Monty Python and America

In interviews with the members of Monty Python, I’ve heard them say that when they first got together and were planning Monty Python’s Flying Circus, they had many ideas and thoughts.

One thing they were all dead certain of, was that their humor would only work in Britain and that it would have no success whatsoever in the United States.

What does it mean, what does it say about the Pythons and Americans, that they were so wrong about this?

The Pythons were famously introduced on US TV by Joey Bishop with the words “They’re supposed to be funny”, and few laughed.

I suppose we thought the humour was too British. But who cares - we all love 'em!

Well, it says we Yankees aren’t that different from those Limey weirdos after all. :slight_smile:

I’ll take Python, Benny Hill, Are You Being Served, or Blackadder any day over the insipid slurry pumped out by Hollowood that marquerades as comedy.

I don’t have figures on their initial appeal. But I think based only on the most popular US humor of the time, e.g the previously mentioned Tonight Show, they were right. Nobody realized there was another audience big enough that would be interested. I wonder if everybody looked at the success of Beyond The Fringe on Broadway but decided that wasn’t enough of an indication.

As I recall, when they first appeared on PBS I wasn’t too impressed. But at some point something grabbed me and I was hooked.

Benny Hill is stupider than a sack full of doorknobs.

I bet I have the most complete Monty Python DVD collection on my block, though. Python rules.

If you don’t like Benny, fine, but don’t be snobbish. For every cerebral Python sketch, there was an utterly silly one that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Benny Hill Show.

Think about Terry Jones wandering all over the palce trying to find a palce to change into a swimsuit. Face it- add “Yakkety Sax” in the background, and that’s a freaking Benny Hill sketch!

A LOT of Python sketches were that way. Sure, sometimes they did jokes about Elizabethan poets or Cartesian philosophy, but just as often, they were doing dumb (but funny) stuff.

Hey now, I’m no snob. I like the silly Monty Python stuff just as much as the other jokes that I pretend to get. Benny Hill just annoys the piss out of me, is all.

Agreed. As someone who considers himself at least as big a fan of Benny Hill as of Monty Python, it annoys me when people look down on Benny Hill as “stupid” or “dumb” compared to Python.

Most of Monty Python’s best known sketches are pretty darned silly when you get right down to it, as silly as anything Benny Hill ever did, albeit in a different way. The Benny Hill Show was steeped in vaudeville tradition while Python’s humor was always much more surreal.

At any rate, both are aquired tastes and I’ve found that with both, you can only take so much at a time.

This isn’t exactly on topic, but did any of you enjoy “Dave Allen at Large”? I sure did.

Why yes!

One clip I have been trying to find for ages is the one where he appears as the priest and suddenly a thin round and tall baptismal basin begins to move and scream EXERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!

It follows the priest, but Dave hides in a small confessionary that begins to disappear while one hears the sound effect from Dr Who’s Tardis!

I gotta be honest here: Even the silly Monty Python sketches are often more cerebral than might appear, IMO. Now that I’m on the spot I can’t come up with any examples. But there is alot of Python stuff that I simply didn’t get in the first twenty viewings–even in the silly sketches.

Regarding the OP, however, since reading it I’ve found the piece my Mark Twain called How to Tell a Story to be interesting in the context of Monty Python and American humor. The most interesting part of the piece, IMO, is when Twain remarks that “The humorous [i.e. American] story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story [i.e. English] and the witty story upon the matter.” This seems to be both true and false. Monty Python, even in the silly sketches, is so much in the writing. Consider for example The Golden Age of Ballooning. That episode is full of hard-core silliness, yet underlying it is a depth of writing that is unmatched in popular American humor such as, for example, the work of Jim Carey or the Farelli Brothers (sp?). In Python the parts are played straight–the jokes are in the writing.

This is where Twain seems to contradict himself:

“The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through.”

American comedy doesn’t seem to play it as straight as Python. Of course, Leslie Neilson in the Naked Gun movies and shows is an obvious counter example. In contrast, so much of American comedy seems to be premised on the actors acting goofy. Chris Tucker would be a good example. Or Eddie Murphy. Or consider John Belushi in Animal House. The funniness of his performance seems to be in the performance, not the writing.

So in that regard, I would suspect that the anticipation of poor success in the States might be justified.

I’m just guessing here but look at the situation from the Python’s perspective. Standard American television humor in 1969 was probably extraordinarily “safe” compared to what the Pythons had in mind. Even though certain zany shows made it (think “Laugh-In”, “Smothers Brothers”) it’s still safe to say that these types of American shows were still lame and watered down compared to the shows being kicked around by the Python writers early on. I’m sure just by knowing what type of comedy fed the American public at that time was the reason the Pythons felt it would never go over.

From my understanding, Python wasn’t exactly a hit (at first) but it attracted viewers of all ages in England whereas in America, it was the young people who enjoyed Python once it crossed the shores a few years later. Evidently the Pythons didn’t give enough credt to the US college demographics to estimate their success in America.

Personally, I love Monty Python. Funniest group of humans ever.

I remember back in the 70’s, they played Monty Python on local TV at 12:00, after Saturday Night Live. I quite enjoyed it. One issue, if it was such a popular show, how come there are relatively so few episodes. Maybe 30, 40 tops. Possibly the Brits do shows at their own pace. Fox, when it first came out, did fewer than the standard 24 or so.

I have seen “The Holy Grail” movie too many times to really enjoy it anymore. I did catch “Life of Brian” on TV about a year ago, at least some of it. I found myself getting many more of the jokes than when I last saw it, back at 16.

Rather than run a show into the ground, the Brits tend to kill off a show once they’ve said everything they have to say. I recently bought The Good Life Season 4 DVD. It features an interview with one of the writers who said that they had gotten all the mileage out of the main premise (self-sufficiency) and any further shows would just be re-hashes of previous episodes and would ultimately detract from the quality of the shows.

I wish some long-running American shows would have followed this idea.

No kidding. American sitcoms tend to run for as long as they can get away with and still make money for the network often lasting long after any humor or relevancy they one had has died.

Yeh, way to many American sitcoms Jump the Shark.

Oh, yeah, that fish-slapping dance is just sparkling with comic irony and makes a crucial subtextual point about the plight of migrant farm workers.

Finally! Someone who shares my vision!

I think Saturday Night Live had the same problem…They struggled the first year or two, and from what I read, almost gave up. The actors and actresses came out with some of the most “off the wall” spoofs, and much of america was shocked, if not offended by their nerve (political sketches, sex, drugs)
I loved it at first…Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Loraine Newman, Dan Akeroid (sp?) , and, of couse John Belushi. I stopped watching it in the 80’s, they seemed to be trying too hard to be over the edge.
I started watching again over the last few years…and it seems funny again (could be me)
I also watch Mad TV and I used to watch In Living Color when it was on. SNL paved the way here in America.