

Born in Ireland and they banned Life of Brian, took me a few years before I got to watch it but I always look on the bright side of life.

Bard said...

I still pull out Holy Grail and re-watch it on occasion. One of my all-time favorite films.

Erika said...

Life of Brian will always be my favourite <333

Never ceases to make me chuckle.

Astronomy Pirate said...

Man, I haven't watched any of their stuff in awhile. I'll have to watch Holy Grail again soon. It was one of the first DVDs I bought too.

Rob said...

I too love life of Brian, Monty Python is hilarious!

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