Monty Python

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Clive Barnes

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Pure, unadulterated madness has invaded the City Center 55th Street Theater. A bunch of lunatics calling themselves Monty Python have taken over the theater and are forcing unsuspecting people to laugh. Almost at gunpoint. They are vulgar, sophomoric, self-satisfied, literate, illiterate, charmless, crass, subtle, and absolutely terrific. They are the funniest thing ever to come out of a television box….

How is one to describe Monty Python? A candid consensus of critics who might be called Charlie Cobra, could easily have written in the East Ham Gazette, describing them: "As coming from the streets of Bergamo—like the commedia dell'arte and pizza. Raw and earthy, they combine the wry savagery of Tom Lehrer and the poetic anarchy of 'Hel'zapoppin.' Were we to accept the Bergsonian concept of humor—which not for a moment we do—we would suggest that their depiction of the polarization and the alienation of modern man, the almost touching juxtaposition, as it were, of foot with banana skin, is a symbolic metaphor of an industrial society totally enraged. Monty Python truly is the snake in the Garden of modern Eden—a child of our time, a reptile of truly significant immediacy."

Devotees, aficionados, fans and other idiots, will recognize the provenance of many of the sketches that the Python people perpetrate—for they are lifted, screaming but intact, from the television shows, which for some time have made nonsense out of family hour viewing. From the rousing opening chorus of "There is nothing quite as wonderful as money" to the indescribably disgusting expletive at the end, apparently intended to clear the theater, the fun is moderately fast and downright furious….

This anthology of Pythonomania seems intent on leaving nothing out. Here are the people declaiming "How Sweet to Be an Idiot" or that innovative television quiz game "Blackmail."…

In "Blackmail," a hidden camera catches some innocent in some not-so-innocent activity, and the victim (or player as he is usually regarded) has to bargain with the master of ceremonies on the telephone to have the show stopped—the longer the film runs the higher the price the player has to pay. As a game show it has everything—suspense, money, greed….

The humor is occasionally raunchy, but for sheer irreverence, impertinence and spaced-out zaniness there has been nothing to beat it since Genghis Khan.

Clive Barnes, "Stage: Screaming and Intact, 'Monty Python Live!'" in The New York Times (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 16, 1976, p. 11.

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