The Comedy That Is Monty Python

        When anyone thinks of British Comedy, he or she thinks of something that is dry or hard to get. But that is the complete opposite when it comes to Monty Python's Flying Circus. The type of humor used is on the absurd side and has influenced comedians all over the world.

        Monty Python is the collective mane of the group who started the British show in 1969. The people who made up the group were Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Graham Chapman. The Flying Circus was loosely based on comedy sketches and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in both style and content. They got the name from an old World War 2 General, Field Marshal Lord Montgomery "Monty"; and Python just seemed to fit. Many think the men got inspiration from P.J. Wodehouse's books "Monty Bodkin." However, Eric Idle says they got the name from a popular, rotund man who drank in his local pub.

        The content of the Monty Python show was to be disconcerting to viewers who expecting the usual television fare. It would start out with one sketch and then go into a completely unrelated sketch. The thread might return to the previous sketch, but most often than not there would be no closure only more fragmented scenes. Interspersed throughout a show would be Gilliam's wacky animations, often stop-action collages where skulls opening to reveal dancing women or body parts being severed. The macabre and disorienting would become staples for the show.

        Flying Circus pioneered some innovative formal techniques, such as the cold open, in which an episode would start without the traditional announcement or opening titles. The Pythons experimented with ending segments by cutting abruptly to another scene or animation, walking offstage, addressing the camera, or introducing a totally unrelated event or character. A classic example of this approach was the use of Chapman's "Colonel" character, who walked into several sketches and ordered them to be stopped because they were "too silly."

        Monty Python casts a considerable shadow over modern comedy. As such, the term 'pythonesque' has become a byword in surreal humor. However, this is perhaps somewhat misleading, since the humor of Monty Python, whilst certainly nonsensical and surreal, is still strongly characterized by a preoccupation with the British social class system--most notably with British working class stereotypes. These themes cannot be said to be essential to surrealist comedy as a whole. The show has helped lead the way for other absurdist comedies such as SNL, The Simpsons, Adultswim, and South Park

Amy Wolford

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