As the British comedy troupe celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, Entertainment Weekly looks at the lasting influence of Monty Python's ideas on the funniest folks who followed them.
Broad comedyThey didn't invent drag, but they gave all-male (or mostly male, a la, “The State”) troupes the inspiration to get in touch with their feminine sides. Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion are the godmothers of “The Kids in the Hall's” Kathy and Cathy.
Bigger is betterBefore Python, TV comedians came in — at most — pairs. But the sextet proved troupe strength: “Saturday Night Live” started with 7 members, “Kids in the Hall” and “Whitest Kids U Know” with 5, and the biggest flash mob of comedy remains “The State,” with 11.
The British are funny, the British are funny!When their show first arrived on PBS, it introduced a whole new sensibility to American comedy fans. They paved the way for the stateside success of “Little Britain,” “The Office,” and “It's Alan Partridge.”
Who needs an ending?Firmly opposed to going out on a ba-dum-bum kicker, the Pythons would either abruptly cut to another sketch or some Terry Gilliam animation, freeing other future groups from the clean curtain-drop endings. “The Restaurant Sketch,” in which a kitchen staff is driven to suicide over a dirty fork, is one of the few sketches that ends on a joke (“Good thing I didn't tell them about the dirty knife!”), but it's purposefully telegraphed so that it was more a parody of the practice.
The seamless sketch show
Characters wandered in from or out to other sketches or animations; John Cleese's Minister of Silly Walks first popped in at the tail end of a tobacconist's sketch, bringing the audience along with him on his long gangly walk to his office. David Cross and Bob Odenkirk later used the practice to string together sketches on “Mr. Show,” and the technique was also used in the Upright Citizens Brigade show with Amy Poehler.
Screw you, fourth wall!The kings of the meta-sketch, Python characters would often comment on the fact that they were in a skit. None more famously than Graham Chapman's uptight colonel, who would storm in, demanding a stop to the proceedings as things just got too “silly.”
Phooey to topicalityWhile Monty Python would tweak genres like game shows (“Blackmail!”) and educational programs, they would very rarely parody a specific current pop-culture staple; no impressions here … unless you count the Pantomime Queen. “Mr. Show” and “Kids in the Hall” followed their lead, which made their shows more evergreen; “Saturday Night Live,” however, staunchly stays in the moment.
You can never be too smartPython weren't afraid to splash their Oxford and Cambridge educations all over the page, with a “Summarize Proust” competition and a group of brawny Aussies singing about their favorite philosophers. But that said…
Don't be afraid to go for the gross-outThe Pythons were just as comfortable with a gross-out gag as they were with Proust. Witness the vomiting Mr. Creosote in “The Meaning of Life,” or the pants-soiling Mrs. Cheap-Laughs, who abruptly stops cackling to declare, “Ooh! I wet 'em.” Every time a “Saturday Night Live” character pretends to vomit, thanks to a barely-hidden hose pumping out cream of mushroom soup, it's an homage to Python.
Don't just stick to TVPython created a cottage industry of books, movies, and archly-named albums (“Monty Python's Previous Record,” “Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album”). “Mr. Show” and “Kids in the Hall” both tried to expand into movies … though they did fall far short of “Holy Grail” success.