It was the comedy series that redefined the way we perceived sketch comedy, and indeed the comedy genre as a whole, when a group of a randy Brits and one token American guy gathered together to devise a comedy series that dared to take conventional comedy and squash it with a giant foot. For four years, Monty Python’s Flying Circus presented a series that was so bizarre, so unorthodox, that inevitably a word had to be created in the English language to define it. In the forty years of their history, the Pythonesque approach to standard comedic formulas has endured simply because of its total inability to be imitated, duplicated, and even upstaged. Nor did the Pythons shy away from controversy. They knew that in order to deliver something that had never been done before, they could never hold back. In doing so, they’ve angered ultra-conservative-psychos, political figures, and even the Catholic Church! To me, it isn’t so much an obligation to be a fan of Python. Instead, it’s more of a rite of passage. It is an essential stepping stone for every fan. It is with that in mind that I will devote the month of June to the fortieth anniversary of The Gay Boys Dragon Show (as the Japanese call the show) or, as we know it, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I’ll start by naming the top twenty sketches of the show.
20. World Forum
A fine example of Python’s standalone political satire as they heckle all the key members of the Communist/Socialist movements by only testing their knowledge of British football.
19. The Ministry of Silly Walks
A manic triple entendre of absurdist comedy, physical comedy, and a slight touch of political attacks. Cleese’s talents as a physical comedian are on full display, as is his total solidarity as an actor. He is an incredibly straightlaced minister for silly walks who oversees the country’s production of very silly strides. You get a sense that the Pythons were ripping into the country’s irritating tendency to invest obscene amounts of money into totally ridiculous products.
A fantastic display of The Python’s ability to evolve a sketch. The sketch starts with a standard lifeboat scenario that ends being constantly curtailed by the ineptitudes of an actor. We think we’ve got the sketch pegged, then suddenly it begins to become something more demented, as the sailors deliberate over how they are going cannibalize each other. Suddenly, before the audience can get offended, we get beaten to the punch by the Pythons themselves as they spend the rest of the show rubbing your face in it.
17. Senile Delinquents
A sketch concept that is brilliant in its simplicity. Basically this sketch is a switcheroo, presented as a segment on a news magazine show (à la 60 Minutes) and played totally straight by horrified eye witnesses. Sometimes the best way to be funny is to not even try to be funny.
16. Defense Against Fresh Fruit
A skit that shows off one of the defining character archetypes of John Cleese — specifically, the borderline psychotic moron/jerk.
15. Hungarian Phrase Book
An interesting change from the more absurdist fare of other Python sketches as the group actually give us an interesting portrayal of what happens when someone sabotages the bridge that helps people cross the language gap.
14. Spam, Spam, Spam
This is Python at its most bizarre. There are no explanations to any of the things we see in the sketch. Why are the couple floating into the scene? Why are there vikings in the cafe? What is the woman’s fixation with pork-luncheon meat? This is a moment where we are buried in clashing circumstances that have us giggling with bewilderment.
13. Military Fairies
A brief little dance number that seems to have been designed to make many an army general’s eye twitch with total rancor. Enjoy.
12. The Cheese Shop
This is one of John Cleese’s favorites in his last series, and it’s understandable why. We witness the silly things that could reduce a dignified gentleman to a murderous nut. Of all things, it’s cheese — that’s all, just cheese, and the total absence of it in a place that should have it in bulk.
11. The Dirty Fork
The comedic portrayal of the snowball effect. What starts as a simple apology over a miniscule fleck of dirt on a dinner utensil gradually intensifies into a humorously morbid melodrama involving the collapse of the human spirit. It’s also a noteworthy skit on account of the fact that it actually concludes with a punch line — a comedy tradition that Monty Python usually shuns and… oh, sod it all! This is the silliest, laziest, most pointless list I’ve ever put together. I’m just letting the Pythons do all the work while I write a blurb that no one is going to read. Who wants to sit on their computers reading this when there’s a perfectly good porn site— UGH! LET GO OF ME YOU GIT! NO, I WON’T STOP!
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Stay tuned for more of John’s month-long tribute to Monty Python, including his final top ten sketches from Flying Circus!