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Relatable, ridiculous and downright hilarious: The Influence of Monty Python

Relatable, ridiculous and downright hilarious: The Influence of Monty Python Click to enlarge

03 Aug 2016

Jess Horsley, one of our Blog Team and a member of our Bar & Café Staff, looks at the lasting appeal of Monty Python ahead of Spamalot at the end of August

Monty Python has undeniably been fundamental in making British comedy what it is today. From the early ‘60s when comedy in Britain was starting to become more satirical, a characteristic that is now considered distinctive of British humour, the Pythons’ work has been on screens inspiring generations of comedians.

One defining feature of Python is its non-political content, focusing on “idea comedy” as John Cleese put it in Comedy Connections (2004). This, I believe, is what is partly responsible for making Monty Python timeless; while modern-day television is dominated by political panel shows, a long-running sketch show that doesn’t end up repeating itself (something Cleese was afraid of himself), and that has very little mention of politics is rather refreshing to watch. That is not to say, however, that Monty Python has not had a hand in influencing political comedy. In 1979 when Not the 9 o’clock News first aired, it had been created to revive the sketch show since it was believed that Python had well and truly ‘done it all’ with the comedy format. Its quasi-political style was deliberately intended to be unlike Python; however there are still some aspects that echo the ‘Flying Circus’.

Absurdity is certainly one quality that Not the 9 o’clock News carried forward from Python in its sketches. This has also been shared by many comedy shows since, such as The Two Ronnies , The Fast Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look . Laughing at something, such as three cardinals bursting into a room, without knowing exactly why it is funny other than because it is ridiculous, is now a firm part of British comedy: we don’t need to have it explained to us - it is just funny.

Another aspect of Monty Python’s somewhat indeterminable style is the moments of self-awareness, where the team struggled to get sketches past the producers, but instead of cutting them, inputted disclaimers in the form of impersonating an offended BBC official, or, in one instance, including a producer in a sketch. These loopholes may be a product of their time, with the BBC having a very “hands-off”, free approach in the 1960s; however, breaking the fourth wall has definitely remained in many British comedy shows, with French and Saunders and Mitchell and Webb all laughing at themselves within their sketch shows.

Since Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969, the individual Pythons have also influenced the British sense of humour; Eric Idle’s The Rutles- All You Need is Cash (1975) is held to be the first ‘mockumentary’, a style since used by The Office , and Victoria Wood with Bo Beaumont , to name but a few. John Cleese went on to co-write Fawlty Towers which is a British comedy archetype, and Michael Palin and Terry Jones’ Ripping Yarns which parodied British wartime is mirrored by The Armstrong and Miller Show and Blackadder Goes Forth . It is clear that these brilliant writers, actors and directors have made an impact on British comedy.

Monty Python is a deep-seated part of British comedy. This is indisputable. The best lines are referenced so much in everyday life that they might as well be official idioms. Its sketches have been watched by millions and will continue to be watched for generations to come, and still be relatable, ridiculous and downright hilarious. It is fair to say that without Monty Python, we wouldn’t have the same spectacular comedy portfolio that we, as a country, have today. So the next time you watch a documentary about the Ancient Roman Empire, see a parrot in a pet shop window, or clear your email inbox of ‘spam’, give the Pythons a thought, and have a chuckle.


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