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YMMV / Monty Python's Flying Circus

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  • Acceptable Political Targets:
    • This being the 1970s, Richard Nixon is a frequent topic of satire.
    • Britain's Labour Party. The "party political broadcast" in the final episode has the announcer crack up just saying their name.
    • The Conservative Party as well, particularly Edward Heath, Reginald Maudling, and Gerald Nabarro.
  • Acceptable Religious Targets: Just about everyone, including non-religious people. Most frequently mocks the Church of England. The only known exception is a sketch involving a radical Muslim Caliph originally slated for Monty Python's The Meaning of Life which was later removed (Cleese is particularly thankful for that, considering he claims it would have resulted in a fatwah put upon the Pythons).
    Graham Chapman on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album: It's like I always say; there's nothing an agnostic can't do if he doesn't know whether he really believes in anything or not.
  • Adaptation Displacement: An example of a show doing it to itself, some of Flying Circus' bits were redone, and became famous the second time around.
    • Graham Chapman played the first Gumby, but Michael Palin created the one everyone remembers.
    • Terry Gilliam played a nude organist for the televised version of the "Blackmail" sketch. A crazy-haired Terry Jones replaced him in the recreation filmed for And Now for Something Completely Different, and the rest is history.
    • Graham Chapman's colonel who complained about things getting too silly was preceded by Graham Chapman's colonel who complained about copyright violations of the British Army's slogan "It's a dog's— pig's— man's life, in the modern army". The transition came in the episode "Full Frontal Nudity", where the Colonel begins a sketch in his first role — admonishing a soldier who thought from the British Army's recruitment campaign it was all about water-skiing and other adventures rather than killing — and then breaks the fourth wall with "Stop that, it's silly" when the sketch turns into a gag about two Mafia men intimidating him for menaces money. He then reappears throughout that episode (and ever afterward) to stop sketches he considers silly, and the earlier characterization was abandoned.
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    • And of course there's "And Now For Something Completely Different", which was displaced from another show, Blue Peter; it was also spoken by Eric Idle and Michael Palin before John Cleese used it.
    • Certain sketches fall under this as well. The Four Yorkshiremen sketch was originally written and performed for At Last the 1948 Show, but the Pythons (two of whom, Chapman and Cleese, had been a part of said show) began performing it in their live stage shows, including on Monty Python Live at Drury Lane and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl leading to its association with the Flying Circus. The "Job Interview" sketch had originally been written by Cleese as part of a 1968 American television special, How To Irritate People (also featuring Chapman and Palin); Cleese's 1948 co-star Tim Brooke-Taylor played Chapman's interviewee role. It's worth noting the same special also introduced us to the Pepperpots.
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    • Some people don't even know there was a TV show, knowing the Pythons from the movies.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: The Gestapo officer who insisted the Funniest Joke in the World wasn’t funny before bursting out laughing; was he trying to stop himself from laughing, or was he Late to the Punchline?
  • And You Thought It Would Fail:
    • While filming a sketch in Folkstone Harbor, John Cleese became seasick and threw up repeatedly. During the ride back, Graham Chapman said he should eat something, and Cleese replied that he fancied some cheese. They came across a chemist's shop, which Cleese wondered about asking for cheese there, and this eventually evolved into a sketch about someone asking for cheese in a cheese shop which had no cheese whatsoever. However, Cleese initially did not think the sketch was funny while writing it, despite Chapman's insistence. When it was presented to the other Pythons, they were equally unimpressed...until Michael Palin laughed so hard he fell out of his chair.
    • The attempts to bring the show across The Pond met with this, as American TV executives believed British humor would go right over the heads of American TV audiences. Then KERA, a PBS station in Dallas, Texas, began airing the show, and it became a hit with younger viewers. The series soon spread by word of mouth to other PBS stations around the country, with reruns becoming a staple of PBS programming for many years.
    • Before the series aired, Cleese's mother sent him job adverts for supermarket managers.
  • Bizarro Episode: Inverted. Out of four seasons' worth of loony, schizophrenic episodes, only three of them - Series 3's "The Cycling Tour" and Series 4's "Michael Ellis" and "Mr. Neutron" - have a linear plot that's generally adhered to from the beginning of the show to the end.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Many times, most notably with two sketches involving cannibalism.
    • The "Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days" sketch, which takes Ludicrous Gibs to even more ludicrous levels. Unsurprisingly, given it contains (literal) fountains of gore resulting from people getting dismembered, being impaled on tennis rackets and having their hands ripped off by a piano keyboard cover closing on them, it generated large numbers of complaints.
    • "Undertakers Sketch", the final sketch of series 2, also pushes the envelope of tastelessness in classic Graham Chapman style. The sketch features a discussion between an undertaker and a customer of how to dispose of the latter's mother's corpse, to the sounds of an increasingly vocal shocked and disgusted audience, who storm the stage after the notorious final line.
    Undertaker: Look, we'll eat your mum. Then, if you feel a bit guilty about it afterwards, we can dig a grave and you can throw up into it.
    • The thing that clinched the sketch as this trope is that the invasion of the stage was itself arranged to get this sketch past the BBC censor, who felt that only the implicit apology of the apparent audience revolt would make it acceptable. It's also noticeable in the film that only about 50% of the audience had been enlisted to boo and invade the stage - the rest are clearly seen laughing.
    • "Undertakers Sketch" was mentioned by John Cleese during Chapman's eulogy, which itself massively pushes the bounds of taste in homage to Chapman, who Cleese described during it as the "prince of bad taste".
    Cleese: Graham Chapman, co-author of the 'Parrot Sketch,' is no more. He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky. And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, of such capability for kindness, for such unusual intelligence, a man who could overcome his alcoholism with such truly admirable single-mindedness, should now so suddenly be spirited away at the age of only forty-eight before he'd achieved many of the things in which he was capable, and before he'd had enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say: nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries. And the reason I feel I should say this is he would never forgive me if I didn't. If I threw away this glorious opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything, for him, except mindless good taste.
    • "Never Be Rude to an Arab".
    • In case the name didn't tip you off, the "Mr and Mrs Niggerbaiter" sketch.
    • Speaking of the dead parrot sketch, Cleese has said they made sure to use an animal that "everyone hates," as otherwise the audience would feel sorry for it.
    • "Hospital Run by RSM," in which the hospital is run like a boot camp, when its trauma patients aren't being used for cheap labor.
    • From "The Attila the Hun Show", Eric Idle plays a traditional sit-com butler in black-face. It would be extremely racist if it wasn't completely over-the-top and skewering the usual stereotypes associated with it.
    • One of the Gumbys is blown up in "How Not to be Seen", yet when the smoke clears his boots are still standing together.
  • Discredited Meme: The jokes have been quoted so many times that it's become a joke to repeat the jokes. They even provide the page image.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • Eric Idle's character in "The Architect Sketch" presents a model of a high-rise apartment that catches fire mid-speech.note  The planners approve it anyway. A hilarious show of ineptitude? Maybe. But in the wake of the Grenfell disaster...
    • The "School Prize-Giving" sketch isn't quite so funny in the wake of several recent school shootings in America.
    • The sight of hijackers (albeit very polite ones) repeatedly forcing open the door of an airliner cockpit can come across differently in today's world.
    • The "Silly Olympics" has a swimming race for non-swimmers, which ends with the comment, "We'll be back as soon as we get the bodies out of the pool." The actual Olympics that year were in Munich, where eleven Israeli athletes, coaches and officials were killed by terrorists.
    • While still funny, the Self Defense Against Fruit Sketch is somewhat eerie when you realize the Pythons seem to be killed off in the order in which they have died in real life (Graham Chapman followed by Terry Jones, leaving the four remaining ones).note 
    • "The Funniest Joke In The World" sketch, a joke that is so funny, it causes anyone who heard it to Die Laughing. In 1989, Danish audiologist Ole Bentzen, died while watching A Fish Called Wanda (which featured John Cleese and Michael Palin). He found the film so funny, he laughed so hard that it caused his heart to beat rapidly (at 500 beats per minute) before it suddenly stopped.
  • Genius Bonus: All over the place. One DVD box set lampshades this, saying that the series is a complete university education in a box.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff:
    • Which is why Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus came about, made especially for the show's sizeable German fanbase.
    • The series became a surprise hit in Japan; in 1976, it was the most-watched show in the country.
    • After the series ended, it became a staple of PBS stations across The Pond.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • "The Mouse Problem" satirized then current attitudes of homosexuality by replacing homosexuals with men who dress up like mice; today, we now have fursuiters.
    • "The Cycling Tour," starring Michael Palin parodies presciently the same travelogues he would be famous for decades later.
    • Also the Whicker's World parody. Palin's first travelogue series, Around The World in 80 Days, was originally intended for Alan Whicker.
    • In "The Science Fiction Sketch", they mention how Scotland is the worst tennis-playing nation on Earth, but a Scotsman saves the day by winning Wimbledon. In 2013, Scotsman Andy Murray won Wimbledon. The same sketch features a Mr. and Mrs. Harold Potter.
    • The "Poet McTeagle" sketch featured a poet who did nothing but beg for money. Now we have Kickstarter, which is essentially creative people begging for money.
    • The "Germany vs. Greece Football Match" ends with Socrates realizing that the philosophers are in a football match, dribbling the ball to Germany's goal, and scoring the only goal in the match. Later, in the 1980s, there was a player on the Brazilian World Cup team named Socrates.
    • Douglas Adams appeared in Episode 42.
    • The idea of the "Wee-wee Wines" sketch i.e. urine being passed off as fancy wine, was nixed by either BBC management or John Cleese, depending on who you ask. This exact joke finally was aired in the Blackadder II episode "Potato".
    • During the "Court Scene (Charades)" sketch in Episode 15 ("The Spanish Inquisition"), John Cleese as the QC (i.e. prosecutor) mistakenly calls for Exhibit Q. In 2002, Cleese would play the character Q in the 007 film Die Another Day.
    • One of the subsidiaries of Confuse-A-Cat Ltd. is called "Bewilderebeest" - a term that means something very different to How to Train Your Dragon 2 fans than the simple act of bewildering a wildebeest.
    • One of the incontinent marathoners is named Ian McKellen.note 
    • In the "Communist Quiz" sketch, the quizmaster asks Che Guevara when Coventry City last won the FA Cup, and then throws the question to the rest of the panel. When no-one answers (Communist philosophers and politicians not having much time to follow English football), he reveals that it was a trick question: Coventry City have never won the FA Cup. The sketch aired in 1970; in 1987, Coventry City won the FA Cup, making re-runs of the sketch highly amusing to Sky Blues fans.note 
    • The "Lumberjack Song" features a Lumberjack who's into crossdressing. Later on, Fate/Grand Order features a Gender Flip of one of the most known lumberjacks in stories, Paul Bunyan, as a Berserker-type servant.
    • A skit in the fourth ASDF Movie has a banana wielder get shot through the face by a man he challenges to a banana fight. Someone's been taking the right self-defense lessons and not wasting time on pointed sticks.
    • "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights" — or, Wuthering Heights with plenty of arm waving.
    • One sketch saw Eric Idle as an intensely narcissistic television personality named Timmy Williams. 35 or so years later, a real-life (and very much not narcissistic) actor named Timmy Williams would become well-known in the world of sketch comedy as a member of the troupe The Whitest Kids U' Know.
    • "Bicycle Repairman" is a Superman parody. In 2004, John Cleese wrote the comic book, Superman: True Brit.
    • One of the impossible tasks Ron Obvious is made to carry out is jumping over the English Channel. A decade later, a man named Bryan Allen managed to do just that (from a certain point of view) with a bicycle.
  • I Am Not Shazam: Nobody involved with the show was actually named "Monty Python." The name was chosen at random.
  • Informed Wrongness: The narrator of the "Mr. Neutron" sketch keeps telling us that Mr. Neutron is plotting to destroy the world, yet we never see Mr. Neutron do anything even remotely evil, except flirting with a married woman, and is a pretty nice (if odd) guy.
  • Memetic Mutation: Now with its own page.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • The Pythons were dismayed that people were looking for deeper satirical meaning in the "Ministry of Silly Walks", which they said was just a silly sketch; John Cleese focused on fans who thought the sketch was their best.
    • The opposite happened with Monty Python's Life of Brian, where the Pythons really were parodying the divisions in Britain's left-wing parties.
  • Seasonal Rot: The fourth and final series is widely considered to be the weakest one. The Pythons themselves share this viewpoint; John Cleese, having become tired with the show, had left after the previous series and they agree that without both his contributions and his quality control, things were getting a bit weaker.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Hearing people recite their favourite sketches for the 16,047th time can be aggravating, to say the least - especially since the creator's aim was to make a show that is completely unpredictable.
    • Their "Spanish Inquisition" sketch has become such a classic that it's now easy to forget what made it so funny the first time it showed up: it was (hence their catchphrase) completely unexpected, with the Inquisition barging into an unrelated sketch without warningnote . Needless to say, watching it in a YouTube video titled "The Spanish Inquisition" spoils the joke just a bit. One wonders why the people uploading such videos don't retitle them after the sketches they were interrupting (i.e. "Trouble at t'Mill", and "Pictures of Uncle Ted") to avoid this.
    • John Cleese remembers performing the "Dead Parrot Sketch" live, and, as a laugh, Michael Palin changed the script in order to try to get Cleese to start Corpsing. He succeeded (rather than, when asked if the slug can talk, answering "Not really," he said "It mutters a bit"), and Cleese laughed so hard he forgot where they were. He asked the audience, all of whom shouted the next lines back at him, making him think, "What's the point?" This wasn't the last time Palin tried this; another performance had him respond with "Why yes it does!" Cleese was prepared this time and responded with, "Well then, I'll take it!" and then he walked off the stage, to the roar of the audience's laughter.
      • Another example from a live stage performance: the sketch proceeds as normal up until the line where Cleese says, "I'll tell you what's wrong with it: it's dead!" Palin leans down and looks closely at the bird, before declaring, "So it is!" He gives Cleese his money back, and both walk off stage. End of sketch.
  • Special Effect Failure: "Salad Days" features several, such as John Cleese's "hands" being blatantly severed before the piano cover gets smashed on them, and the woman whose head is knocked off by a piano keyboard clearly being a mannequin. This only adds to the humor, and was probably intentional (in addition, there were obviously budget constraints as well).
  • Unintentional Period Piece: While the majority of the Pythons' humour is pretty damn ageless, some of the jokes will fly over your head if you aren't familiar with British television presenters, celebrities and politicians who were around at the time. You might get a joke about a "Mrs. Thatcher", "Mr. (Harold) Wilson", and "Mr. (Edward) Heath", but unless you're well-versed in British culture, you probably won't know who Robin Day was (except that he owned a hedgehog called Frank) or realize that the Piranha Brothers sketch was satirizing the Kray twins. Some sketches parody aspects of British bureaucracy that are no longer around - for example the 'Fish License' sketch is based around dog licenses which were abolished in 1987. "Appearing on the M2" are many Vauxhall Vivas - a brand of car long disappeared from the United Kingdom. On top of that, the costuming and hairstyles on the series are pretty definitively '60s-'70s, albeit in a fairly low-key way... except when actual women are involved.
    • Probably the most notable thing pegging Python to its time is its use of traditional currency - shillings, sixpence, etc. - in the first two series; Britain did not decimalise its currency until 1971, so pre-decimal money shows up from time to time, like in the "Embezzler Accountant" sketch as well as the "New Television Licenses" end credit background. One third-series sketch included an onscreen note, "Old Sketch written before decimalisation" and helpfully provided conversions, which probably counts as Lampshade Hanging.
    • Their The Bishop sketch is a parody of The Saint, but most younger generations don't remember this show anymore.
    • In the first season there was a sketch where some hippies have taken custody of a man's stomach (and claim squatters' rights), which is discovered during his operation.
    • Frequent references to communist uprisings and Maoism, actors appearing in Brown Face or Yellow Face for gags, direct references to the BBC globe spinning around during programmes (something the BBC abandoned in 1997)...
  • Values Dissonance: The Pythons' portrayal of female, LGBT+, and non-white characters is often rather offensive when viewed today, including instances of Japanese Ranguage, blackface, and other stereotypical depictions that can jar viewers more used to the films. The show's handling of gay characters may be mitigated somewhat by the fact that Graham Chapman himself was openly gay and a strong supporter of LGBT+ rights, though sketches like "The Lumberjack Song" and its depiction of its lead character, a trans woman who comes out during the titular song and is scorned by everyone around her, are still somewhat discomforting to current-day audiences.
  • "Weird Al" Effect:
    • Numerous bits of British pop culture are known in the US mainly because they were spoofed here, like Biggles and Pantomime. American fans have been known to regard things like that as Aluminum Christmas Trees.
    • "The Liberty Bell" by John Philip Sousa has been associated with the Pythons ever since that composition was used as the theme song, to the point where laypeople tend to forget that it was originally an American military march.
    • Due to the memetic status of "The Spanish Inquisition", "I didn't come here expecting the Spanish Inquisition" is often erroneously thought to be a phrase invented by the Monty Python themselves. It's actually an older, not uncommon at the time, way of expressing annoyance to someone else's questioning.
  • What an Idiot!: In the "Election Night Sketch", the unofficial "Very-Silly Candidate" gets two votes (presumably from people who would've voted for the official Silly Party Candidate), thus allowing the Sensible Party to take the constituency by a single vote. Also, the Slightly-Silly candidate gets zero votes, indicating that he didn't even vote for himself.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Word of God insists unanimously that it wasn't. Their sketches may look spur-of-the-moment, but they were actually very tightly written, often depended on split-second timing, and hence were well-rehearsed — they actually wouldn't have been able to produce the show had they been under the influence (their frustration with Chapman's alcoholism still emerges in reminiscences forty-odd years later). Of course, what they may have got up to in their leisure hours was something else again...


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