Having given us “something completely different” in their 20s and 30s, the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus have little left to prove. Thus, their latter-day reunions have come in the form of group interviews that are eagerly awaited by Python fans — the last one having occurred in 1998 at the Aspen Comedy Festival.
The five living members — plus a cardboard cut-out of the late Graham Chapman and the Pythons’ female foil Carol Cleveland — reunited for a very unrehearsed Q&A session after the debut American showing at the Ziegfeld theater in NYC of the Eagle Rock documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (premiering this week on IFC).
As one of the countless American fans brought up on the groups’ humor, I was delighted to attend the event, but even more interested to see that even in their 60s the former collaborators love to top and rework each others’ lines, as well as slip in a quick insult. The event was un-moderated, and so the five Pythons in turn answered question from the audience, as well as their own contributions — which ran toward Terry Gilliam’s “Why isn’t John [Cleese] funny anymore?”
Rare indeed were the moments when a serious idea was put forth, but John Cleese did define the different types of sketches written by the group, which included the “thesaurus” sketches where someone (usually Cleese) would run through a number of synonyms, as in “the cheese shop” and the immortal dead parrot sketch.”
The questions the quintet read off the cards seemed comprised mostly of attempts by Pythons fans to be funny or obvious straight lines. Thus the query, “Why do the French have so many civil wars?” was quickly answered by Eric “because they’re so polite.” Cleese averred: “Because they’d like to win one now and again!”
To close off the event, Eric Idle — the Python who has seemingly most wanted to be identified with the group’s past work — sang “the Galaxy Song” from The Meaning of Life. For those who are interested in “attending” the event, it can be seen in its entirety for the moment at http://www.ifc.com/python-live/ —Ed Grant