Monty Python Was Very Hit-and-Miss, Rather Puerile, and Usually Unfunny


I saw the very first episode broadcast in England (I think it was 1969) and remember feeling a bit disappointed with that. Time goes by and the feelings haven’t changed much. Some good sketches (The Four Yorkshiremen, The Argument), a lot of very average ones that have gained cult status, as very average fare often does, think Rocky Horror Show (Spam, Lumberjack and Parrot), and three films.

Holy Grail - fell asleep during this one. Nice take on miscommunication in the Castle, and ‘Aargh’ was clever too. Otherwise, same type of thing done much better in Blackadder.

Life of Brian - the most coherent of the films. Some nice bits, and created a world first by showing that Michael Palin could actually be funny, rather than the Paul McCartney of the group.

Meaning of Life - very uneven, but the sex ed was terrific. Someone should have told them that they’d already done the false beginning in their first effort.

So…if you think Mothy Python’s Flying Circus is over-rated, this is the thread for you. Don’t hold back. And please feel free to misquote them all you like, or get the dates for the films wrong, or ascribe to them what was actually done by Bob Newhart, Michael Flanders, Victor Borge, Basil Brush, Rolf Harris, or whoever, or introduce some inaccurate trivia.

Let’s annoy the hell back out of those MP fanatics. After all, they won’t mind, coz they’re not brain-dead, they’re just sleeping. BOOM! BOOM!

I predict that before too long, this thread will be dead. Not pining. Passed on! This thread will be no more! It will have ceased to be! It will be expired and gone to meet 'is maker! A stiff! Bereft of life, it will rest in peace! It’ll be pushing up the daisies! It’s metabolic processes will be 'istory! Off the twig! This thread will kick the bucket, it’ll shuffle off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-THREAD!!

That was on May 5th, wasn’t it?

No. May the 4th. And I can prove it if you want.

I won’t argue that the Flying Circuses were terribly patchy. I’ve seen several interviews of different members all saying the same thing. They were trying innovative comedy. They really couldn’t know what would work until it was seen by the public. As a result some of it was dreadful, a lot of it was boring and bits were gems.

The thing about FC particularly and Python in general was that it was truly novel. It’s not that any part of FC humour hadn’t been done before, it’s that no one had ever built an entire show or career out of it before. Up until then comedy, especially in Britain, had been primarily stage comedy, even when adapted to the screen. Either someone told jokes interspersed with short skits with a punchline a la “Two Ronnies” or else you had a comedic play, whether in the form of sit-coms or something like the “Carry On” movies. FC broke the mould. It was collection of skits, but the skits usually had no punchline. There were often zany characters after the style of Lucy Ricardo but often these were characters in already total absurd situations (Viking singers in a restaurant? Gangs of keep left signs). It was essentially cartoon humour in the real world. Unlike any screen comedy I can think of that came before it the humour came largely only with knowing that it WAS meant to be comedy.

In many respects FC suffers the same fate as “The Beatles” or revolutionary movies like “Citizen Kane”. The style has permeated the genre so much that it’s now everywhere and it’s hard to see in retrospect just how revolutionary it was. And moreover it’s been done better. But if you consider pre-Python comedy and post-Python comedy the differences are glaring. Python was in many ways the forerunner of “Seinfeld” as the original show about nothing and also in the sense thatif you weren;t warned that it was comedy it wouldn’t actually be funny, and “The Simpsons” as producing zany though somewhat normal characters in absurd situations. It was certainly the forerunner of Blackadder, something that Ben Elton has happily admitted. And not surprisingly these shows have done it much better because. That is inevitable, just as almost any competent modern painter could do better than the Mona Lisa, but nonetheless that was revolutionary in its day.

I’ll stick in here the obvious caveat about The Goons, who in so many ways paved the way for MP. But the massive social changes between the first and second halves of the 20th century as well as the medium of TV itself meant that it was python that gets the credit for this modern form of comedy even if true credit goes to the Goons.

I’ll agree with pretty much everything you said about the movies though. “Holy Grail” was very ordinary and not all that funny. Ridiculous to be sure, but very few actual laughs and it really didn’t hold my attention. Could have been so much better. “Life of Brian” was good. I think with “Meaning of Life” they tried to get back to the FC feeling and failed pretty miserably, or maybe they succeeded perfectly. Some really god bits, lots of boredom and quite a bit of boredom.

It was definitely hit and miss, and the movies could be pretty weak. Holy Grail is the best of the lot, I agree. “Usually unfunny” is the one I don’t agree with. There are plenty of bits you don’t remember because they weren’t great, but there were too many good ones to merit that characterization. I like a lot of sketches that people never seem to talk about, either.

Are you trying to be funny?

Of the movies? No, I’m not. I don’t like Meaning of Life, most of it just sits there. Life of Brian is a close second I guess. I haven’t seen any of them in a couple of years.

I have to agree that Holy Grail kind of peters out by the last third, and is not as funny as, say, Life of Brian. I think the latter were Python’s strongest moment, with their trademark absurdist humor focused with coherency.

I totally disagree that Monty Python were “usually unfunny,” however. While I agree with the judgment that their comedy was patchy, I certainly do not think it lacked humor. It depends on your sense of humor, but I love Python’s knack for the absurd. I’m also not sure I would say Python-genre comedy has been done better by anyone since. I find Monty Python to be unique. There’s really no other comedy troupe I’ve seen that really has the same humor, charisma, and (often) intelligent comedy the Flying Circus had. (Just like I would say that nobody’s bested The Beatles, either.)

I’d agree with this assessment, for the most part. I just can’t say the Beatles haven’t been ‘bested’. I prefer Punk.

Anyway, if it weren’t for Monty Python, we may have been subjected to more vaudeville-esque Benny Hill-type acts. phew

I first saw And Now For Something Completely Different on a trip to England in 1971, and was completely knocked out by it. (I was 16 at the time.) Unlike the vast majority of Americans, I was uniquely prepared for it because my family had been fans of the Goon Show since the mid-1960s. (They were broadcast on a local Baltimore radio station for several years.) So I became an immediate fan of Monty Python and was delighted when the TV show was broadcast on PBS in the US.

I agree with most of what Blake says in defense of MPFC. But since this is counter to the intent of the OP, I will agree with Roger about the hit or miss part (what comedian never told a joke that fell flat?), and as for unfunny, if you don’t find something funny, nothing I can say or do will change that for you. Humor, like comedy, is in the eye of the beholder.

But puerile? Irreverent, yes. Silly, yes. Puerile? The show that gave us the All-England Summarize Proust Competition? The Philosophers Song? I think a strong case can be made that MPFC was the most sophisticated and intellectual comedy show ever made. Not that that would make it funnier than other shows, but certainly undeserving of the label “puerile.”

Compare it with most of what has passed for comedy for the last fifteen or twenty years, which has seemed to be based largely on fart jokes and the comedy of humiliation, a genre I find completely unfunny. I despise virtually everything done by Adam Sandler, David Spade, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Larry David, and that lot. Talk about puerile!

Ultimately, though, it just comes down to taste. You don’t think they’re funny; I do. Good for me, too bad for you.

But perhaps Roger would tell us what comedy he really likes, so we can get a better idea of his tastes.

At the risk of getting all serious, I will concede that ‘puerile’ was a bit harsh, since, as you rightly point out, so much else that passes for comedy is either puerile, or, worse in my book, bland. (I quite like puerile when in the mood, in fact, for example Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em with Michael Crawford, who was very good at that type of thing. “Ooooh, Betty. Jessica’s done a whoopsie on de carpet!”) Also, puerile is a quality that is not only subjective (like all other qualities) but also depends for its meaning on a comparison with other stuff. And yes, as you point out, a lot of other ‘comedy’ is far more puerile.

As for unfunny, well I did say ‘usually’ (NO, YOU DIDN’T!), which means that more than 50% of it didn’t make me laugh, which is true. But at its best it was very good.

Perhaps it’s more that a) the stuff that has become iconic I never cared for much and b) the fact of its gaining iconic status (anything gaining iconic status, eg CS Lewis or Lord of the Rings - yes, NOT ‘LOTR’) annoys me.

At any rate, Cleese went on to better things in Fawlty Towers and Fish Called Wanda, and Palin found his niche travelling round the world trying to be funny. And the others didn’t do badly either. 'Cept for the bloke who died. [CUE PARROT SKETCH JOKES]

What ccmedy do I really like? More or less in this order:

The Office (Brilliant)
Fawlty Towers (Great, but I’m shagged out after watching it)
Blackadder (After Series II, quality hardly wavers)
M.A.S.H. (stands the etst of time)
Cheers (a great idea well executed)

I can’t abide The Goons. (That *is * puerile. Must be if Prince Charles likes it. Wouldn’t be surprised if he got his ‘condom’ gag from Harry Secombe, who has never been funny and should have stuck to singing.)

So, yes, all us aspiring funny men owe a debt to MP, but please, please keep it in perspective.

Well, what can I say. It’s comedy. You don’t have to get it, you know. I honestly can’t understand why you gave an ostensibly ‘average’ troupe so many chances. Yeah, they may not be as great as they all say, but who cares?
We could fill the whole board with ‘It’s so popular, but I don’t get it’ threads ranging from rap music, home improvement shows, and pop singers, (hell there’s a catch-all thread in IMHO that’s about to burst) but what would be the point? If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. That’s that.


Sounds like an MP script that got binned.

Indeed. Monty Python – v. funny at the time, not particularly original, any humour almost entirely destroyed due to internet people and other geeks quoting it at the slightest encouragement.

If the comedy was completely puerile as r_t says that would be okay. But there’s a nasty sexist, homophobic and classist edge to certain Monty Python sketches that makes them hard to watch today.

And he did it very well. I’m not overly fussed on Monty Python but Mr Palin does travel well.

I like Monty Python well enough. Just as with Jesus, it’s a certain subset of the fans that I can do without…

Are Monty Python fans called Dead Parrot-Heads?

I first saw Monty Python on a summer replacement show for Dean Martin on NBC (yes! In the USA the Pythons debuted on network TV!). They only showed a few bits abstracted from the show, but it was quirkily funny (they showed the Granny Gangs bit, I recall).

Flash forwards a couple of years. Playboy Productions puts out the movie And Now For Something Completely Different. I went to see it as a freshman in college,. The other guys in the dorm ask me if “Monty Python” was the guy whose eyes went in two different directions. Obviously the Pythons don’t have enough publicity at this point. The movie is hilarious – basically (as I later learned) the same skits as on their TV show, only with more monery and better production values. The Pythons hit PBS, they come out with a few records (“The Argument Clinicv” finds its way onto our party tape), and they publish a couple of books (“Monty Python’s Big Red Book”, with a blue cover, and a couple of others). By the time Monty Python and the Holy Grail comes out in 1975 nobody is confusing them with Marty Feldman.
To me, most of their stuff to this point is hilarious. I don’t get a sense of hit-or-miss at all. Some humor requires knowledge of British culture and customs, but thaty adds to the charm (“Cat detector van?”) After this point, though, they begin to seem more scattershot. The remaining films aren’t as funny (Although “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” is not as well known as it ought to be, and is mostly a hoot).

Re: the OP

I’m sorry, this is just blasphemy. Therefore Roger Thornhill is a WITCH!!!