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Film / How To Irritate People

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"Now, a truly excellent way to irritate any hardcore fan of television is to refer to this as Monty Python's How to Irritate People. This of course will result in a twenty-minute lecture about how Tim Brooke-Taylor was never a member of Monty Python."

How To Irritate People is a one-off 1969 TV special hosted by John Cleese, co-starring Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Connie Booth, and produced by David Frost, with Marty Feldman co-writing and also having a small cameo. It features Cleese giving the audience invaluable advice on how to truly irritate others, with various sketches helping to prove his point. It was actually produced first and foremost for the North American market, but aired in a slightly edited form in the UK shortly thereafter.

This is the final entry in what is often referred to by fans as the "Proto-Python" era, with the overall style of humour beginning to more closely resemble that of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Michael Palin having joined the group, and At Last the 1948 Show leading lady Aimi MacDonald no longer being present. In fact, many of the sketches seen here would later be recycled for Flying Circus — the "Silly Job Interview" sketch was transplanted near-verbatim, while a sketch involving a used car salesman would be retooled into the legendary "Dead Parrot" sketch, and another one involving a self-flagellating Indian waiter was retooled into "The Dirty Fork". Some other mainstays of Python's humour also got their introduction here, most notably the old ladies referred to as "Pepperpots".


Tropes include:

  • The Alleged Car: One of the sketches revolves around Chapman fruitlessly trying to return one of these to Palin's shady car salesman. The sketch climaxes with the car literally falling apart in the showroom, and yet Palin still refusing to acknowledge that anything might be wrong with it.
  • All for Nothing: After beating about the bush for an interminable amount of time to get one of Palin's characters to offer a lift home, Chapman finds out that Palin didn't actually bring his car to the party they're at in the first place, and came down on the train. Though as Cleese notes in the hosting segment, he wouldn't have gotten the lift anyway, and at least got to have some fun annoying Palin.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Palin has a set of these in the first sketch, who constantly show him up in front of his wife (Booth). Subverted in a later sketch where Palin and Booth play a different married couple, and despite Palin's parents being a little irritating, it actually ends up being Booth who embarrasses her husband far more.
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  • Berserk Button: The entire purpose of the special is illustrating how to find out and press even the calmest person's Berserk Button as hard as possible.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In the transition between the second and third sketches, John criticizes the Pepperpots for their lack of subtlety. "It's like, for example, going to a football game and cheering for a team that isn't playing, or wearing fancy dress at a funeral, or setting fire to Julie Andrews. It's irritating, but it's obvious."
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Subverted; a crazy old lady competing on a quiz show proves completely unable to remember what animal makes the noise "meow"... until she's sufficiently irritated the host, at which point she casually gives him the correct answer.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Happens to all the passengers on an aeroplane, as a result of the pilot and co-pilot giving them an increasingly impossible (and irritating) set of "safety instructions" mid-flight. It ends up resulting in them all jumping out.
    • The Indian waiter ends up throwing himself in an oven to make up for the succession of minor faults in his restaurant.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • While we've still got three Python mainstays, and one supporting cast member in the shape of Connie Booth, the absence of Terry Jones, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam still sticks out like a sore thumb.
    • All the sketches, with one or two exceptions, still end in punchlines, something that Flying Circus usually avoided. In particular, the Indian restaurant sketch's punchline was considered to be such a massive clunker by Cleese and Chapman that it inspired the Stylistic Suck punchline (and audience booing) in its Spiritual Successor, "The Dirty Fork".
  • Insane Troll Logic: A pepperpot gives a series of increasingly ludicrous answers during a daytime TV quiz sketch, notably answering "what animal makes the sound meow" with "MOTOR TORPEDO BOAT!" — and then casually giving the correct answer (cat) when the host practically screams the question at her again.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Subverted in the aeroplane sketch; after discovering that they've unwittingly driven all of their passengers into jumping out of the plane, the pilot and co-pilot sit there in seemingly shocked silence for a few minutes... and then laugh about how they just might get in a little trouble over it.
  • No Indoor Voice: Applies to most of the pepperpots, plus the mother of Palin's character in the first sketch.
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Cleese explains in the introduction that the proper way to irritate people is to push them almost but not quite to this point.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: As with the Monty Python's Flying Circus version, the "Silly Job Interview" ends with the interviewee finally impressing the company, only to be told that the job had been filled weeks ago.