Monty Python Arthur Asa Berger - Essay

Arthur Asa Berger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Flying Circus's "thing" obviously is absurdity and whackyness: famous people are caricatured, clichés are ridiculed, and the madness of English society is mirrored in a mad show. But the problem with Monty Python's Flying Circus is that it is too studied and, at the same time, poorly done….

What The Flying Circus fails to realize is that the humor must do more than reflect the madness of a given society. That is the fallacy of imitative form. The function of the artist—and comic artists are included here—is to point out the madness and absurdity in a society by assuming some kind of a stance. The Circus is full of crazies whose pose makes them forfeit all claim to seriousness. They do focus attention on some of the more absurd aspects of society, but they do not carry their criticism far enough. (p. 172)

The show [I saw] had no logic or structure to it, though it did have a certain amount of continuity. In fact, it was the element of continuity in the script that made me look for some kind of organization and for some kind of a satisfactory closure. The show, instead, seems to be open-ended, which is perfectly acceptable as long as the program makes no intimations of coherence. Probably the best word for The Flying Circus is sophomoric. It is a collection of gags, most rather banal, that don't add up to anything, and seems very much like the kind of thing students do in amateur theatricals in America, or camp counselors do when the staff has a variety show to put on. (p. 173)

Arthur Asa Berger, "Humor on the 'Telly', or What Makes Englishmen Laugh?" in his The TV-Guided American (copyright © 1976 by Arthur Asa Berger; used with permission from the author), Walker and Company, 1976, pp. 164-75.∗