Disclaimer: I am a life-long Monty Python fan so this post is very unlikely to be an objective account of the simulcast I am about to tell you about. That being said, yesterday I had the privilege of witnessing a very special event indeed – Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go.
As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the legendary Monty Python’s Flying Circus comedy troupe reunited after over 30 years away from the stage for a limited run of ten live shows at London’s O2 arena. For those of us who weren’t in the vicinity or couldn’t get their hands on a ticket, the Pythons kindly consented to turn their very last show into a worldwide party by live streaming the event to cinemas around the world and to UK residents on the Gold channel as well.
It was great to gather in a movie theater with other Python fans, people who know, love and, in many cases, can recite the sketches verbatim. If you’ve ever watched Monty Python with the uninitiated you may well know the confused scowls and the bewildered lament of “I don’t get it.” There was none of their ilk in the seats yesterday. Who’s going to pay $18 to watch a bunch of septuagenarians being silly on stage without being obsessively familiar with their body of work after all?
As for the venue, the O2 was decked out to look like a proper theater with crushed velvet red curtains and footlights on the stage. To overcome the less than intimate aspects of an arena show, large video screens were mounted above the performance area so all 15,000 attendees could see the action. The screens were also used to display classic animated and pre-produced segments during set changes…and there were many. Finally, the screens served as a sort of karaoke machine, scrolling lyrics so the audience could sing along with the plethora of musical numbers sprinkled throughout the performance.
And what delightfully rude musical numbers they were from Every Sperm is Sacred and its gigantic phallic bubble making machines to Sit on My Face and The Penis Song. I couldn’t help thinking that while these songs were written and originally performed by confrontational young Oxbridge educated comedians, decades later they basically left most of the naughty stuff up to the lithe, young chorus line of dancers. A wise choice on the part of the show’s director, Eric Idle, perhaps but also poignant proof that the limits of aging process come to us all.
If the dance routines are overhauled and sexed-up versions of the originals, the actual sketches were far more nostalgic and crowd pleasing. Joined on stage by Carol Cleveland, the blond bombshell of the old Flying Circus days, the lads did their best to breathe life into the sketches that are part of Python canon.
Particularly well-received were the Spanish Inquisition; The Four Yorkshiremen; Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge; and a trio of Cleese/Palin routines, The Argument Clinic, the Cheese Shop and the Dead Parrot.
And if that weren’t enough, this extravaganza featured celebrity cameos, too. Some of the more famous of Python enthusiasts were granted the unique opportunity to share the stage with to their comedy heroes during the course of the show’s run. I read that previous performances had featured guest appearances by Matt Lucas, Simon Pegg, Noel Fielding and Stephen Fry among others.
The final show’s guests included Eddie Izzard as an auxiliary Australian philosophy professor called (what else?) Bruce. And during the Blackmail game show sketch, Michael Palin’s sleazy host revealed the surprise celebrity with a paper bag over his head to be…Mike Myers. I have to say I was a bit disappointed after being aware of who had appeared previously. Besides Myers was so awe-struck in the presence of his idols, he apparently couldn’t think of anything clever to say.
The parade of luminaries was topped off by none other Drs. Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking. In a pre-produced segment we saw the two science geniuses having a bit of an altercation over the perceived inaccuracies of Eric Idle’s Galaxy Song with a somewhat surprising result.
Of course, there was the obvious absence of sixth Python, Graham Chapman who died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 48. His comrades made sure Dr. Chapman (he was a physician, in case you weren’t aware) got his share of screen time on their big farewell tour. From kicking his head around the universe (Terry Gilliam’s signature animation, of course) to glimpses of him in classic clips to a simple memorial mention of him at the curtain call, the crowd always applauded appreciatively for the Python who left us too soon.
The audience was treated to a “spontaneous encore” of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, the ironically optimistic anthem made famous in the crucifixion scene at the end of Life of Brian. Everyone sang along including those of us in the theater audience. How could we refuse when our beloved Pythons made it very clear this would be our last chance to join in? The last thing the crowd saw on the video screen was these words “Monty Python 1969- 2014.”
I left the theater feeling sentimental and a bit emotional, truth be told. I expected to laugh, but it wasn’t until the end that it really sunk in that the Pythons and their crazy shenanigans can’t go on forever. It was a great gift that John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin came back for one last hurrah. They can say it was just for the money, but I think the fans know better. They were giving us a chance to say goodbye before that big fat foot comes crushing down once and for all.