I have Monty Python on the brain tonight. That’s because tomorrow night, my son and I are attending a local screening of the 40th-anniversary edition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Then, four days after that, we’re going to see John Cleese and Eric Idle doing a live show at the Florida Theatre.
So I decided to succumb to list-mania and make a list of 10 terrific Monty Python sketches. However, I didn’t want to go for the obvious. Even non-Python fans are familiar with “Spam” and “Argument Clinic” and “The Lumberjack Song.” But in 14 years of sketch creation, the Pythons came up with plenty of material that might not be as equally legendary, but is surely as equally funny.
So here are 10 of my favorites. Click on the sketch titles to link to them on YouTube. Some of them are from their TV series, others are vocal-only sketches from their record albums (Did you know that the Pythons did albums as well?). All are quite the laugh riots.
Logician – This is from the Holy Grail soundtrack album (whose actual title is too irritatingly long to print here). The album has snippets of dialogue from the film, interspersed with Python comedy bits. This sketch comes after the sound bite of the movie’s scene where the “man of science” determines that a woman is definitely a witch because she weighs the same as a duck and is made of wood (don’t ask). John Cleese plays a logician who tries to argue this point and then goes off on an unrelated tangent about his wife.
String – From Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album, again featuring John Cleese, here as an advertising agent. He wants to help a client (Eric Idle) promote a collection of string that he’d inherited. But the client says there’s a major problem with the string. No problem for Cleese’s one-track-minded ad guy!
“What Do You” Quiz Game – From Monty Python’s Previous Record. Eric Idle is the caffeinated host of a radio game show that has very complicated rules. (Ironically, years later, Idle performed this hilarious sketch in a guest appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” where it bombed like the results of The Manhattan Project.)
The Bishop – From Episode 17 of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Terry Jones plays the title role in this outrageous mash-up of religious pretentiousness and James Bond movies. (I’ve nothing against men of the cloth, but some of them get offed in some extremely creative ways here.)
Milkman – From Episode 3 of “Flying Circus,” and featuring Michael Palin and Carol Cleveland at her most come-hither. It runs only a minute and is completely wordless, but it’s a gem.
Deja Vu – The finale of “Flying Circus” Episode 16, and surely one of their best-ever closings. Michael Palin plays the host of a show titled “It’s the Mind,” where he examines the phenomenon of deja vu…over and over and over.
The Attila the Hun Show – Thank you, Monty Python, for documenting the fact that inane sitcoms are not strictly limited to America. If you can get past a quite unforgivable blackface stereotype from Graham Chapman, this one is worth its weight in gold. This sketch is from “Flying Circus” Episode 20, as is…
Take Your Pick – John Cleese, as a smilingly venomous game-show host taking out his hostilities on a female contestant (Terry Jones), is laugh-till-you-cry hysterical.
The Adventures of Ralph Mellish – From the album The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief. Michael Palin narrates the not-quite-breathtaking story of one man’s almost perilous journey to work.
The Background to History, Part 4 – Also from Matching Tie and Handkerchief. Graham Chapman hosts an assessment of Britain’s medieval open-field farming system as it might have been interpreted by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
After watching and listening to all of that, you have every right to declare: