Graham Arthur Chapman (January 8, 1941 — October 4, 1989) was an English comedy writer and actor known for his work with Monty Python. Fans will recognize Chapman from his roles as King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Brian in Monty Python's Life of Brian, as well as his involvement in countless now-classic sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus. Alongside John Cleese (his long-time collaborator, whom he met at Cambridge), Chapman co-wrote "The Parrot Sketch", one of the most beloved comedy routines in British culture, if not the English language as a whole. Cleese recalls that Graham would sit silently through long writing sessions, before suddenly introducing an idea so absurd that it changed the course of the sketch i.e. changing the defective appliance to a dead parrot, and deciding that it's a "Norwegian Blue". While not exactly the easiest person to work with, Cleese and the other Pythons all acknowledged that Chapman had a great instinct for what made something funny - or even funnier. Somewhat counter-intuitively, one of his most memorable characters was that of an Army Brigadier who cut narratives short for being "far too silly".
Chapman was a fully-qualified Doctor of Medicine, which (like many of his fellow Pythons) made him vastly over-educated for his primary line of work.note He was also an alcoholic, and ultimately gave up drinking in 1977. During the seventies, he was one of the first major celebrities to come out of the closet as gay, and spoke openly for LGBT rights for the rest of his life.
He died of throat cancer in 1989, the day before the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus (Terry Jones called this "the worst case of party-pooping in all history"). His memorial service can be found on YouTube; emotionally fragile Tropers who love Python would do well to avoid the video altogether. Despite turning his funeral into a celebrity roast, which the Pythons all insist he would have enjoyed right down to John Cleese saying "good riddance to him, the free loading bastard", some sources note claim that Cleese was deeply saddened by Chapman's death and had to be escorted out by hospital physicians when he passed away.
Graham Chapman is known for the following works:
- Monty Python's Flying Circus
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Monty Python's Life of Brian
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
- How to Irritate People
- At Last the 1948 Show
- Our Show for Ringo Starr (unproduced)
Tropes associated with him include:
- Acting for Two: He played many of the characters in the Monty Python movies.
- The Alcoholic: Plagued him for most of the troupe's early days, often resulting in him showing up late for work on Flying Circus because he was hung over. While taking a train with Michael Palin to a film shoot, Palin noted that Chapman had packed a full bottle of vodka in his briefcase, which was half-empty by the middle of the day. He went cold turkey while filming The Holy Grail and often caused delays in filming due to severe DTs. He quit for good before filming Life of Brian.
- According to Graham's husband David Sherlock, at his peak he would go through two bottles of gin a day.
- The Cameo: He appears in Iron Maiden's "Can I Play with Madness" music video as an art teacher who hates his student's modern creations, then gets tormented by their mascot Eddie. He's the best part of the video, by far.
- Cloudcuckoolander: He was prone to odd behaviour, sometimes while drunk.
- Douglas Adams recalled that whenever he was annoyed by slow service at his local pub, he'd slap his penis against the bar.
- When he was invited to speak at the Oxford Union, he showed up dressed as a carrot, stood in silence for ten minutes and then left.
- At an award ceremony, he crawled the stage on all fours, clutched the award between his teeth, sqwarked, and then resumed his seat.
- At BBC functions, he'd pretend to be a dog and rub himself against executives' legs and lick the feet of their wives.
- Comically Serious: Perhaps his greatest talent, playing the straightlaced King Arthur and Brian Cohen while surrounded by insanity, and making it all the funnier by contrast. His Colonel character from Monty Python's Flying Circus was one of the definitive studies of humorlessness played for comedy.
- Crosses the Line Twice: A master of this. While the Pythons were filming a comedy special in Germany, their hosts tried to take them on a tour of Dachau, but couldn't because the tourist area closed early. Graham reportedly shouted "Tell them we're Jews!" It worked.
- The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Because AIDS was taboo and associated primarily with gay men at the time of Chapman's death, many people incorrectly assumed that he died from AIDS or that reports of his cancer were just a cover-up or euphemism, even though he had been openly gay for over a decade by the time of his death.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: His preferred way to smoke.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": John Cleese quoted "The Parrot Sketch" at Chapman's funeral ("Graham Chapman has ceased to be ..."), called him a "freeloading bastard", and went on to say that Chapman would never have forgiven him if he hadn't done so.Cleese: Anything for him but mindless good taste. I could hear him whispering in my ear last night as I was writing this, "Alright, Cleese," he was saying, "You're very proud of being the very first person ever to say 'shit' on British television. If this service is really for me, just for starters, I want to you to become the first person ever, at a British memorial service, to say 'fuck'."
- Funny Character, Boring Actor: He played highly-animated characters in front of the camera and on stage but he could be extremely reserved and shy when not performing and rarely spoke (but was hilarious the few times he did).
- Hair-Trigger Temper: According to Michael Palin on Parkinson, living as an openly gay man in the mid-to-late 20th century caused Chapman no shortage of stress, which would often come out as angry outbursts.
- There's one story of him, after having come out in the 70's, meeting David Bowie in a hotel lobby and almost getting into a fistfight with him over Ziggy Stardust. (Chapman apparently felt the character's sexuality was insulting to actual gay men)
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With John Cleese.
- It Will Never Catch On: Inverted. While writing the Cheese Shop sketch, John Cleese did not find the sketch to be humourous. It was only at Chapman's insistence that he kept writing and presented it to the other Pythons, at which point Michael Palin laughed so hard he fell out of his chair.
- Jerkass: During the filming of Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Graham would alternate between getting drunk and yelling abuse at the cast and crew and going cold turkey and becoming a trembling mess who couldn't get any work done. Bernard McKenna, who co-wrote the film Oddjob with him, said he was a nightmare to work with.
- Male Frontal Nudity: His nude scene in Life of Brian.
- Manly Gay: He described himself as "a great raging pouffe, but a butch one, with a pipe" and enjoyed such pursuits as mountain-climbing and rugby.
- Overly Long Gag: The song "I Like Traffic Lights" from Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album, which is just Chapman singing this phrase over and over again, with occasional extra lines such as "but not when they are red". The song ends with him eventually succumbing to the imbecility of it all, by sighing: "Oh God..."
- The Quiet One: John Cleese said that during their writing partnership, Chapman would sit in total silence for ages, then come up with an idea out of the blue that would make a sketch funnier.
- Eric Idle recalled going to Chapman's house for a writing session. Idle decided that, this time, he was going to wait for Chapman to speak first. After about an hour of total silence, Chapman checked his watch, said he really must be going, and left.
- Refuge in Audacity: To give one example: the Pythons toured Germany and went to visit the concentration camp Dachau, only for the guard to tell them it was closed. Graham said, "Tell them we're Jewish!" They were let in.
- Serious Business: While he never went into practice, Chapman took medicine very seriously. Behind-the-scenes footage on some Python films show him acting as the crew doctor and dispensing advice and medicine and arranging follow up appointments with no trace of humor whatsoever.
- To give an idea of how serious he was about this, Terry Jones recounted that Graham brought thousands of pounds worth of medicine to Tunisia so he could look after the cast and crew after each day of shooting for Life of Brian. Terry described his expertise and foresight as an "absolute godsend".
- Straight Gay: Chapman frequently played straight characters, including some who were adamant gay-bashers. He also, ironically, frequently played the Straight Man to other, more outlandish characters played by the other Pythons (when not playing outlandish characters himself). In one sketch, the words "Straight Man" flash on the screen in large green block letters as his character is shown.