Python Night

Saturday, October 9, 1999 by

Well it was nice to see the boys again.

Eric Idle is a little too Americanised, Cleese too much a product of his own therapy, Palin a bit too nice, Jones too perverse and Gilliam too ironically self-analytical. Yet there is an inextricable brand loyalty about Python. Milligan may have been more genuinely groundbreaking (as conceded in the documentary It’s… the Monty Python Story), and much of their work may now appear rather dated. However, their best still exudes genuine thought and humour. The Life of Brian (shown as part of the night’s celebration), for example, works both as an excellent comedy and also as a treatise on the psychology of the mass audience.

The Pythons ’99 style appeared at times a little desperate and irrelevant. The newly written sketches on the downgrading of the BBC (one smells the scent of a John Cleese cause célèbre here) were unimaginative and unoriginal. There were attempts to re-invoke the danger and energy of the original series, yet it was precisely that vein of jokes that have withered with age that they tried to resuscitate. This came as no surprise though; on past form Pythoncelebratory humour has always lacked a little (I still have memories of the Steve Martin led dull affair ). So what if their humour was a little too similar to your dad’s: (too many of the “first prize is a day out with Peter Mandelson, second prize: two days out with Peter Mandelson” school of wisecracks)? I suspect no one ever held out much for the new material. It was as a celebration of their achievements that the night worked best.

The bitter sweet atmosphere of the programme was most redolent of their spiritual heirs The Beatles. TV comedy commentator Mark Lewisohn has made much of the myriad connections between the two, and it was difficult not to view Python Night as their Anthology. There was the same promise of new material (perhaps they pretended Chapman had gone on holiday when they sat down to write), the same promise of rediscovered material from the archives, the same incessant talk of American funded big money reunions, and the same acquisitive bitterness. In fact a friend of mine swears that the young Eric Idle is the spitting image of the Let It Be Harrison.

So, in the end, Palin appeared content and perhaps the subject of the other’s jealousy (was it just me or did the sketch ridiculing Palin’s travelogues come across as an extremely bitter jibe by his colleagues?), and there was a sense that each felt that the others had in some way betrayed the Python spirit. But it did not matter. No one really minds if Ringo wants to rewrite history and make us believe that the Abbey Road sessions was just a bunch of great guys working together. The real remembrance happens when you play the records – the rest is irrelevant.


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