A Farewell to Gumbys: Monty Python Calling It Quits

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The surviving members of venerable British (plus one American) comedy troupe Monty Python are reuniting for a series of shows at London's O2 arena starting today. There will be ten performances total, featuring much more than mere re-enactments of their Flying Circus material:

In addition to famous Python skits, it will be a fully staged theatrical extravaganza with dancers and an orchestra. It will also feature a filmed appearance by Python Graham Chapman, who died in 1989, and a cameo for British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, the Pythons said at a news conference.

The final show, on July 20, will be broadcast worldwide for the teeming hordes of you who won't be able to pop across the pond to see them live (tickets are still available, BTW). As I understand it, you'll be able to purchase tickets to see it streamed live in select theaters (go here for a list), with rebroadcasts on the 23rd and 24th. I also wouldn't discount the probability of a DVD release somewhere down the line.

As a lifelong Monty Python fan, this is bittersweet if not entirely unexpected news. Part of my childhood Saturday night viewing experience was watching Saturday Night Live, then switching over to PBS to watch the Flying Circus, and like many other nerdy adolescents, I annoyed the hell out of everyone in earshot with my ability to repeat entire Python movies from memory. It's the end of an era, and as such, I will reach back to my awkward teen years to share my favorite bits.

No, not those bits.

In fairness, most Python fans will be familiar with just about everything on this list. Monty Python's Flying Circus ran a mere four seasons (or "series," if you must) for a total of 45 episodes. All (surviving) members of the group have since gone on to explore various individual endeavors: John Cleese has probably been the most visible in post-Python acting roles; while Terry Gilliam has "enjoyed" an uneven directorial career; Michael Palin's travelogues helped earn him a CBE; Eric Idle had -- among other things -- the Rutles and authored the successful musical Spamalot; and Terry Jones has written several books and hosted TV series on ancient and medieval history.

Graham Chapman died in 1989. His funeral would've been something to see.

Anyway, on with the meaningless exercise in click-baiting.

Favorite Skit: For all of these, I've tried to steer clear of the obvious "greatest Python skits of all time" that inevitable include "The Spanish Inquisition," "Dead Parrot," or "The Argument Clinic." Those are all arguably some of the greatest comedy of the 20th century, but you've seen or heard them done to death in movies like And Now For Something Completely Different or on various albums.

"The Bishop" (Episode 17) Everything about this spoof of Roger Moore's The Saint cracks me up: the muscle car, the crosier phone, the opening titles, but possibly the best part is Palin's "The Bishop!" bookending the whole thing.

"Seduced Milkmen" (Episode 3) A lovely send-up of an old trope. Although now that I think about it, why couldn't they get out? There were at least two windows in that room. I'm cheating and linking the version from ANFSCD because Carol Cleveland.

"Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days" (Epsiode 33) I wish Sam Peckinpah could do his version of the Twilight movies.

"Upper Class Twit of the Year" (Episode 12) WHAT A GREAT TWIT!

"Architects Sketch" (Episode 17) Not including a clip for this one. "Did you say knives?" "Rotating knives, yes." Also my first exposure to the evils of Freemasonry.

Favorite Movie: It's a close one, because Life of Brian is the first movie I ever saw in the theater that literally made me fall out of my chair laughing (and this is still my favorite scene), but I think for the sake of contrariness, I'm going to with 1983's The Meaning of Life.

It's a cynical film, with several frankly unpleasant interludes ("Live Organ Transplants" and "Christmas in Heaven," mostly due to the disco finish and Chapman's disquieting fake tan), but as the years have gone by, I find myself drawn into it more and more. Maybe it's my own looming midlife crisis, or maybe I just want to go out like Arthur Jarrett.

And "The Crimson Permanent Assurance" finally makes sense.

Favorite Song:

Again, "The Lumberjack Song" and "Look on the Bright Side of Life" may have been the first Python songs many of us learned, but they're also terribly overplayed. Luckily, Idle (Python's main songwriter) left us with an embarrassment of riches.

"The Galaxy Song"

For a young man struggling with recent tragedy and other boring existential issues, "The Galaxy Song" was simply wonderful, even in the context of Idle singing the song in order to convince Mrs. Brown to donate her liver sans anesthesia.

"Oliver Cromwell" Admit it, this is the best history of the First Lord Protector of the Commonwealth you've ever heard.

There may be reissues of various material coming from the Python camp, but these O2 shows are, more than likely, the last time these septuagenarians will ever assemble to perform "The Cheese Shop." I'm going to try and catch it in the theater, after which I plan to slap as many people with a fish as possible.

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