That was the subtitle of the “movie” I saw on Sunday. You might have heard about this, but the English sketch comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus reunited in London this month for a series of live shows, the last of which was broadcast to theaters around the world. Everyone got back together, except, of course, Graham Chapman, who died in 1989 (hence the subtitle).
If the surviving members of Monty Python were going to get together for one last show, do you think there was any possible way I would miss that?
So there I was, Sunday afternoon, in a theater that was more crowded than any I can remember in recent history. It was mostly filled by middle-aged hippies and nerds, but there was a solid youthful presence as well.
Let me lead by saying I absolutely loved the show. Was it perfect? No. Were the lines and timing as crisp as they used to be? Hell no. But it didn’t matter. It was a privilege just to see these five geniuses going through their paces one last time. It’s not like we all didn’t know every syllable of dialogue.
There was no theme; the show was basically a review of all their best skits, along with some song and dance (the Pythons have a slew of catchy tunes in their repertoire). Much like the Seinfeld of their day, Monty Python generated a ton of catch-phrases into the lexicon, most of which found their way back into the show.
“Who’d have thought, 40 year ago, we’d all be sitting here doing Monty Python?” (A mild adaptation for the Four Yorkshiremen sketch”)
“Every sperm is sacred.”
“I wanted to be… a Lumberjack!”
“What’s on the television?”
“I think it’s a penguin.”
“Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.”
“I certainly didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.”
[Door crashes in] “Nooobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”
“Is this the right room for an argument?”
“I told you once…”
“I DON’T LIKE SPAM!”
“Excuse me, I’d like to register a complaint!”
(You can find a full sketch by sketch rundown of the show by clicking here.)
In between sketches, they would either bring out the Broadway-style dancers for musical Python bits, like an elaborate dance number referencing the Ministry of Silly Walks, or just roll some film of sketches that didn’t lend themselves to a live show, like “The Silly Olympics,” the “Exploding Blue Danube,” or “Philosopher’s Football Match.
So there was a lot to like about the show, but that’s not to say there wasn’t room for some irritations and criticisms.
For example, there was the guy sitting about 2-3 rows behind me, who loudly giggled and cackled at every freakin’ line of dialogue. Often times, he was the only one laughing in the whole theater, and it sounded like he was right in my ear.
Because they had to cover for Graham Chapman, (what with being dead and all), it was weird seeing the other Pythons (or anonymous cast members) doing the dialogue for which Chapman was known. For example, the funny part of the Spam sketch was Chapman, dressed as a dowdy middle-aged woman, shrieking “I don’t like Spam!” In Sunday’s version, they had Carol Cleveland, their Gal Friday who plays most every part where they needed an actual female, sub in for Chapman. It just didn’t have the same impact.
And speaking of the cross-dressing parts, you can really see where age has taken a toll, because very few of the Pythons can hit those shrill tones any more. (Granted, they’re all in their 70s, so I give them a bit of latitude.)
During the dance performance of “The Penis Song,” (“Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis? / Isn’t it frightfully good to have a dong?”), they added a new verse about how nice it is to have a vagina and another one about the “bottom.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t make out but a word or two of it, because it was sung by the dancing chorus. In the London auditorium, they had the lyrics up on the video screen, but the rebroadcast only showed it in passing. It was probably really funny; I wish I knew for sure.
Maybe if the theater would have had the show’s volume up as loud as they do for movies… I assumed the problem was with the original transmission. Perhaps that was as loud as they could get it.
I grant you that all of these issues are trivial, in context of the awesomeness of the event, but there was one thing that legitimately pissed me off.
An hour into the show, they had an intermission. I mean, a real, 30-minute intermission. The cast left the stage and a digital clock filled the movie screen, counting down from 30:00. At first, I thought it was a joke, like the fake intermission near the end of Holy Grail. But after two minutes rolled off the clock, we figured out that they really were breaking.
Now, I understand that you need an intermission during a play, especially one that runs three hours. BUT, they could at least put something up on the movie screen! Everyone else in the crowd began playing with their smart phones. Not having one of those, I had nothing else to do but sit there in the dark for a half an hour, and wait.
Yes, I could have gotten up and walked around, but I couldn’t count on finding my seat again. Plus, it’s not like there was anything to do in the lobby. I think the least they could have done is run some previews or something. I’m just glad the show restarted right at the end of the countdown.
All in all, I loved the experience. You could see on screen how beloved these guys are. When the last sketch was done, the Pythons took some bows, and after sucking up some prolonged adulation, retreated backstage. Up on the video screen, the message appeared: “Two minutes until the completely spontaneous encore.”
It could only be one thing. Eric Idle, who all show long, looked like a weathered, merry, ring-leading elf, emerged to lead the rest of the guys in song. He also said that the crowd may want to sing along as well, as he was “pretty sure they knew the words.” He bade the theater-goers so sing as well. With that, he began “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the legendary coda to “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”
So that’s how 16,000 people in London joined untold thousands across the planet, in singing the theme song to a movie that had been repeatedly banned and boycotted due to its blasphemous nature.
I don’t know if other theaters joined in, but the one I was at erupted in full-throated song. It really was a beautiful thing. (No, I didn’t join in. I never sing in public, due to the “public nuisance” restraining orders.)
Monty Python have been around almost as long as I have. Their humor and irreverence has been a part of my life ever since I discovered them, when I was in college. Since then, I’ve always known that I had a measuring stick for encounters with other people. If I threw out a Python quote, and someone came back with the next line, I knew that person would be simpatico. It wasn’t my only measuring stick, but it was reliable.
I suppose I could say that I’ll miss these guys, but the truth is; I won’t. I won’t have to. They’re all over my MP3 player and DVD shelf, and I don’t see that changing.
As long as I still appreciate the inherent absurdity and silliness of the human race, I’ll be listening to the Pythons.
Director’s DVD Commentary: If this post has piqued your interest, theaters are rebroadcasting the show on 7/23 and 7/24. Check your local listings for times and availability. Otherwise, I think it’s a sure bet to wind up on DVD. And I bet neither one will have an intermission!