With little more than a whisper, Netflix added the full run of all four seasons of Monty Python’s Flying Circus earlier this month, as well as a variety of Python-related films and documentaries, including their best film, the satire of religion Life of Brian (which engendered this excellent collection of essays a few years back), making them readily available to U.S. audiences for the first time in a while. For some people of a certain generation (mine, to be specific), the Pythons became part of the rolling stock of our approach to the world. The series first premiered on the BBC in 1969 and didn’t find its way to the U.S. until 1974, when the series itself ended its British run. While the Pythons and their sense of rampant absurdity and irreverence came out of a long tradition of British satire and humor (from Beyond the Fringe to Spike Milligan and the Goon Show), Americans my age had been prepared for it, especially if we’d subscribed to Mad magazine, then in the years of its peak circulation. And it could be argued that, without Monty Python, there’d be no Saturday Night Live, no Airplane!, no SCTV — American comedy would be a different beast. We almost didn’t have it at all, according to this article by Robert Ham in Paste magazine.
Does it hold up nearly fifty years later, this Monty Python? I think so, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it again over the next few months. In the meantime, below is a sketch from one of their very first episodes, which is exemplary of early Python — a parody of BBC documentaries, the German language, WWII nostalgia, and even, if you squint, a dry, skeptical assessment of the power of laughter itself.
See you at Cafe Katja later today, and here next week.