Wednesday 20 August 2014

Monty Python Live! (Mostly) - Geek Girl Review

By Emily Plunkett

If there’s one thing I never expect Monty Python to do, it was to make me cry.  The bastards.
This past July, the legendary British comedy group reunited for 10 live performances at London’s O2 Arena.  This came after years of pesky fans repeatedly asking quite nicely for something special that would allow them to reminisce on the jolly ol’Python bits they fell in love with some time ago.  And of course, like true hipsters, the moment they announced the whole thing last November, everyone began making the obligatory jokes about the fact that the combined age of the group is 357 or how it just would never be the same without the long deceased Graham Chapman, how they should just let things be, blah, blah, blah.
But of course, this is Monty Python we’re talking about.  The same Monty Python in which the last time they gathered onstage for a reunion, they brought an urn full of Chapman’s “ashes” to make the reunion complete - and then proceeded to spill the contents of the urn onto the stage; which were then then swept under the rug, vacuumed, etc. So when they announced the new live show, they wasted absolutely no time taking their own shots over what they were about to do; possibly even quicker than the notoriously harsh British media could.  When it came time to actually to see what they had come up with during a screening at the South Keys Cineplex on July 31, I personally had an ounce of faith that this quintet of septuagenarians could pull it off.

After all, that’s what I’ve always loved most about Monty Python: their absolute fearlessness, which was on full display at O2 Arena. It’s always been there.  You can see it in the very first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  There is virtually no laugher from the studio audience.  They are baffled by just the level of absurdity the program offered.  Random pig squeals, sketches with no clear punchline.  Just pure...well, I don’t know.  Whatever it was, it was on display for the British public to fall in love with and the actors on the screen gave the impression that they just didn’t care if anyone laughed at all.  What they wanted to do was out for everyone to see and we could take it or leave it.  Eventually there would be a word to describe this brand of brand of humour.  Pythonesque is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “denoting or resembling the absurdist or surrealist humour or style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British television comedy series.” That’s right.  An entire word was added to the dictionary to define and describe the humour of Monty Python.
Back to the show at O2.  I knew there would be bits that would feel somewhat uncomfortable.  Python animator turned genius film director, Terry Gilliam, had given interviews where he called the reunion “depressing,” and he noted that they all had careers that were far beyond Python. In fact, it was no secret that the main reason they were reuniting is because they’ve been hit with lawsuit after lawsuit.  
But you know what?  Even Gilliam’s contributions in no way felt forced.  He looked like they were having fun.  They all looked like it.
There were moments that I was wondering how they were going to handle on stage, and was absolutely stunned on how beautifully they made it work.  Six-foot-four, number two ranked British comedian of all time, John Cleese, has had hip replacement surgery and cannot do the classic Silly Walk sketch. But! Eric Idle just happens to be a songwriter and they were adding dancers to the show anyway. So why not write a new song based on the sketches and give it to the chorus line?  There were also several moments where the actors forgot their lines. I couldn’t keep track whether it was Cleese or Terry Jones who forgot their lines more frequently.  They took the piss out of one another’s circumstances.  The classic “Penguin on the Television” sketch made mention of the many travel documentaries made by the ever so good natured Michael Palin.  During a cross-dressing judges sketch, Idle and Palin asked who handled the Cleese divorce.

And Carol Cleveland! Oh how they wouldn’t forget her!  Still the sexy, big chested, vixen they chose from day one and never let go! She was just so delightful and happy to be performing with the guys!  And she wasn’t the only “cameo” of sorts.  Every night during the run of the show, guests were brought out during “Blackmail” to round out the tribute.  On the last night – the one broadcast to the world – the special guest was Mike “Austin Powers” Myers, who couldn’t believe his eyes as to where he was and what was going on around him.
The nod to their departed colleague came during the Parrot Sketch.  “He’s climbed the ladder to meet do meet Dr. Chapman!” screamed Cleese to Palin’s shop keeper before they both paused to allow the audience to catch the reference and to give the heavens a thumbs up.
Nothing about it felt forced.  Nothing about it felt wrong.  It wasn’t just some old fart rock band that’s decided to give it a shot.  This was a thought out celebration of everything Monty Python is about.
At the very end, as they came out for the encore to lead the audience and the rest of the cast and crew in a sing-along of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Idle mentioned that the show was being broadcast in cinemas around the world and this would be the last time they would ever perform together.  He wanted everyone, in every theatre, to sing along.  And even on the encore presentation I attended, the audience sang.  As I sang, I choked back the tears of pure happiness and joy knowing for damn sure Idle wasn’t joking.  In true, right before they told the audience to “PISS OFF,” the sons of bitches rubbed it when they inscribed “MONTY PYTHON 1969 – 2014” across the stage.  This was Monty Python’s swan song. And it was as perfect.

Is it truly pathetic that I cried as hard as I did?  Probably, but I don’t care.  I felt privileged and honoured to have seen the performance.  

And so, to John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, I say thank you for everything.  If this is truly the end of Monty Python, I am honoured to have known you and your comedy.  May your work always inspire me and remind me to be fearless in all I create.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Emily Plunkett is a recent graduate of the journalism diploma program at Algonquin College. As a freelancer, she’s written for the Ottawa Star and the Sarnia Observer. Notorious for being a Beatlemaniac, a record collector and something nobody can really put a finger on, she enjoys a good Sunday afternoon with CBC Radio chatting away, her knitting in hand and her cat, Levon, snoozing at the end of the bed.

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