If you get a chance to drop by a newstand in the not-too-distant future (i.e. this month), pick up a copy of The Atlantic for a brilliant article. “The Beatles of Comedy” is a great read and a real treat for British comedy fans worldwide.
Working from the premise that the genius of the Monty Python troupe was to respect nothing, the article goes into great detail about the beginning of what, we call, Python. It starts off by going back to the very beginning to trace the roots of the infamous Dead Parrot sketch back to an early How to Irritate People sketch. Written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, the sketch centered around the workshop of a shady car salesman featuring Chapman and Michael Palin. The genesis of the sketch came from the fact that, in real life, Palin had been sold a defective car himself, and he had entertained Cleese with impersonations of his stonewalling dealer.
A year or so later, Cleese was offered his own show by the BBC, but wasn’t interested in being the star opting to bring together a team of former Oxford and Cambridge alums from Do Not Adjust Your Set. The new troupe would consist of six men, broken into three writing units, John Cleese-Graham Chapman, Michael Palin-Terry Jones, and Eric Idle, who worked by himself and specialized in songs and monologues, with Terry Gilliam, left alone to do his animations.
When it came time to actually write for the show, Cleese and Chapman took another pass at the original car-salesman sketch. Later, Cleese said it as if they had failed to exploit the situation in the original pass. But, what if they shifted the action to a pet shop? What if the malfunctioning car became a dead animal? A dog, say. Or a parrot. Pure comedic genius.
The now-infamous dead-parrot sketch epitomizes the concept behind Python — In the world of Monty Python, even a guy with a valid beef is a lunatic. For more annotated Monty Python, pick up a copy of The Atlantic and read about “The Beatles of Comedy” or check out the most recent MP efforts to explain their lunacy in Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated…All the Bits before it’s too late. Here, Terry Jones talked with us for our 1999 public television production, Celebrating 25 years of British comedy in America (Monty Python was first broadcasts on KERA in Dallas in 1974) about how he and Michael Palin wrote the Lumberjack Song sketch.
And Now for Something Completely Different – just for fun
The rest of the Family Guy episode really had nothing to do with the British comedy but executive producer, Mark Hentemann, explained: “…There’s a contingent in the writers’ room that is obsessed with Monty Python, and always has been. It aired on the BBC in the early ’70s, and a lot of our fans may not know it, but who cares? We’ll do it anyway. Sounds a bit like what Monty Python’s Flying Circus was built on, don’t you think?