Monty Python Lawrence Christon - Essay

Lawrence Christon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Monty Python octet, rooted in British university and music hall humor, likes to go after some of the fundamental ideas and institutions of Western civilization, beginning with Christianity and taking circuitous Lewis Carroll routes through politics and schizoid social behavior in which taut propriety masks an underlying lunacy.

The Python group is welcome here because it has a perspective that is generally denied American comedians, who tend to operate out of a sense of individual helplessness. With Monty Python we see the healthy comic alternative that has offshoots in Edward Lear and Gilbert and Sullivan and is part of a tradition of wit and literacy that prizes its critical remove while seeing its social object clearly….

Lenny Bruce once noted how it was the familiar that was as heartwarming to people as any sense of complicity between comic and audience. But for the uninitiated, this Python concert [at the Hollywood Bowl] seems precious and ingrown. A number of their situations have glorious beginnings, but don't develop. To have Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung on a quiz panel in which the winner gets a living-room set is a cunning idea—the real test of revolutionary idealism isn't theory but comfort….

[The show gives us the] sense of a group in a bind, richly talented personnel who have been rewarded so well by sporadic effort that they feel no incentive to work up sustained, suitable forms for their comic impulses. Perhaps they're coasting and giving their audience some familiar licks before moving on to something else. Perhaps not. The adulation is there just the same. In the world of entertainment it isn't only power that corrupts.

Lawrence Christon, "Monty Python Octet at Hollywood Bowl" (copyright, 1980, Lawrence Christon; reprinted by permission of the author), in Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1980.