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And Now For Something Completely Different! Monty Python: The Beatles of Comedy

For all you Python fans out there, here's a nice article from this month's edition of the Altlantic.

By David Free | The Atlantic

In 1968, a group of young English comedians made a TV special called How to Irritate People. Pitched for the U.S. market, the show was meant to get Americans excited about a new wave of British comedy. It failed in that aim, but one of its sketches retains high interest for the archaeologist of humor. Written by a couple of Cambridge graduates named John Cleese and Graham Chapman, the sketch is set in the workshop of a shady car salesman. A disgruntled customer, played by Chapman, returns his new car and registers a few complaints: The gear lever is loose. The brakes don’t work. Before the sketch is over, the vehicle’s doors have fallen off.

But the dodgy salesman—played by a promising comedian named Michael Palin—has an answer for everything. “You must expect teething troubles in these new models,” he says. In real life, Palin had been sold a defective car himself, and he had entertained Cleese with impersonations of his stonewalling dealer. The resulting sketch, which can be dug up on YouTube, took a few comic liberties with Palin’s real-life experiences—a few, but not enough. Like a lot of apprentice work, it’s too respectful of convention and literal truth to strike a distinctive note.

A year or so later, the BBC offered Cleese his own series. He was interested, but he didn’t want to be the show’s star. He preferred to surround himself with a team of Britain’s cleverest young writer-performers. Chapman, Cleese’s writing partner since their days in Cambridge’s Footlights club, was first on board. Cleese also wanted to bring on Palin, but Palin had by now acquired some teammates of his own, with whom he’d been working on a children’s program called Do Not Adjust Your Set. Cleese, who admired the show, was so keen to get Palin that he recruited three of his collaborators too. One was an enthusiastic Welshman named Terry Jones, whom Palin had teamed up with at Oxford. The second was Eric Idle, another Cambridge alum. The third was a louche-looking American named Terry Gilliam, who’d come to London to work as a cartoonist and an illustrator, and had vague aspirations to direct movies.

Continue at The Atlantic

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