“And now for something completely different.”
John Cleese’s iconic phrase sums up Monty Python to near perfection. Fifty years later, the shoe still fits.
A long-time friend and his dad introduced me to the sheer insanity of the Pythons when I was in my mid-teens. They kept VHS recordings of Monty Python’s Flying Circus around. They programmed the various VCR’s in their home to try and capture as many of the shows as possible when they aired on PBS. I would eventually get the entire series on VHS and DVD when I was in my early twenties. Friend would reference certain sketches and how funny they were. This kind of humour was something I was transported by. Edgy and at times painfully funny content with things I would never expect to see on television back in the day it originally broadcast let alone current day 1990’s. Nudity, absurdist comedy, outrageous dialogue and premises, this show had it all.
As much of a fan as I was, I never knew they had made movies. In 1999 I was introduced to the “Holy Grail” film in an unorthodox and memorable fashion. In the middle of a lecture at a computer lab setting, a colleague next to me had queued up the song from “The Tale Of Brave Sir Robin” from the Holy Grail film. He started to laugh almost uncontrollably. As did I. We were supposed to be listening to the presentation. Meanwhile in the background just underneath the presenter’s voice…
“He was not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp.
Or to have his eyes gouged out,
And his elbows broken.
To have his kneecaps split
And his body burned away,
And his limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Sir Robin”
Upon realizing this was from a Monty Python film, I rented it a few weeks later and to this date “Holy Grail” remains my favourite film of all time.
The biggest gain from being a fan of the Python’s is the lessons in writing I have from it. You can learn so much about dialogue and humour from watching their shows and movies, or listening to their records. At times they intend to be absurd and provoke something from the audience. They wanted to make the audience laugh and provoke condemnation from uptight older crowds who made taboo subjects out of everything.
Fifty years on, the Python’s remain a source of comfort and strength when I want to make the day more laughable in a positive way. During some dark times, I could put one of the tapes or DVD’s on in the background and laugh just as hard at something as the first time I watched/heard it.
Meanwhile, younger writers need to check out their material and absorb it. This is how you write dialogue. There is absolute magic in most of their material. Learn something from it.