Complete Python

A while back, I saw that Netflix had the complete 14-disc set of all the Monty Python episodes. I have, of course, seen all the famous sketches, but I figured that I had probably missed a few of the 45 episodes here and there. So I put all the discs in my Netflix queue.

The first one arrived recently, and I watched it this weekend. Three half-hour episodes. I remembered about 80% of each episode; the rest of each episode seemed completely unfamiliar to me. I don't know whether I've missed bits of episodes, or whether I just don't remember some of them. Apparently at least one bit (the Queen Victoria/Gladstone sketch) was removed from the episode at some point? But is restored in this version. So I may not have seen that one before.

Anyway. There are two unfortunate things here:

First, I don't know which episodes I have and haven't watched. I'd certainly seen (some version of) these three. There are probably others that I've missed, but I don't know which, and don't know how to figure it out. I could get an approximation by looking up which episodes all the famous sketches are in, but I imagine that wouldn't eliminate more than half the episodes.

But that seemed originally like it shouldn't be a problem; I could just watch the whole series regardless. Which brings me to the second unfortunate thing:

I didn't find these episodes funny.

I do still have a sense of humor. (I got concerned, so I checked.) But apparently it no longer matches Monty Python's. Maybe the humor's been worn down by constant repetition--I've certainly heard every word of some of these sketches recited, in unison, by Python fans many more times than I've seen the original sketches. And in general I'm not so fond of watching things multiple times. And, as I recently learned by re-watching Heathers and Fawlty Towers, apparently my sense of humor has changed since I was in high school.

But, y'know, there are jokes that I've been hearing (and telling) for 20 years or more that still crack me up. And last time I watched Brazil (a few years back), I still loved it.

Anyway. It seems likely that if the first three episodes didn't even elicit a chuckle (just a twitch of a smile three or four times), it's probably a waste of my time to spend 20 more hours watching the other 40+ episodes. But it's too bad.

One thing I did enjoy this time through was associating names with faces. John Cleese has always been easy to recognize, and I've usually been able to recognize Eric Idle and Michael Palin (though I sometimes mix them up). But somehow I didn't have a very firm grasp on which faces belonged with the names Graham Chapman and Terry Jones. So I referred to the handy group photo in the Wikipedia article, and got a much clearer idea of who was who in each sketch, as well as what sorts of characters each was likely to play.

On the plus side, I suppose clearing out 13 discs from my Netflix queue is nicely productive, especially since it only cost me a couple of hours.

But now I'll have to do some rearranging so that I'll have some comic relief mixed in between Insomnia, Alien, Night of the Hunter, Deliverance, and so on.

4 Responses to “Complete Python”

  1. flatluigi

    Maybe the humor’s been worn down by constant repetition–I’ve certainly heard every word of some of these sketches recited, in unison, by Python fans many more times than I’ve seen the original sketches.

    That’s exactly the problem, unfortunately — all of the humor in Monty Python is absurdist and therefore should be unexpected, but since everyone references it over and over that absurdism is lost. To try some wit, you expect the Spanish Inquisition.

    Here’s an early XKCD on this point.

  2. Jed

    Well, it’s probably one of the problems, but note that people don’t do the quoting thing with Fawlty Towers, and I had the same kind of no-longer-finding-it-funny reaction to that. But maybe that’s different; the humor there certainly isn’t intended to be so surreal. I think there’s some surreal humor that I do continue to find funny over time, though maybe not much; interesting point.

    But I do think there are plenty of people for whom surreal humor doesn’t wear thin with repetition; for example, there seem to be plenty of people who do enjoy re-watching old Python episodes.

    I’d forgotten about that xkcd strip; thanks for the pointer. Though I don’t think most of what Python did was quite that excessive in terms of shock value.

    I had also forgotten the mouseover text for that strip:

    “I went to a dinner where there was a full 10 minutes of Holy Grail quotes exchanged, with no context, in lieu of conversation. It depressed me badly.”

    Which I found funny, because I’ve been to several dinners (not so much in the past five or ten years, though) in which there were 5-10 minutes of straight Python quotes. I always did find that weird (a quote or two from a favorite show, sure, I do that all the time, but several minutes of nothing but quotes? Most of them in unison?), but not really depressing, maybe because I thought of Python as primarily humor first, and unexpectedness second.

    …When I first encountered the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, my description of Adams’s writing style was that his jokes consisted mainly of ending any given sentence in the most unexpected way possible. But I’m not sure where I was going with this thought.

    Anyway, what do the rest of y’all think? When humor is founded on unexpectedness and surprise juxtapositions, does it get significantly less funny on repetition? When you quote Python, if you do, is it because you find the lines themselves funny, or because the lines remind you of finding them funny when you first encountered them, or does the familiarity itself feel good in a not-necessarily-funny-per-se way, or are you just experiencing bonding through shared culture, or … ?

  3. Vardibidian

    One thing with Python, for me, is that I can no longer remember the times when I first saw the skits, or the emotions I had at that time. Part of the whole quoting-at-length is connected with (I think) recapturing that original moment together with all the gaiety that went with it. Well, and some odd community-identity things, and some inner-circle things, and so on. It’s a strange little ritual, actually, and it’s amazing to me to remember that memorizing Python was an admission test into a social group, a group that I couldn’t get into anymore and (I hope) wouldn’t want to. Anyway, I don’t find the Flying Circus as entertaining anymore, largely because the memories they bring back are either lost or no longer particularly happy.

    Also, there were duds in the Flying Circus episodes. Not all of the episodes were funny, and not all the skits in any particular episode were funny. There were a lot of things that were funny (to me), and I find some of them still funny after many years, but not all, and not even three-quarters. And some of the things that were funny I now find very juvenile, but then, I am much older and much less juvenile than the Pythons were when they were making these things.

    Also: I recently watched Life of Brian again, and although I didn’t laugh all the way through, I think it’s a very good movie.

    Also! People’s tastes change in their life, and that is a good thing. People are different not only to one another, but to themselves, and that is what makes life interesting and fun. And a trifle sad, too.

    Also… I don’t think that it’s accurate to describe Python humor as essentially surrealist, although of course they do play a lot with Humor of Incongruity, as did the surrealists. But they were as likely to do a lengthy sketch mocking doctors as being uncaring money-grubbers as a sketch where Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion visit the Sartres; there is Humor of Exaggeration, Humor of Humiliation and Humor of Repetition, and there’s a lot of Humor of Liberation as well. And there were six of them, and they all had different senses of humor, and they all changed a bit over the years, so some pieces are very different from others. One thing that Terry Jones used to (at least used to) think was just the funniest thing in the world was for some poor actor (often him) to be compelled to wear the most uncomfortable costume imaginable and then have a bucket of muck thrown at him. In theory, that doesn’t seem funny at all, but then a lot of the actual skits which use that bit I do find funny. Ah, well.


  4. Shmuel

    Several scattered notes:

    I agree with Vardibidian that characterizing the Python’s approach as surrealist/shock humor is misleadingly reductive. That was certainly one of the tools in their arsenal, but far from the only one. I don’t even think it’s the primary one.

    It might help to consider long rounds of Python quoting as a sort of sing-along.

    I had a similar experience with watching unabridged Python episodes, though in my case I hadn’t seen them beforehand. My suspicion is that Python’s lesser sketches far outnumbered the great ones. This isn’t inherently a problem, or particularly surprising, except that our collective memory has preserved all the hits and forgotten all the misses, making us think that every sketch they touched turned to comedy gold. It may be more a matter of unrealistic expectations than the humor not aging well.

    I still love Fawlty Towers, provided that I’m in the right mood. The issue there is that some days I can enjoy farce, and other days I cannot stand it. On the latter days, Fawlty Towers is right out, along with Frasier, Three’s Company, and every screwball comedy ever made. (Not that farce is the only ingredient in Fawlty Towers, but it’s a key one. I’d also note humor of repetition: “He’s from Barcelona” gets better every time it’s invoked.)


Join the Conversation