Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down Five to Go

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The Monty Python show currently playing at the O2 is going to be broadcast live to cinemas on Sunday 20th July. It will then be released on DVD on 10th November, just in time for Christmas (in Heaven).

Last night though, I was one of the lucky one hundred and eighty seven thousand who will be seeing it in the arena. The show isn’t something completely different but clearly that isn’t what anyone wanted. We weren’t there for new material, we wanted the hits and that’s what we got. I think it’s fair to say that all of us there were expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

When it was announced that Monty Python would be reforming there were plenty of cynics who accused the five remaining members of doing it for the money. Well of course they are, what’s wrong with that? ‘Aren’t they rich enough?’ you say. I’m sure they are all more than comfortable but as a group they’ve just had to pay a million in legal fees after being unsuccessful sued by one of the producers of Holy Grail. You’d have to be really loaded to stump up that kind of cash and not notice so I say they have every right to try and generate a bit of capital.

‘But they are so old now’ they said. Well frankly that’s just rude. Give them some respect, they’ve earned it. Who cares how old they are or how long ago this material was written? These men are comedy legends and they have every right to be telling the jokes they originated for as long as they like. Yes, we’ve heard it all before but it’s still funny.

The Daily Mail was particularly unkind calling the men “shrivelled septuagenarians”, and accusing them of “cashing in on baby boomer nostalgia”. Well boys, I respond to the disingenuous and hypocritical Daily Mail in a manner in which you’d respect. Piss off!

The fact is, this show is great. It is a superb mix of old material and new dance routines. Sketches are extended and updated and run into different songs than the ones they ran into before. Eric Idle, in particular, still has great presence and timing singing the tunes he wrote and Palin and Cleese are still magic together. Their performances of the ‘I want to be a lion tamer’, ‘Is this the place for an argument?’ and of course the ‘Dead Parrot’ routines were just sublime.

In the same way as when I saw Simon and Garfunkel a few years ago, they may not be able to hit the high notes anymore but I consider it one of the great thrills of my life to have seen them perform live.

Clearly their energy levels are not what they once were now that they are all in their seventies. This is rather emphasised by the archive clips from the Flying Circus TV show but it is nice to have these included. Apart from anything else it gives Graham Chapman a significant role in proceedings which is entirely appropriate.

Their are other areas in which their advancing years are evident. Ministry of Silly Walks was just featured as a dance routine that none of the Pythons took part in and Terry Jones did seem to struggle remembering all of his lines. Generally though I felt their age to be largely incidental. John Cleese corpsed at fairly regular intervals but I suspect he’s always done that in the live shows.

It was more interesting to think about what theses guys have been up to in the intervening years. There was a quick reference to Michael Palin’s travel programmes and it was a little odd to see acclaimed film director Terry Gilliam loudly farting and puking into a hat. Clearly none of them are ashamed of their roots though, no matter what they’ve become since, and nor should they be.

Inevitably the humour is not as cutting edge as it once was, such is the price of being influential, but even by today’s standards it’s a little cheeky and it is still funny and surreal.

Pretty much all of the material was from the TV show and the two sketch based movies and, while it would have been nice to see some of their best work from Life of Brian, this was the right decision. I didn’t think the stage show Spamalot totally worked so it was right to leave the Judean People’s Front alone. They did end with Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, of course they did, so I was happy with that.

Interestingly, the best part of all of it was seeing them perform in person so watching the cinema broadcast is going to take something away from that. Still if you are, or ever were, a fan I would recommend you get along to your nearest movie house on the 20th. In my opinion these guys were at their greatest on the big screen and it will be nice to see them back there.

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