Houston Artists Round Table Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Houston Artists Round Table Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Movie poster

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the greatest comedies ever filmed and if you disagree, “I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”

The film was released 43 years ago this April and spawned some of filmdom’s most quotable lines, countless midnight movie screenings, even a hit musical. The skewering of the legend of King Arthur’s Camelot – courtesy of the British comedy troupe, Monty Python — is perennially considered among the most influential comedies of all time. On its 40th anniversary in 2015, The Atlantic’s film writer, David Sims, called it “the grandest piece of irreverence ever produced” and still “the gold standard for subversive comedy.” The film is so revered and has been examined so thoroughly it’s hard to believe there’s anything left to say about it; but, one of its stars, John Cleese, who portrays Sir Lancelot (as well as Tim the Enchanter, The Black Knight and others) in the film, is touring to screen the movie and answer audience questions about it. The tour stops at Smart Financial Centre Thursday, April 5.

We wanted to know what local film fans thought of the movie, so we did our best King Arthur, banging coconuts the breadth and length of Houston until we’d assembled a round table of artists to share their thoughts on the film in advance of Cleese’s visit. Here’s the collection we gathered, a quartet more pure than Sir Galahad, more wise than Sir Belvedere and a great deal braver than Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot.

click to enlarge "Brrrrring out your dead!" fan, Roxxy Haze - PHOTO BY DARK SUN FILM AND FRANKEL GRAFIX, COURTESY OF ROXXY HAZE
"Brrrrring out your dead!" fan, Roxxy Haze
Photo by Dark Sun Film and Frankel Grafix, courtesy of Roxxy Haze

The Tale of Roxxy Haze

“Without a doubt, one of the most influential comedy films of all time. The fact that we are still discussing it over 40 years after its release should attest to that,” said Roxxy Haze, who hosts a web series called “The Roxxy Haze Show.” It's a sketch comedy show created in collaboration with Dark Sun Film, Frankel Grafix and executive producers Tressa Eleby and Queezy Leo.

“It was one of those movies where they literally did whatever they wanted. The breaking of the fourth wall, the nonsensical humor. All of it. You can clearly see the influence on other spoof movies that followed,” Haze noted.
“I just watched it a few months ago and I still randomly quote it in conversation. ‘I fart in your general direction,’ is so gross and so great to use.”

Haze’s show drops new episodes each Friday. She and fellow comic Brenda Valdivia host the Nerd Love podcast on Mockingbird Network and she’s hosting an April 22 variety show at Super Happy Fun Land .

In a film filled with hilarious moments, we asked Haze for her favorite.

“As a kid, I hated the ‘bring out your dead’ part. I thought it was super creepy and it gave me nightmares - I was an unnecessarily scared kid. Now, it’s one of my favorite scenes. I also love the coconut scene.”

click to enlarge Ian Monroe is no fan of "Ni!" - PHOTO COURTESY OF IAN MONROE
Ian Monroe is no fan of "Ni!"
Photo courtesy of Ian Monroe

The Tale of Ian Monroe

“My favorite scene is the witch village scene where they come to the conclusion to see if she's a witch made out of wood she has to weigh the same as a duck - it gets me every time,” said Ian Monroe, one of Houston’s budding actors. “My least favorite scene is the Knights that say ‘Ni.’ It would give me headaches sometimes as a kid.”

Monroe says he’s working on several, shoestring budget D.I.Y. projects currently and that one has been picked up by Amazon. You can see his sketches on the Visual Treason YouTube page. Like the Pythons, Monroe’s got some musical talent, too. Performing as Ragamuffin, he just released an EP called "Always Awake."

“It's correctly considered one of the most influential comedies because it's the first Monty Python movie to work on completely new material not based on the Flying Circus, which paid off,” Monroe noted. “Even though personally I believe the later Monty Python films are superior, The Holy Grail was a landmark of comedic storytelling that has inspired pretty much everything today.”

click to enlarge Katie McGee now thinks Grail's bunny is killer - PHOTO BY PIN LIM, COURTESY OF KATIE MCGEE
Katie McGee now thinks Grail's bunny is killer
Photo by Pin Lim, courtesy of Katie McGee

The Tale of Katie McGee

"Fans of comedy love it and it is such a fun world to introduce really silly but razor sharp comedy. The way they packaged the silly slapstick humor in the familiar world of nobility and knights. It told a story we all knew in a way no one had seen before," surmised comic Katie McGee. "The physicality of the comedy had never really been explored like this before and now you can see how those risky choices have influenced this generation of comedy writers. South Park, Angie Tribeca, National Lampoon, The Simpsons. We might not have had these if Monty Python hadn't created a demand for silly, smart and risky material."

McGee knows that type of material, which she and her cohorts at the Secret Group specialize in.  She says she'll next be performing as Hermione Granger in the Roast of Harry Potter, June 2 at Secret Group.

"When i first saw this film I was probably five years old. I remember the killer bunny scared the living shit out of me and I had nightmares for weeks. But I would still watch it on repeat and I would just skip that part. Now as an adult it is hilarious and another one of my favorites is the scene when Arthur talks to Dennis the peasant and tries to explain why he is king. 'I didn't vote for you.'

"Absolutely the film holds up today," she continued. "Funny is funny and the only reason so many films from the '80s and '90s are so cringey to watch today is because they were so dependent on sexism, racism or homophobia. The Holy Grail doesn't do that. It is a satire of an already widely known source material."

click to enlarge Chad Smalley, far right, and Blaggards - PHOTO BY PERRY MEFFORD, COURTESY OF CHAD SMALLEY
Chad Smalley, far right, and Blaggards
Photo by Perry Mefford, courtesy of Chad Smalley

The Tale of Chad Smalley

"Man, I think the continued adoration for that film from generation to generation speaks for itself. Even the young Aggies we play for at O’Bannon’s Taphouse in College Station catch all our Python references," said Chad Smalley, bassist for Celtic rockers Blaggards and a proud Python fan.  "We used to open our shows with the theme music from Holy Grail and it always got big cheers from the audience, young and not-so-young. Why? Well, kids love it just as much as adults, so I think that has a lot to do with it. The price of entry, if you will, is far less than Life of Brian or Meaning of Life, both of which require a bit more patience to ingest. Holy Grail is just plain fun and silly from start to finish, no waiting. And there's so many quotable lines, so it's become an inexorable part of so many people's lives."

Smalley is, of course, speaking from personal experience.

"I fell in love with Monty Python’s Flying Circus when I was six years old, back in the '70s when it first went into syndication on PBS. So my parents actually took me to see Holy Grail when it came out, something I still vividly remember because it’s so much more intense than the TV show. When it got to the Black Knight scene with all his limbs getting chopped off and blood spurting everywhere, I was sitting there with my mouth agape and my parents were like 'Oops,'" Smalley shared. "But I think I was more befuddled than horrified. My love for Python continued unabated and later, in early '80s when Holy Grail was in constant rotation on cable TV, I must have watched it hundreds of times."

Smalley can also identify with the troupe element of the Pythons. Blaggards are one of Houston's tenured acts, approaching 15 years together.  They've encouraged fans to travel with them annually to Ireland to absorb the culture. This fall's trip will be the eighth such excursion.

He struggled to select a single favorite moment from the film.

"Man, that’s tough. There’s so many great moments, too many to name. One fave is definitely the argument between Arthur and John Cleese’s French guard. I memorized all the dialog from that scene when I was 10 or 11 years old, and my dad would often ask me to repeat it and he’d just laugh and laugh. There’s so much quotable material in that one scene. 'We’ve already got one, you see!'

"I love the movie from start to finish," Smalley concluded. "They did such a great job with the locations and cinematography, costumes, set design and everything, it still looks gorgeous. As long as people have a sense of humor, the film will endure."

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.