London was out of the question this year and the simulcast sold out before I could grab a ticket, so my only option was tonight’s rebroadcast, shown in movie theaters around the country. I thought it would sell out immediately and be packed so I was kind of shocked to show up at 7:20, panicked at being late, and find the theater half-full. I was happy that there weren’t regular preview clips being shown, but instead Python trivia and a Python soundtrack, and was pleased at the diversity of the audience: it was an equal mix of young and old, male and female, nerdy and not.
I learned about Python (predictably) from drama club in high school—they would commandeer the auditorium on off days and screen Holy Grail—and back in those days, you could see the show on PBS on Sunday nights. No one in my family likes Monty Python or any type of British comedy; in fact, they have a serious aversion to it to the point of actively hating it. So I would have to beg my parents to let me watch it on the television in their room, where I would cackle and sometimes tape record it. When we acquired a VCR, I would tape it, and I *still* have those tapes around the house. I was obsessive, devoted, enthralled. I used it to learn about British pop culture and history and that was a useful thing for a girl who was obsessive and devoted to British bands. It was not a super-popular thing to be into, but at that point I could not care less, because it made me laugh SO HARD.
So I found myself surprisingly emotional as the lights went down and the screening began. I had deliberately avoided reading anything in detail beyond one NYT article; I’d seen various photos on social media so I knew to expect Cardinal Fang and the SPAM cafe and Lumberjack was obvious. But I just wanted the rest to hit me without knowing it was coming.
Even with that, you knew what was coming because you recognized the set or the costume or the music or the first line, and that is part of it, that is what is supposed to happen. So I was collapsing in laughter and giggling so hard I was crying at the first inkling of the sketch. People in the theater cheered, laughed, shouted, clapped. It was enthusiastic without being annoying and the person with the crinkling plastic bag for 7 minutes was far more irritating.
I don’t think I’ve seen the penguin on the telly sketch for years and yet I knew every single line and nuance and pause. (I had a penguin on the television for years, especially in college, because it was a barometer: anyone who walked in the room, saw it and started laughing - YOU, YES, YOU, WE ARE GOING TO BE FRIENDS. It eventually caught on fire because of a rogue candle which is only appropriate.)
The Spanish Inquisition was so utterly perfect I held my breath so as not to miss a word. I was surprised that Miss Ann Elk made the cut, and it was that sketch more than any other that kind of took me out of myself for a minute or two to realize just how deeply my sense of humor is rooted in Python. It is a thing that has always made me laugh and is a thing I turn to without fail when I need cheering up, but the definition of the things I find funny and the way I write or craft funny things—watching that sketch performed ‘live’ really brought that home.
I loved that Carol Cleveland was included as much as possible. I was less in love with the musical numbers because I am less a fan of musical Python (probably because I am not exactly steeped in the British musical comedy tradition) but I can very well appreciate the absurdity of the various numbers, and enjoyed them for that.
I was sad that the more physical sketches that needed John couldn’t happen, and so no Ministry of Silly Walks (which was acknowledged in a musical bit that i could honestly have done without, but, see above.) They used new and old animations, and screened vintage sketches for scene breaks. This also allowed Graham Chapman to be present, and they did a lovely job at that.
And of course, at the end, I almost forgot because the entire evening was an embarrassment of riches, the bird cage comes out and the recitation of the list of descriptors: “HE’S NOT PINING. THIS PARROT IS NO MORE. HE’S PASSED ON. THIS IS A LATE PARROT”. And going right into Cheese Shop, the two sketches that are so list-based, and how the list can be such a fulcrum of comedy. The interaction between Cleese and Palin when John would temporarily lose his place or have to think about a line, the genuine interaction between the two, the invocation of the parrot being “with Dr. Chapman” (and the resulting thundering applause) - yes of course you wanted these sketches to be absolutely perfect so that you could lock them in your heart forever but the tradeoff of the emotion in those moments was worth it, a million, trillion times.
I am glad they came together for this, one last time, even if it makes me sad that it is an end and a closing and yet another thing that defines ‘me’ being put out to pasture. It was a glorious send off, from the set to the live orchestra to the choreography and the costumes. They did us right; they did themselves right. What a great way to say goodbye, and thank you. And, of course:
(found on the internets but likely originated from @HamillHimself)