195. British Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The series about British Comedy continues with everything you need to know about Monty Python’s Flying Circus and an analysis of The (Dead) Parrot Sketch. Right-click here to download this episode.

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And now for something completely different. It’s…Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Introduction
This episode is the next in the series about British Comedy. I had to do an episode about Python. They’re such an important, popular and celebrated part of our comedy history. They’re very well rated by lots of people. Some say they’re overrated. I don’t think so. I like almost all of their comedy. They’ve been very influential on popular culture in general, but more specifically on plenty of other comedians and TV shows in the UK and in USA too (e.g. The Simpsons and South Park probably wouldn’t exist without Python). Also, this year they are in the middle of a comeback, putting on stage performances of their greatest material live at the 02 Arena in London. Live performances will be broadcast in cinemas around the world too, so check out their website for more information if you want to see it. Personally, I’d like to see the reunion tour, but I’m quite happy watching their sketches and movies on TV and listening to the records on my mp3 player as I walk around. I’m really happy to share my love of Python with you. Some of you will already be aware of them, some of you won’t. I’ve already played you some of their stuff before, including the Four Yorkshiremen, The Argument Sketch, Swamp Castle and the Silly Election. So I’m sure already pretty familiar with them. Anyway, this episode should be your go-to guide for everything you need to know about Monty Python. You can use it to make sure you are fully clued up about this essential part of modern British culture.

I could go on and on about it for ages, talking about how special their comedy is to me personally (and plenty of other people) but instead I think it’s best to go straight to their comedy and let it speak for itself. I realise that by talking about it a lot, I’m just building it up and then you’ll find it anti-climactic.

So, after I’ve explained a few things about Python, we’re also going to spend some time listening to one of their sketches. I’ll explain things so that you understand it all fully, just like a native speaker – and a native speaker who gets all the jokes. Hopefully this will just be one single episode. I’ll try and keep it brief. In a way this is one of the hardest episodes of LEP I’ve ever done because it’s hard to get across in a simple way the appeal of Monty Python. Also, I can’t choose a sketch. I like them all too much. I also realise that you might not find it funny. Never mind. The main thing is that you learn some things about culture and some language and if you find it funny that’s a bonus. SO DON’T EXPECT TO FIND ANY OF THIS FUNNY, ALRIGHT? NO FUN IN THIS EPISODE!

Everything You Need To Know about Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and perhaps some things you don’t really need to know)
Remember, this is not a blog post, it’s just some text which accompanies this audio episode. So, to get the full information you should listen to the podcast.
Who are they?
Why are they called “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”
Where did they come from?
What did they do?
What was so special about it? Why do people like it so much?
The wild, crazy & anarchic approach.
The postmodern approach – breaking all the rules.
The performances.
The writing.
The originality (although this kind of thing had been started by The Goon Show, Spike Milligan & Peter Cook)
The animations.
The level of intelligence, combined with the readiness to be completely stupid too.
What effect has their work had on culture in general?
Is their comedy still funny or relevant today?
What does their comedy tell us about the British sense of humour?
What are some of the most famous Monty Python moments?

Sketches
Let’s listen to some sketches by Python. Below is a list of some of my favourite sketches by Monty Python. You can see most of them on their YouTube channel . I strongly suggest you buy their work too. Here’s a list on Amazon of pretty much everything you can purchase by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. My favourites are the movies “Monty Python & The Holy Grail”, “Life of Brian”, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” and the audio recording of “Live at Drury Lane”. Don’t bother with the TV show unless you’re a hardcore fan. You could just get “The Best of Monty Python’s Flying Circus” if you want to see some of their sketches. Otherwise, just check out videos from their YouTube channel here.

I will probably come back to Python sketches in the future because there’s no way I can cover everything in this episode. I’ll be lucky to get through more than 2 sketches to be honest.

PLEASE DO NOT EXPECT TO FIND ANYTHING FUNNY.

The Parrot Sketch
I can’t really explain why this is ‘funny’ – in fact many people agree that it isn’t their funniest sketch, but it’s definitely the most famous one. Most people know some lines from it. Some people know every line and can recite the entire sketch from memory. Thatcher quoted it in a speech once. Let’s listen and find out what all the fuss is about.

Script for the Parrot Sketch
MR. PRALINE
John Cleese
SHOP OWNER
Michael Palin
The sketch:

A customer enters a pet shop.

Mr. Praline: ‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

Mr. Praline: ‘Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean “miss”?

Mr. Praline: (pause)I’m sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Owner: We’re closin’ for lunch.

Mr. Praline: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

Owner: Oh yes, the, uh, the Norwegian Blue…What’s,uh…What’s wrong with it?

Mr. Praline: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. ‘E’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!

Owner: No, no, ‘e’s uh,…he’s resting.

Mr. Praline: Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.

Owner: No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn’it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

Mr. Praline: The plumage don’t enter into it. It’s stone dead.

Owner: Nononono, no, no! ‘E’s resting!

Mr. Praline: All right then, if he’s restin’, I’ll wake him up! (shouting at the cage) ‘Ello, Mister Polly Parrot! I’ve got a lovely fresh cuttle fish for you if you show…

(owner hits the cage)

Owner: There, he moved!

Mr. Praline: No, he didn’t, that was you hitting the cage!

Owner: I never!!

Mr. Praline: Yes, you did!

Owner: I never, never did anything…

Mr. Praline: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) ‘ELLO POLLY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o’clock alarm call!

(Takes parrot out of the cage and thumps its head on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.

Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!

Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?

Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.

Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.

Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.

Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?

Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers keepin’ on it’s back! Remarkable bird, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!

Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.

(pause)

Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!

Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!

Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!

(pause)

Owner: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round the back of the shop, and uh, we’re right out of parrots.

Mr. Praline: I see. I see, I get the picture.

Owner: (pause) I got a slug.

(pause)

Mr. Praline: Pray, does it talk?

Owner: Nnnnot really.

Mr. Praline: WELL IT’S HARDLY A BLOODY REPLACEMENT, IS IT?!!???!!?

Owner: N-no, I guess not. (gets ashamed, looks at his feet)

Mr. Praline: Well.

(pause)

Owner: (quietly) D’you…. d’you want to come back to my place?

Mr. Praline: (looks around) Yeah, all right, sure.

Alternate ending:

Mr. Praline: (sweet as sugar) Pray, does it talk?

Owner: Nnnnot really.

Mr. Praline: WELL IT’S HARDLY A BLOODY REPLACEMENT, IS IT?!!???!!?

The Dead Parrot Sketch (The Studio Version)

The Dead Parrot Sketch (Live version – funnier)

The Pythons Talk about The Dead Parrot Sketch

Margaret Thatcher does The Dead Parrot Sketch

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones talks about the Python reunion, saying they are… “a bunch of wrinkly old men trying to relive their youth. The best one died years ago. Maybe back in the 70s it was fantastic! But, you know, we’ve seen it all before!” Of course he is making fun of himself (the same things are true about the Stones) and yet also showing his respect for Monty Python. At the end of this sketch Mick agrees to perform The Dead Parrot Sketch in the next Rolling Stones concert.

Other Sketches That I like
Spam (This is the origin of the word spam on the internet. It’s completely farcical)
Witch Burning
The Peasants
What have the Romans ever done for us?
The Funniest Joke in the World
The Communists Quiz
The Philosopher’s Football Match
The Spanish Inquisition
The Ministry of Silly Walks
The songs!
The Lumberjack Song, The Philosopher Song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
The Dirty Fork (The Restaurant Sketch)
Nudge Nudge Wink Wink
+ many more…

Terry Gilliam’s Animations

Famous American Comedians Talk About Why They Love Monty Python

Why do people like Monty Python so much? (Comments from YAHOO ANSWERS)
ORIGINAL QUESTION: Hysteria98: Why do people find Monty Python funny? The only reason I can think of why, is that its so ridiculous.
Best AnswerVoter’s Choice
It’s ridiculously funny and funnily ridiculous. It’s genius.
you have to look at it in the context of the time it was on TV for the first time- in the late 60s and early 70s nothing like it had ever been seen before- the sheer randomness was exciting as you never knew what was going to happen next. Remember there were only 2 TV channels in the UK back then, so Monty Python was hysterically fun and funny

Black Star Deceiver answered 4 years ago
Oh it’s unpredictable, so simple and yet sheer genius. The guys are legends.
Long Live the comedy of Monty Python!

Mike answered 4 years ago
Monty python has not dated at all, it was funny then and funny now, ridiculous situations are funny no matter what decade, for instance the guy who wrote the worlds funniest joke, it was so funny he died laughing at it, so the army used the joke and translated it to german to shout at the enemy, instead of shooting at them !

Alice answered 4 years ago
I can understand your question perfectly.
Its probably a generational thing.
I’ve noticed a lot of older friends of mine really love it but i just dont get where the “Funny” is…
It doesn’t even make me smile. I like comedy that examines people, their personalities and situations that they get into.

Alan Partridge
Father Ted
Peep Show

kaznaid answered 4 years ago
Sadly, I remember MP when it was first broadcast on BBC 1 in 1969. Actually, I didn’t find it very funny but I was only 12 years old.

I only started to laugh after I watched Life of Brian and Holy Grail. Some of it is very silly but, last week, I saw the Upper Class Twit Olympics on the BBC’s celebration of the programme, and I laughed so much I cried!!

So, it just shows that it obviously does not date … and it can grow on you although it did take 40 years!!!

Intrinsic Random Event answered 4 years ago
They are the Dali of comedy

legs answered 4 years ago
It was very much of its time – groundbreaking – much loved by many of my generation. I was studying for GCEs & my English teacher was a great fan as were most of his pupils. It was a must see for many of us after all we only had BBC1 & ITV, then BBC2 came along but not the multi-channel choice now available. I still laugh at the sketches & the films. I have a weird sense of humour maybe that explains why I like it!

Lexx answered 4 years ago
off the wall humour that pushes the boundaries with out resorting to sex and profanity ( well most of the time)
They pushed the limits of comedy which now has become the norm – but MP lead the way for many comedians that are amazing
Long live the Python!!

Rebecca answered 4 years ago
Because it is ridiculous. You have 2 types of people, those that find it funny because it is silly and those who cannot get past the silly to see the humor.
For example the attack rabbit “what is he going to do, nibble my bum?”

Mae answered 4 years ago
That’s the reason it’s so funny, it’s just insanely ridiculous. That kind of funny that makes your stomach hurt you’re laughing so much.

itsjustme answered 4 years ago
It was the late 60’s early 70’s and they were pushing the edge back then,therefor it was very funny.This is a funny scene and a catchy tune too.

Sniper answered 4 years ago
I didn’t think people found it funny at all o_O

MrMunchy420 answered 4 years ago
Because its just brilliant in general.
Ridiculous does have a lot to do with it :P

Abolyss answered 4 years ago
that is exactly why.

Its so ridiculous its funny.
Huh? It is funny!! And it’s so random.

knownout answered 4 years ago
I don’t . Its just stupidity

The Script for the Introduction to This Podcast (Which I didn’t use – because it’s too similar to the opening of Monty Python Live at Drury Lane, and I don’t want to steal their jokes!)
Radio voice… Welcome ladies and gentlemen to this special Royal Gala edition of Luke’s English Podcast. You join us here at the Royal Albert Hall, where this podcast is being recorded with a star studded audience, including her Royal Highness The Queen.
Among the other members of this celebrity audience, we can see… err… what’s his name… umm, that guy with the glasses on TV… also in the audience this evening, um, that woman, you know, the one in the TV commercials about that thing… just arriving now, it’s… um, you know that famous guy who is always in the newspapers…
And the atmosphere here at the Albert hall, with a royal audience, is electric, as the audience finally takes their seats to witness the recording of this extra special episode on British comedy legends, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Unfortunately, none of the original pythons are present this evening, for legal reasons, but their spirit is very much with us… unless someone has just farted… Yes I think that’s it actually. And the lights now dim in the auditorium as Mr Luke Thompson of Solihull, takes the stage to begin the recording of this Royal podcast episode.
Good evening (cheering)
And I would especially like to welcome Her Royal Highness, it is indeed a great pleasure to have you here this evening. How’s it going? Sorry, I can’t hear you… I SAID HOW’S IT GOING LIZ??? Oh sorry…
Anyway, we are here today in order to pay tribute to the work of the comedy group known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. (disappointment)
You did know that didn’t you?
You didn’t?
Wait, don’t leave… it’s interesting, I promise!
Wait…
Your majesty!
Everybody, this is going to be a really good podcast! Wait!
(Voice over) and as everybody leaves the auditorium, Luke has no choice but to continue the recording for our benefit…

Monty Python Live at Drury Lane

MontyPythonPIC

  • Amber

    Yes, what are those things you’ve mentioned (time c. 20.40) they were allowed to get away with back then, but they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with these days and why not? What has changed meanwhile?

    • I was just talking about the fact that the Pythons had a lot of creative control and didn’t have the BBC constantly looking over their shoulder while making their TV show. These days the BBC monitor new programmes very carefully and if they feel that it’s not going to be a success, the show is cancelled after just one series. Python was not a massive success on TV in the beginning but they were still able to keep making the TV show, and in the end they did 4 series.
      As for ‘the things they were allowed to get away with’ – I’m not talking about especially offensive material, more just the weird and unconventional style of the show in general. I expect a lot of BBC executives didn’t really understand what the Pythons were doing so it’s quite a surprise that they let them keep going! British TV was a very different thing in those days.

  • Amber

    Thank you for doing an episode on one of my favourite comedy shows of all times. I love good old Monty Python too (welcome to the club, right?). At first, and for a a beginner level learner of English, it was hard to understand them, but that was years ago. Gilliam’s cartoons were particularly silly and funny to me. Also when they did female characters in high voices I couldn’t stop laughing. Mr. Cleese, Mr. Idol and others are so charismatic and I think that’s why their shows are so popular, amongst all. I guess they gave me just another reason to study harder, so I could really get all of their jokes and the messages behind them… I don’t quite remember. But I should thank them too for challenging me to make some progress as a student of English language and culture. :-)

    And another funny thing is that I wanted to write a question here about M.P., ’cause you’ve said you’d talk about them some day. But then I got an answer to that question before I even managed to ask. :-) And the same thing has already happened a few times earlier. So every time I wished to ask you about something, I’d open that forum, or fb page to write it down, and boom, there it was; an episode or something else that provided an answers and explanations I was looking for. Great! But isn’t that a bit odd? So Luke, you’re able to read your listeners’ minds too? Wow! :-D
    About Monty, I’m currently reading this book I bought a while ago called “Monty Python and Philosophy: Nudge nudge, think think” by G. Hardcastle and I’ve been studying it for fun lately (still into it). It’s already on my Favorite books list.
    Btw, you also played us that sketch (Nudge nudge, wink wink) in one of those A phrasal verb episodes, so thanks again for all of them.

    “a bleeding choir invisible” – maybe “a bloody choir of angels”…
    Hope to hear more episodes about Monty P.’s Flying Circus.

    Cheers!
    And always look on the bright side of life! :-)

    P.S. I’ll come up with some question and write it down here BEFORE you give an answer to it. You’ll see! :-D

    • Lovely comment Amber! What was that question you were going to ask me about Python?

  • Andrzej

    A few years ago a Michael Palin’s agent tried to arrange a stage performance with a famous comedy group of my country (It was a part of a Palins’s journey through different countries). The agent of the group ignored the proposal but told the group about the phone call afterwards saying that ‘somebody called Michel Palin or something like that wants to join you and perform together. I declined saying you have no time for him’. Can you imagine what happened when the members of the group got to know about the call from Michael Palin’s agent and his proposal? They told off their agent and ordered to call him back immediately. The story had a happy end because the common performance eventually happened.

  • Gábor

    It is a really funny episode, thanks! The “Dead parrot” sketch is a little bit difficult to understand for an intermediate level English learner like me – strange accent, faster than regular conversation, very formal phrases, etc. – but after a few times of listening it gets more understandable and distinct. Maybe you don’t know but here in Hungary there are a lot of fans of British comedy. Monty Python, Fawlty Towers or TV series like You rang m’lord were very popular in the late ’90s. (and I hope remain still popular) Moreover, there was a group of Hungarian actors (called “Holló Színház” or “Raven Theatre” in English) who made remakes of Monty Python’s sketches. Of course, the original performances was far better than the Hungarian ones.

    • Thanks for the comment Gábor, I’m really glad you liked this episode. I’m sure the parrot sketch is a difficult one to understand and not only because of the reasons you gave. It’s also because the scene doesn’t really make much sense. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me why I find this funny, as I said in the episode. Hopefully I managed to give you enough support to enjoy it. I have heard that British TV shows are popular in various countries. We have produced all kinds of TV sitcoms in the past. I’d love to do podcasts about all of them. Recently I’ve been remembering the show “Bottom” which I loved when I was a teenager. One of the stars of that programme, Rik Mayall, sadly died recently.

  • Mohammed K.

    Difficult to understand , but useful.
    And the owner of the parrot has a strange accent .

  • Andrzej

    Oh my God! At last! You’ve been announcing this episodes for years. I’m raring to listen to.

    • It’s almost impossible to do them justice. Even after attempting to record this episode many times, and thinking about it a lot, there’s so much I now realise I didn’t include. I’d like to do this episode again, but I know I wouldn’t manage to adequately cover the subject in just one hour. I’ll have to come back to it again. I hope listening to this was not an anticlimax after waiting all that time!

      • Andrzej

        I’ve managed to listen to the whole episode, eventually. Haha! You must have derived ‘British comedy’ pronunciation from ‘Silly Olympics’. Am I right? I knew that they hadn’t had money to produce the Holy Grail but I didn’t know about Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin contribution. I’m going to appreciate their music now even more than I’ve been doing it so far. In the future I would throw in a sketch ‘How to defence against somebody armed with fresh fruit’ – hilarious. Or: ‘- Mr Hilter, Mr Gooring says that he has found the place where you can hire bombers by the hour’. Deadly funny. Or: ‘Kilimanjaro Expedition’, or: ‘- I’d like to complain about my hearing aid’. I thought I was going to die when I first listened to this sketch. I’ve been watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus since I remember (I have already managed to forget quite a big part of my life) and I still can’t get enough. I have to admit that I do know people who don’t find them funny at all. The bad news for learners of English is that they have to be really good to understand them without a transcript or translation, especially John Cleese who has no diction at all. In terms of language Monty Python’s Flying Circus language is not something suitable for learners of English without any help so thank you Luke for making it easier to digest. The second thing I have to admit is that I have never understood Gilliam’s cartoons meaning I don’t find them funny. Never mind. The funniest kind of humour ever for me. Thanks again. I hope you keep your promise to throw in some MP’s sketches to future episodes. Bye!

      • Andrzej

        Sorry, I meant: ‘- I’m interested in buying a hearing aid’, not ‘complaining’. It is that guy at the end who wants to make a complaint about his contact lenses. I remember me crying.

      • Andrzej

        Sorry, another mistake of me. I meant ‘The Upper-Class Twit Of The Year’, not ‘Silly Olympics’. It just looks like silly Olympics.