He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-BLOG!
Well, maybe, but I’m breathing some life into it for this post.
This is a review of the Monty Python Live show, but also a review of the reviews of the show, and a review of the reviews of the reviews of the show (the comments). And a review of this review. So consider yourself thoroughly spoiled after you read it.
I consider myself to a bit of a misfit in the Python crowd. I’m “too young” for Python – the American sitcom has become the comedy outlet of choice among my generation, and perhaps justifiably so. I’m also “culturally inappropriate”. I don’t believe that the sketch series was ever broadcast in Singapore – if it ever was, many of the weeny bits (literally) would have been censored. Many of my friends who know of Python know it because of their films, and not because of racially-tinged songs like I Like Chinese, which some of my friends would find patronising.
But I am a fan of British sketch comedy. I love the implausibility of the sketch setting, the lightning-quick transitions (how long does it take to get someone to laugh?) and the malleability of the sketch actors. The Python series was one of the first sketch shows I watched, at a ripe old age of 17. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a lot of it, and here Michael Palin offers an explanation for it.
The real reason, of course, was that some of the jokes could only be fully appreciated with knowledge about culture, news or geography, which I was and still am fairly distant from. Though I admit I am closer to Surbiton than I ever was, and can make the journey to Hounslow fairly easily.
And there were the real gems which kept the laughs up throughout the four series, keeping my eyes glued to the screen every episode. I still watch some of them today:
I got myself a single second-priced ticket for their third show, off a resale site to save m’self some dosh (I will admit that original price tickets were very expensive, and so was the merchandise – it did make some people unhappy). And yes, I took many pictures. How else could I prove that I actually was there?
It’s difficult to describe Pythonesque humour. Some of it breaks down the fourth wall (as in the picture above) – at times ridiculing the BBC, censorship and the ‘public conscience’. Many of their most famous sketches take a snippet of (British, Australian, what have you) culture and exaggerate it beyond its logical limit. And the element of surprise is key. No, no irony or sarcasm whatsoever.
The show reprised many old favourites, with the inclusion of some new numbers – for instance The Silly Walks Song, which I suspect was intended to make up for the absence of The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch.
Many videos were also aired, ranging from lesser-known sketches to Terry Gilliam’s wonderful animations to some new videos (one featuring scientists Brian Cox and Stephen Hawkings, both Python fans!)
I thought that some of the sketches could have been done with more contemporary twists – there was little in them that were “completely different”, and they were a little too faithful to the original TV productions. Showing old videos was a clever way to keep the audience entertained while changing stage sets; unfortunately many of them could easily be pulled off YouTube (I had the misfortune of watching this on the day itself, only to see it played again on the big screen!)
Of course, this wasn’t all about new material, and the audience loved every bit of it. There were numerous opportunities to sing along with the performers (mainly Eric Idle) – it was very heartwarming singing the crowd favourites along with everyone. The two outright favourites were the Lumberjack Song and Always Look On The Bright Side of Life. I must say though that I was very self-conscious of singing I Like Chinese too loudly.
Sitting beside me was an Israeli who’d also picked up resale tickets. He’d grown up in South Africa (this is testament to Python’s international influence!) and had watched the films and some of the famous sketches, though not the sketch series. His sons, both older than me, had no interest in Monty Python whatsoever. It made me feel like a diehard fan!
The audience was a surprising mix of young and old, which was perhaps testament to Monty Python’s lasting influence on British culture. I really wondered if the younger audience could appreciate the show – as you’d expect with Python, nobody gives two hoots about “family-friendly” entertainment!
Balanced Conclusion, With A Touch of Wit If Only To Keep The Post Readable
Overall, the show was an emphatic reminder of how we shouldn’t always take life, performance, and even comedy itself so seriously. To me, Pythonesque humour is not only about laughing at things, but also laughing at the audience, and at the performance itself. Though many of the reviewers criticised the Pythons for not being inventive enough (inviting a flurry of defensive comments and sighful ‘yes, I am a fan, but in all honesty I have to agree’ remarks), I think they sometimes miss the point. As the FT review points out, criticism is irrelevant.