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

There’s a lot of poking of fun at stereotypes, including gender and class stereotypes, but it scatters in every direction: the gumby group makes fun of the working class; the Ministry of Silly Walks makes fun of the ruling class. Since nothing is sacred, it is undiscriminating – so it doesn’t strike me a sexist, homophobic or classist.

Sounds to me, roger, as though you like comedy that grows out of (at least somewhat fully developed) characters and storylines, and not nonsense, parody, or absurdist humor. Is there any sketch comedy you like?

Yeah, the idea that Monty Python is somehow nastily sexist, homophobic, or what, strikes me as a rather bizarre assertion.

I also didn’t care much for the Python’s.
I however do love Life of Brian and the Holy Grail.
The Meaning of Life was almost painfully unfunny.

And no, they didn’t really revolutionise Brittish comedy.
I think more credit needs to go to the beloved Spike Milligan.
The Python’s have credited him for being their largest inspiration.

I think it’s you doing the confusing, Cal. The summer replacement for Dean Martin in 1972 was Marty Feldman’s Comedy Machine, not MPFC. It’s an easy mistake, because of the similar names, because Marty’s show was similarly bizarre and brilliant (and British), and because it opened with an animation sequence by Terry Gilliam that bore a striking resemblance to parts of the MPFC opening.

The MFCM opening showed an automated factory assembly line on which machines are placing a stream of pairs of shoes on the belt, sticking legs into them, then bodies, and arms, and finally bland, featureless heads. This goes on for a while until one of the heads is Marty’s wall-eyed, frizzy-haired mug. All of a sudden, lights start flashing and alarms start going off. Marty is yanked off the line, a large red REJECT is stamped across his forehead, and he’s chucked into a trashcan outside the factory. (I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I can vividly recall this bit from 33 years ago.)

The first US broadcasts of MPFC were on PBS in 1974.

I desperately wish that Marty Feldman’s show was available on tape or DVD. I was knocked out by it, and would love to see it again. I don’t think that anything he did later, working under other people, was as funny as the stuff he did in his own show.

Bearing in mind this is from the perspective of the enlighted noughties – I’m not saying it was really considered any of those things at the time…

  • there’s a sketch in which some silly ass is married to a dolly bird with big tits and a short skirt; as he witters on about her fidelity (or lack of; I forget) the suave doctor seduces her midst dolly bird coos and twitters. And in general, there were no women in the team playing comedy roles (as there were in other, older, radio shows of the same ilk; June Whitfield etc); women in general are either dolly birds (God I love that expression) or moany old ladies.
  • The sketch in which a load of soldiers parade around like ‘poofs’. I can’t think of any general examples though.
  • I agree they took the piss out of silly asses also (see my first example); however the reason why MP has often been criticised as being classist in the way they found it funny to juxtapose intellectual Cambridgey pursuits (philosophers, Proust etc) with lowerclass stereotypes; as if it is impossible for lower class types to be intellectual.

This all looks a trifle nitpicky and perhaps because I dislike the humour I’m converting my disdain into lots of ‘isms’ – nonetheless there’s lots of MP stuff that has dated and I much prefer properly funny stuff that doesn’t poke fun, like The Goon Show.

Nope =-- I clearly remember the Python’s being on the summer replacement for Dean Martin. They were part of a series, in fact, called “World of Comedy” or something like that. Pythons were only a small part of it.

It was pre-1972, and definitely pre-1974, because I hadn’t gone away to college yet.

One sketch with an explicit reference to gays is the one about the Philosophy Department at the University of Wooloomoolooo: the one where everyone is called Bruce, and Rules 1, 3, 5 and 7 are: “No Poofters!” (Rule 2 is: “No member of the faculty is to maltreat the Abos in any way at all – if there’s anybody watching.”)

I don’t think that exhibits homophobia, or racism towards Aboriginal people: it’s just a joke at the expense of stereotypical Australians.

What!?! The Goon Show doesn’t poke fun??? Have you listened to one lately?

Although much of the humor was surrealist or wordplay, the Goon Show constantly poked fun of every aspect of British society, from the House of Lords to the BBC to working class laborers.

And the Goons were hardly free of the “isms” you found in Python. Give me a free afternoon with my Goon Show tapes and CDs (I have a complete collection of all extant Goon Shows, not just the ones available commercially), and I could give you ten examples of “sexism,” “classism,” and “homophobia,” in the Goon Shows for every one you could find in MPFC, and throw in some “anti-semitism” and “racism” as well. (I put all these in quotes, because I don’t think they are truly offensive, even if, as you say, some people these days would take them so.)

[ul][li]Sexism: the frequent drooling references to Sabrina.[/li][li]Classism: Lords and other upper class characters were routinely portrayed as clueless twits.[/li][li]Homophobia: there are several cases of “nancy boy” characters (although I can’t recall a specific one at the moment).[/li][li]Anti-semitism: Lou the manager, a stereotyped greedy Jew, was probably the most offensive Goon Show character.[/li][li]Racism: Every use of Ray Ellington in a dramatic role made reference to his skin color, or had him as a stereotyped African “savage.” I steadfastly maintain that these are not truly racist depictions, but I have no doubt that many people would see them that way today.[/ul][/li]

Cal: I just can’t find anything that would corroborate your claim. Google “Dean Martin” and “Summer Replacement” and you’ll find many references to Marty Feldman, and no mention of Python. And there are other sites besides my cite above that state that Python’s first US appearance was on PBS. So I remain skeptical.

The fact that someone at ABC was daring enough to put Feldman in Dean Martin’s slot suggests that they might have used Python bits, too. A user comment for Marty Feldman’s Comedy Machine at IMDB says that Feldman sketches were used in The Golddiggers, a summer replacement that preceded MFCM. It’s possible that Python bits were used there, too (although I’ve never heard of it), or that you mistook those earlier Feldman sketches for Python.

Well, I get a bit woody sometimes.

Quite the contrary - I enjoy both, and have written and performed some sketches over the years, some of them very elementary and undemanding, but always with “edge” (parody, satire, whatever). I really enjoyed Not The Nine O’Clock News. Two of their skits (The Hi-Fi Shop and the take-off of the Goodyear tyre advert - “It’s not Starsky and Hutch, you know!”) still make me laugh - just thinking about them.

I learned an important thing about comedy when appearing in a revue at Merton College, Oxford, in 1979 (same sort of time as Curtis and Atkinson were strutting their stuff). I wrote a sketch in which a bunch of us were Thunderbirds tottering round the stage as if on strings. The main “plotline” was that the Radcliffe Camera had been stolen, and Thunderbirds (who I had made Americans) got very confused because they assumed that it was a real camera, whereas of course it is a building. This allowed all sorts of pathetic jokes about ignorant Yanks and “Oxford-upon-Avon, the home of William Shakespeare” etc. A “subplot” had Lady Penelope discovering her chauffeur Parker (he of the high wheezing voice) going through some of her stuff (of course, he was saving the day, but she was not to know that). She ('twas I, as I recall) said to him: “You been nosey, Parker, again?” and I promise you the fucking house came down. And these blokes in the audience were top of the Norrington scale, i.e. the brightest undergrads in Oxford.

So I like simple humour, and I like wordplay, witty stuff. But I don’t care for overly contrived, “clever-clever”, stuff. That’s usually over-indulgence, and as any decent performer will tell you, it’s the job of the audience to hurl themselves around laughing, NOT the artist.

I think The Kid’s in the Hall were a essentially modernized version of Flying Circus and I think they did a (generally) very good job of it too.

I know you said “in general,” but Carol Cleveland’s hilarious turn as Vanilla Hoare in the “Scott of the Antarctic” sketch was a glaring exception.

“We all know where you’ve been, you military fairy!”

Wasn’t that sketch, like most of the really campy bits, the work of Graham Chapman, who really was gay? (“Si, Senor Biggles!”)

Well, I said it wasn’t “The Monty Python Show” – they were only part of it. I thought the title was “…World of Comedy”, and it might have been a segment on Marty Feldman’s – he, being British, would certainly know about them. The bits were censored so that Americans wouldn’t be offended by unexpurgated British humor. And it certainly was Monty Python – I remember the comedy bits that were done – I’m not confusing names.

And as for not finding anything on the Internet to corroborate it, I’ve long ago learned that the Internet is by no means complete. I wouldn’t take its silence as proving anything.

I quite sure this was the show he was referring to.. Bascially, “Comedy World” was a potpourri of clips of British TV comedy shows like Python, stand-up routines from then-new comics like Andy Kaufman and David Brenner, and scenes from classic screen comedies.

I also remembering watching this program as a kid because it was the first place I saw Monty Python and Kaufman (who did his “Mighty Mouse” routine).

This site refers to the Dean Martin summer replacement series, and notes that it preceded the PBS broadcasts:
It says the series ran in 1974, which contradicts my recollection of it as pre-1973, but NDP’s site also gives 1974. And the title he gives – “Comedy World” – is pretty close to my recollections as given above.

This site, which talks about Marty Feldman’s show, seems to think Monty Python first appeared on US TV in 1972 as well:

This sounds like you’re thinking of ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment, which ran butchered versions of Monty Python shows in 1975. It was not a replacement for Dean Martin, however; both may have been on Friday nights, but Dino was on NBC.

Hope you’re happy now, Thornhill.

Nope again – read the very post you quoted from.

Where have you been all my life, commasense?

I also loathe “bathroom” humor–so basic, so obivous, so cheap a shot. I refuse to let my kids watch anything by Sandler–not too familiar with the rest of the list. How is someone walking around with tp hanging off their shoe funny? Or a slip on a wet surface hysterical? It’s all so predictable. I would never call any of the Python’s predictable. IMO, they could have rid themselves of the American Terry with no ill effects. Re: Meyers- I like the Austin Powers movies, because they send up the Bond series so well.

I like humor that depends on either situations–even sketch comedy needs a premise or situation, or wordplay, crossed with a detectable delight on the part of audience. You can be as deadpan as Cleese (and not many do it as well as he), but the audience knows that on some level, Cleese’s character or bit is dimly aware of his own ludicrousness.

I like the elements of farce in MPFC and the movies–I like the showing up of the absurd social conventions that we are all subject to. Right now, I am enjoying the score to “Spamalot”–some of the songs are redone from other records and movies, but they hold up. I ahve not seen the shoe (tickets are $600!), but look forward to it when it comes to town(again-missed it the first time, like an ass).

Just recently purchased “Meaning of Life” on DVD–I had never seen it. We had the books of MPFC when I was young, It aired on Sunday nocs at 10:30 pm on channel 11 here in Chicago. Didn’t understand most of it at age 10 and up, but now I find it laugh out loud funny. Is every bit hysterical? Of course not–most comedy is hit and miss, even stand up.

Anyway-MofL–I am taken aback by some of the over the top stuff (like Mr. Creosote), but loving the Sex Ed (“darling, we’ll consider the foreplay as rendered”; “of course, dear.” That is spot on, skewering many different issues at once, snarky, sardonic, bitter and funny as hell…and it’s only two lines!)

Sorry if you don’t like Python et al. Plenty other comedy out there for you.