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Farewell, Monty Python

POSTED: August 10, 2014 11:00 a.m.
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A scene from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'

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In the final performance of the 10 “Monty Python Live (Mostly)” shows performed by the famed comedy troupe in London’s O2 arena, a slide came up on the big screen that said “Monty Python: 1969-2014.”

Yes, it’s true. Monty Python is now officially dead.

Granted, their death has been unofficial for about 30 years or so, as they haven’t produced any significant new material since their last movie in 1983, when they told us that the meaning of life was to “Be nice to people, read a good book every now and then, avoid eating fat, try to get some walking in, and live in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations." That’s also one of the answers that Siri provides if you ask your iPhone what the meaning of life is.

It seems death isn’t going to do much to slow Monty Python down.

Many who get Python quoted to them by their smartphones probably don’t recognize the source, but it’s impossible to deny the massive impact Monty Python has had on the culture at large. Even if you don’t know specifically that strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government, you can’t escape the influence of Python’s unique brand of anarchic nonsense, which still feels cutting edge 45 years after its debut.

Pythonic elements are obvious in sketch comedies like “Saturday Night Live” or “Robot Chicken,” but they’ve seeped into just about every form of entertainment imaginable, including children’s programming. Kids shows like “Adventure Time” and “The Regular Show” include elements of the bizarre that wouldn’t have been thinkable had Monty Python not mined similar veins of silliness all those years ago.

Yet, many of those who unknowingly enjoy watered-down Python don’t have much of an appetite for the original, undiluted stuff. Some of it is still too strange for mainstream audiences, and it has to be noted that a lot of it is just plain gross. By the time they got around to making “The Meaning of Life,” the Pythons seemed to be more interested in being offensive than being funny, as much of that movie contains material too disgusting to describe in a family newspaper. (Google “Mr. Creosote” if you don’t believe me. And don’t say you haven’t been warned.)

But there’s so much other Python stuff that is blissfully and brilliantly absurd without being repugnant. There’s the Dead Parrot, Cheese Shop and Argument Clinic sketches. There’s African and European swallows that carry coconuts and people who get better after they’ve been turned into newts. Amid four seasons of television shows, five movies and all manner of spin-offs and live performances, there’s a great deal of comedy gold to be found amid the dross.

But there will never be any more. The five living Pythons gathered for these final performances that broke no new ground. The group with the catch phrase “And now for something completely different” ended by serving up something exactly the same. But only the most hardened cynic would begrudge them this chance to say goodbye.

“It is a wonderful thing,” Python Eric Idle told Newsweek. “To be able to get together with old friends from 50 years ago and do Python for a last time, to come out, perform it, send it ’round the world and say, ‘That’s it. That’s the final night,’ I think that’s tremendously fortunate. Nobody ever has the opportunity to do that in show business.”

Also, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Farewell, Monty Python. Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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