Very few other comedy troupes have broken as much new ground as Monty Python did when they were first broadcast on the BBC in 1969. Not only was the humour fresh, well-delivered and very, very silly; but they also attracted a great deal of negative attention for their outrageous jokes and foul language.
The Pythons, comprising of Chapman, Idle, Gilliam, Jones, Cleese and Palin, first took their unique brand of comedy on the air in the form of Flying Circus, a disjointed sketch show that reach a total of 45 episodes split across 4 seasons.
Today we’ll be looking at some of the more memorable moments from this original outing.
This iconic sketch from 1970 is the very reason that today’s junk mail is known affectionately as spam. Written by Jones and Palin, the sketch depicts two customers ordering at a restaurant that simply must serve spam with every meal. Hormel, the manufacturers of Spam, have never liked the negative connotations brought on by the junk mail reference, though they have been surprisingly supportive of Monty Python’s iconic sketch.
With less than two months to go until the London 2012 Olympic Games, what better way to get ready than with the Pythons’ famous silly olympiad. Featuring events like “incontinence” and “the 3000m steeplechase for people who think they’re chickens”, I’m hoping at least a small reference to this sketch is made during the opening ceremony in July.
The argument sketch originally aired in 1972 following the end credits, which explains the rather unique and abrupt ending. In it we see a man decide to pay for an argument, only to enter the wrong office. The sketch climaxes with a reference to the Pythons dislike of punchlines, preferring instead to abruptly end a sketch than sully the skit with a sub-par punchline.
Ministry of Silly Walks
One of the more visual Python sketches, John Cleese demonstrate his impeccable acting abilities with the very silliest of walks and dry humour. The sketch has since been referenced and re-enacted in everything from Fawlty Towers to Belgian Eurostar adverts. As Cleese aged he found it increasingly difficult to complete the silly walk, unsurprising considering the masses of energy required to move in such a fashion.
The Funniest Joke In The World
Imagine a joke so funny that it is fatal to anyone who sees or hears it. That’s the premise for this next sketch, which sees the military translating such a joke into German to use against the Nazis in World War II.
The joke in question?
“Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer?”
“Ja! … Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput.”
Complete nonsense, of course!
The Cheese Shop
John Cleese’s “patient calm with a hint of explosive tension” doesn’t get any better than in this particular sketch as he struggles to find one of 43 cheeses by name. If you’re after excruciating detail then I’ll refer you to this particular Wikipedia article which lists each cheese and garnered response. Talk about pulling a joke apart…
The Idiot In Society
A sketch takes a look at the long-established role of the village idiot in British society. In it we’re taught the differences between the urban idiot (who bares a striking resemblance to the upper class twit from other sketches) and the humble rural oaf.
Despite the fact that this list is in no particular order, it’s really difficult not to save such a sketch till the very end – so that’s what I’ve done. Quite possibly John Cleese at his best, the dead parrot sketch is so popular it has seen many different versions for television, radio, audio recordings and live performances over the years.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus is marks a groundbreaking entry into the world of British comedy. If you’ve found any of these sketches to your liking, there’s a chance you’ll benefit from buying the complete box set. Of course, many of you will know these sketches all too well and I’m looking forward some personal favourites in the comments.
Coming soon – the post-Flying Circus era of low-budget films!
Do you have any favourite Flying Circus moments? Sketches? Characters? Trivia? Share all in the comments below this post.