Monty Python, the British comedy group, was born from a Kashmir tandoori restaurant in Hampstead on 11 May 1969. It was the first time all six got together, reportedly going back to Cleese’s apartment on nearby Basil Street. The gang was made up of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam.
The group’s first major breakthrough was its sketch comedy series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which had 45 episodes that aired over a period of four seasons and ran from 1969 to 1974. The group released its first feature-length film, And Now for Something Completely Different, in 1971 followed by four more feature-length pieces, including the Holy Grail (1975) and Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) which were both shot on very low budgets. Since splitting up in 1989, the group completed several reunion shows and a number of live performances.
In honour of the group’s boisterously brilliant career, here are five of the best sketches (in no particular order):
- Dead Parrot
Irrefutably the most popular and well known of the Monty Python sketches, and for good reason too. The dead parrot – or “resting” Norwegian Blue, contingent on which comedian you trust rightly – warrants its place at the peak of this list. Quintessentially Python, Cleese’s ranting complaints are skillfully avoided by Palin’s slippery storekeeper. Quite how this sketch only came second in the UK in Channel 4′s 50 Greatest Comedy Moments to Little Britain is anyone’s guess. Remember, it is not dead, it is resting.
- The Lumberjack Song
The best Python song, barring perhaps Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, The Lumberjack Song is both eminently hum-able and achingly funny. This skit begins with a guy whining about his job and wishing to be a lumberjack leaping from tree to tree. He sings a song about his love for buttered scones for tea and wearing women’s clothing.
- The Ministry of Silly Walks
The flexibility of Python is astonishing, as are John Cleese’s legs on the evidence of this sketch. Hardly the most intellectually demanding of skits, it’s a tribute to the smartness of the show that it can flap between sparkling word play and slapstick madness. Boundless physical comedy. If you have a silly walk, then this is the place to go for a grant to develop it.
- The Spanish Inquisition
Given how notable the great Python sketches are its incredible how few are successfully quotable. That’s because habitually the sketches were far too lyrically thick to be contracted to single catchphrases. One exemption to the rule is, “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!” which is enough to get tears rolling about the plethora of weaponries the Inquisition has at its disposal. We all dread the imposition of the “comfy chair.”
- An Argument
Apparently popular with philosophy students – who muse on the possible benefits of paying for professional debate – the Argument Clinic sketch is an skillful study of the English language and consumer culture. Penned by Cleese and Chapman, it’s a prime example of the intense wordplay that characterised the sketch writers’ work at the time. The quick-fire discourse is delivered handsomely by Palin and Cleese in a verbal jousting contest. Purchasing a five-minute argument, Palin’s character is caught off guard by the immediacy of Cleese’s character’s argumentative method, growing ever more upset by the latter’s verbal and mental gymnastics. Next time a person wants to argue with you, make sure they pay first.