Graham Chapman (1941?–)—British comedian, scriptwriter, author, songwriter, and actor.
John Cleese (1939–)—British comedian, scriptwriter, and actor.
Terry Gilliam (1941?–)—American animator, comedian, actor, and director.
Eric Idle—British comedian, scriptwriter, songwriter, and actor.
Terry Jones (1942?–)—Welsh comedian, scriptwriter, song-writer, author, actor, and director.
Michael Palin (1943–)—British comedian, scriptwriter, songwriter, and director.
Collectively known as Monty Python and Monty Python's Flying Circus, the group attacks foolishness in contemporary behavior with the combination of literate, sophisticated satire and crude burlesques, gags, and slapstick that forms its popular brand of surrealism. Monty Python is unique among comedy groups, as they have gained a large, appreciative audience outside the United Kingdom for their very British brand of political and social satire. The group was influenced by the British comedy classic The Goon Show, a madcap postwar radio broadcast, and the satirical undergraduate revue Beyond the Fringe. Using such sketches and bits as "Hell's Grannies," "The Lumberjack Song," "The Ministry of Silly Walks," "The Dead Parrot," and "Upper Class Twit of the Year," the Pythons satirize the ridiculous postures of which we are all capable. Most critics feel that the combined sensibilities of the six men have produced a body of work that is admirable for its innovation, insight, and comic effectiveness.
A British comedy consultant formed the group in 1969 to fill a late night opening on BBC television. Cleese, Idle, and Chapman, all Cambridge University graduates, had been writing for David Frost's comedy show The Frost Report. Palin and Jones, both graduates of Oxford University, had worked with Idle on the British humor series Do Not Adjust Your Set. Terry Gilliam was enlisted to do the group's visuals and animation. The resultant series, Monty Python's Flying Circus, ran for four seasons on the Public Broadcasting System and developed a cult following both in Britain and the United States. Comprised of fast-moving, seemingly unconnected sketches with subjects ranging from pointed parodies of British culture and burlesques of everyday living to satires on some of the strong-holds of Western civilization, the show was hailed by most critics as hilarious and inventive.
The group's first feature film, And Now for Something Completely Different, consists mostly of sketches from their albums and television shows; critics unfamiliar with the group's material reacted to it with disdain. Their next film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was successful both critically and commercially. A satirical attack on the Arthurian legend, the movie employs many of the comic devices that had been perfected on the television series. Although some critics find the humor sophomoric and distasteful, others believe the film witty and imaginative. The group's albums, which had initially been ignored, also began to achieve success. In 1979 the group released its controversial film Life of Brian, about a man who was continually mistaken for the Messiah because he was born in the manger next to Christ's. Many religious leaders were offended by the film; Idle explained, "We're laughing at man, not God." Most criticism has praised the film as being perhaps the best work the group has done.
Since Life of Brian, Python members have continued to come together for occasional live performances and for The Contractual Obligation Album, but have worked mainly on individual projects. In spite of the favorable critical response many of these projects received, most critics feel that the Python members are most successful as a team.