The glories of live theater:
To honor the passing of the great Terry Jones, a comedic troubadour of some renown, let us take a moment to consider the glory that he brought to the character of one Sir Belvedere:
For something completely different, look for Jones’ highly underrated documentary Boom Bust Boom, a fantastic study of the history of economic catastrophe and irrational exuberance. Paul Krugman plus puppets. My review is here, and you should be able to find it streaming.
Here’s how Eric Idle—novelist, doggerelist, once and forever Python—described the act of writing:
Writing and doing. It’s still what I love to do. To go to your chair first thing in the morning with a blank piece of paper and a pencil and find what is lurking in the depths of your unconscious. It’s fascinating. I always compare it to fishing. You never know what you’re going to catch but you must go regularly to the river bank and wait…
He’s right, of course, you do never know what’s going to come out. It could be that paragraph you’ve been honing and teasing and searching for for weeks. Or it could be five more pages of What The Hell Am I Going to Do With This? You never know.
But keep casting your line. The fish will bite. Eventually.
My article ‘Proust, Hardy, and Spam: 10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’—including many handy and time-wasting YouTube links and a plethora of literary goodies—was just published at The Barnes & Noble Review:
As many gawky teens discovered in their misspent youths, there was comedy and then there was Monty Python. Exploding penguins, a crime-fighting bishop, and Karl Marx struggling to answer questions about soccer on a TV quiz show; it was all surreal grist for their mill. Fully embodying the high culture/low humor synthesis that produced the better countercultural artifacts of the 1970s, their TV series, films, concerts, and books embedded arch literary references inside a dense framework of Dada performance art-pieces, cultural satire, and broadly silly skits in a classically comedic idiom…
And don’t forget Monty Python FAQ, in finer bookstores now.
Have you any inkling what this T-shirt refers to?
Did you ever hop around on one foot while shouting, “’tis but a flesh wound!”?
Can you sing “The Philosopher’s Song” without referring to notes?
Was there a point during the United Kingdom’s recent snap election where you wondered whether there should have been a candidate from the Very Silly Party?
If you answered “yes” or asked “what’s all this, then?!” then it’s about 583% likely that Monty Python FAQ is the book for you!
Scribbled down in crayon by yours truly and his boon companions Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey, and then lovingly transcribed into proper book form by the dedicated editors at Applause Books, Monty Python FAQ is just about everything you ever wanted to know about the Python boys. That includes:
- Words! Pictures! Lots of ’em.
- An exegesis of every single Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode.
- More than one could ever want or need to know about fish-slapping.
- The deep, dark secret behind the one American Python, who hailed from the mystical, faraway land of … Minnesota.
- Exploding penguins, dead budgies, Grannies from Hell … you get the picture.
And now … this:
And now for something completely different…
John Cleese was one of the hardest working members of Monty Python. Outside the troupe, he had a brisk sideline in other writing gigs, not to mention advertisements, and his side business in business training films (weird, but true). Eric Idle said that Cleese used to say that he’d do anything for money, so Idle offered him a pound to stop talking. Cleese took it.
Given Cleese’s work ethic, it’s fair to assume he’s a good fellow to listen to about writing. Even when his advice is counter-intuitive:
I tell [young comedy writers] to steal, because comedy is extraordinarily difficult. It’s much, much harder than drama. You only have to think of the number of great dramatic films and then compare that with the number of great comic films … and realize that there’s very, very few great comedies and there are lots and lots of very great tragedies, or dramas. That tells you, really, which is the hard one to do. So at the very beginning, to try to master the whole thing is too difficult, so pinch other people’s ideas and then try to write them yourself, and that’ll get you started…
In other words, comedy is hard. Learn from those who went before you.
In London’s pseudo-newspaper The Telegraph last January, for an article on personal finance, the interviewer asked Monty Python’s Eric Idle whether money can make you happy.
No, but it can buy you things that do, like holidays and wine.
Ever wonder why every time there’s a bubble in the economy, nearly all market-watchers and economists seem to say, “Don’t worry about it, because This Time It’s Different”? Monty Python’s Terry Jones’s nifty new comedic documentary Boom Bust Boom tries to find out why.
My review of Boom Bust Boom, opening this week in quite limited release, is at Film Journal International:
Wearing the dashingly ironic grin of a BBC host who just can’t wait to let you in on a real cracker of a story, Terry Jones starts off his musical-theatre economics lecture by pointing to what he calls “the Achilles’ heel of the economy.” What he’s referring to is the fact that most economies are irregularly plagued by seemingly random and unpredictable crises. This is despite the fact that universities pump out a steady stream of newly minted economists who one would imagine would be able to focus their well-trained brains on preventing the next such crisis…
Here’s the trailer:
Back in 1975, Monty Python was just starting to get a name for themselves outside of the UK. That was the year their first proper film landed in theaters, and comedy just wasn’t the same after that. Killer rabbits and all.
My review of the 40th anniversary DVD / Blu-ray release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is at PopMatters:
Shot by a ramshackle Dadaist comedy troupe over a chaotic and fairly drunken month in Scotland in 1974, right around the time that their Flying Circus TV show was coming to an end, and funded primarily by having some rock star friends of the troupe (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin) throw in a few thousand pounds each, the film should have been one of those debacles where everybody wishes they had just packed it up and retired instead. Among the extras on the anniversary edition—including outtakes and some newly unearthed animations by Terry Gilliam—is an on-the-set BBC piece where Gilliam seems more chuckle-headed college joker than co-director, John Cleese barely able to contain his irritation with being directed and all the last-minute rewrites, and set mechanics so primitive they could be out-done by an early Doctor Who episode…
Here’s the original trailer:
The rule of comedy sequels is not a strong one; witness everything from Ghostbusters 2 to The Hangover 3. Nevertheless, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell dared the fates by going back to their 2004 cult oddity Anchorman, the single most surreal comedy to hit American theaters since Monty Python, and seeing if they could resuscitate the magic. This time, instead of 1970s local-news, they’re doing an extended riff on early CNN.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens everywhere tomorrow. My review is at Film Journal International:
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is so busy resting on its laurels it never gives the audience a solid reason for having shown up. The original was anarchic parody on a near-operatic scale, with the feel of several comedy greats throwing it all out there as though they would never get another shot. But the second film is clearly a franchise, it reeks of work…
You can see the trailer here; just part of the film’s Super Bowl-like marketing campaign that’s been swamping the nation for weeks now: