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This morning’s New York Times has, at last, the review of Spamelot, which is to Monty Python what Mamma Mia! is to Abba. And the review (A Quest Beyond the Grail, by Ben Brantley) says that, well, Spamelot is to Monty Python what Mamma Mia! is to Abba. Which would be entertaining and all, but ...

Mr. Brantley nails my sense of it when he writes “The mere appearance of a figure in a certain costume (say, a headpiece with ram's horns) or the utterance of a single word (i.e., "ni") is enough to provoke anticipatory guffaws among the cognoscenti. Punch lines come to seem almost irrelevant.” That was pretty much why I gave up watching Python when I was eighteen or so. No, I didn’t give it up altogether, but stopped seeking out opportunities to watch it, particularly with other people. At one point, senior year, a roomful of people were watching And Now For Something Completely Different, and I found myself experiencing a moment of tremendous alienation: what were these humans laughing at? Nothing funny is happening! I slipped out quietly. Now, I do think most of that stuff is funny (although, for some reason, the versions in the movie seem off somehow), but I couldn’t even get the jokes at that moment, as the raucous laughter and chanting prevented me from hearing the lines actually said by the funny people. So mostly, it was suddenly very perplexing.

I should point out that I am aware that I do the same thing myself. I was watching O Brother Where Art Thou a few weeks ago and cachinnating as soon as the scene began. “She going to say bona fide!” I would say to my Best Reader, who would smile quietly to herself. And, really, I don’t have any basis for criticizing the behaviour, which is a perfectly good way to enjoy a performance. Still, it interfered with Your Humble Blogger’s enjoyment at the time, and I suspect it would still do so today, even with hundred-dollar tickets.

Oh, and as I was typing this, the mail carrier arrived with this week’s Entertainment Weekly, which, coincident with the opening of Spamelot, has a largish series of articles and sidebars on things Python, which I immediately read. And my first response to the list of 20 best sketches was the classic python-nerd’s response of disbelief that they had left off, say, da Bishop (we wuz ... too late!) or World Forum (The Hammers is the nickname of what English football team) or the profane version of the Albatross (‘course you don’t get any fucking wafers with it!). So, you know, here I am, Python nerd.

My second reaction was that Mr. Josh Wolk (if that’s his real name) had picked sketches based on how often they were quoted out of context, rather than how funny they actually were. Number One was the Spanish Inquisition (for which, by the way, Graham Chapman’s brilliant put-upon mill-worker should get more credit), number three was the taunting at the castle of Sir Guy duy Loimbard, 8 was nudge-nudge, 13 was the Spam diner, and 20 was the Argument Clinic. And somehow Mr. Wolk thinks that “Every Sperm is Sacred” is about masturbation, rather than contraception. My third reaction was that really one of the things about Python, particularly the Flying Circus, is that some of the most brilliant bits are only ten seconds long, or are funny only because of where they come in the show, or because you hadn’t seen them before. So you can’t put them in a list of the top 20 sketches. In fact, the Queen Victoria handicap is a good example of all three of those: the actual Queen Victoria handicap is a brilliant visual bit that lasts about ten seconds, is only really funny the first time you see it in an oh-my-Lord-they-aren’t-actually-going-to-do-that way, and leads directly in to the punch line of the earlier Hamlet bits strung throughout the episode, which really aren’t very funny either, but the combined bit, where Fortinbras, dressed as Queen Victoria, tells Horatio, dressed as, um, Queen Victoria, oh look, it’s just really funny.


I suspect Python will come back into this Tohu Bohu in a few days, when we all sing Jerusalem.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,