It looks like a quick easy payday for a troupe of aging English grumps and sounds like an old rock band playing their greatest hits to play it safe. But sometimes, a warm revival of comedy gold can be as unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition.
On July 23rd, legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python completed their 10-night reunion run at London’s O2 Arena, which was also broadcasted to numerous movie theatres around the world. It was the (supposed) final showcase of the combined talents of John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones on stage. The remaining Python members (Graham Chapman died in 1989) hadn’t performed together in over a decade and there have been many reports about conflict within the group.
Not that you’d know that by their on stage demeanor. All five men, all over 70 years old, were as jolly and silly as they were when they started in 1969. Idle, the songsmith of the group, never missed a note on classics like “Bruce’s Song,” “The Llama,” and “Every Sperm is Sacred.” Palin looked ageless as he took the stage in his shiny jacket and slick black wig to play “Blackmail,” the game everyone still wants to get off. Gilliam, known now for his groundbreaking directing skills, kept his lower lip uptight as he performed “Gumby’s Flower Arranging.” Jones sounds as enthusiastic about the varieties of Spam, especially as the old lady shouting out the various Spam dishes. And Cleese is still complaining about his deceased, stone dead, passed on, ex-parrot. It was very refreshing to know that age hasn’t affected the energy and commitment of these fine performers to their craft.
The show itself wasn’t some quick restaging of set pieces from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” either. Instead, almost every sketch was accompanied by a live orchestra and costumed dancers to help keep the energy up. Idle’s performance of “I Like Chinese” included dancers twirling giant flags and singing backup, while the family friendly “Sit On My Face” featured the male and female dancers proudly thrusting their genitals out into the audience (and occasionally on each other). This had the delivery of a Broadway musical more than a sketch comedy show, but the performers are more than capable. Cleese and Palin would ad-lib on occasion, most notably in the “Dead Parrot” sketch when they note that the parrot had gone up to meet “Dr. Chapman,” which received rousing applause and the two performers giving thumbs up to their silly friend in the sky.
The show fittingly concluded with all five men, in white dapper suits no less, inviting the crowd to sing along to “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life,” the most heartwarming middle finger to mundane life you’ll ever hear. It was a lovely sentiment to send off the chaps known for snark and sneer in their step. One would think these guys would leave on one last insult to…well anyone they could think of, but maybe Python deserved this warm final bow.
In fact, the entire show is like an overdue victory lap for the men who have influenced everything from “Saturday Night Live” to “South Park.” Monty Python inspired the concept of silliness and sharp wit coexisting in comedy, and think of how many other movies or TV shows still do that today. In the end, Monty Python deserve to know that the world loves them after being damned by government and religious groups in their heyday. This is where Python take a bow without turning over and sticking their asses out in front of establishment. Now the audiences are applauding them out of love and adoration, even after Monty Python’s signature phrase flashes on screen one last time: “Piss off.”