The 3 Best Monty Python Sketches (Aren’t Necessarily the Funniest)
Monty Python saved my life. Their best sketches stand up today because they're such accurate portraits of human nature.
January 31, 2013 - 7:00 am
To this day, I feel a twinge of irritation when the queen’s birthday honors list comes out and I see that the surviving Pythons remain un-knighted for yet another year.
I see recent photographs of Eric Idle and Michael Palin and give my head a shake: How can they be getting old?
But as an adult, I’ve been forced to accept that these strangers — whose work was one of the only things I believed I could ever truly depend on – all had (giant, stomping, purloined) feet of clay.
Terry Jones revealed himself to be a bitchy Bush-hater.
John Cleese doled out self-help psychobabble while marrying and divorcing more times than even my mother. (He’s in the midst of an “Alimony Tour” and is auctioning off a career’s worth of props and memorabilia.)
Worse, Cleese seems stupidly saddened and baffled by the transformation of his beloved London into a lawless polyglot madhouse — a transformation which is entirely the fault of the youthful culture-busting philosophy he and his liberal pals embraced.
They’d unwittingly (or not) destroyed England in a way the Luftwaffe could have only dreamed of.
(See Ed Driscoll’s searing take on the aging comedian’s almost touching confusion about the world he helped create.)
On that touchy topic, I was forced to confront my unalloyed affection for Monty Python while reading Peter Hitchens’ The Abolition of Britain.
I’d picked that book up to get a kick out of Hitchens’ brutal evisceration of the people who’d turned Princess Diana’s funeral into a ghoulish holiday from their own tedious, godless lives.
What I didn’t expect was to feel convicted myself, when Hitchens turned his attention to Swinging London’s ’60s and ’70s “satire boom,” of which Python were a part:
Beyond the Fringe, Forty Years On and TW3 created a tradition of “anti-establishment” comedy which continued long after its roots were forgotten. There may still have been an “establishment” of snobbery, church, monarchy, clubland and old-school-tie links in 1961. There were no such things ten years later, but it suited the comics and all the reformers to pretend that there was and to continue to attack this mythical thing. After all, if there were no snobbery, no crusty old aristocrats and cobwebbed judges, what was the moral justification for all this change, change with benefited the reformers personally by making them rich, famous and influential? (…)
The new, “iconoclastic” humour changed the way that the British, especially the middle class, thought about themselves. But people who use the word “iconoclastic” in a casual, almost approving fashion have little ice of the damage that image-smashers can do, not least because the vandalism, once started, is very hard to stop.
That was hard for me — now a grown-up self-described conservative — to read.
I felt a bit sick.
Still, the best — or perhaps more accurately, my favorite — Monty Python sketches retain their humor, insight, and bite, holding up the same way that (at least for some poor delusional folks) some Beatles songs do.