Three cheers for Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones! Just two cheers for John Cleese, who seems to have forgotten that the Meaning of Life isn’t to slag people off for money.
Last night I went to a cinema and sat down along some other people to watch – and occasionally whistle along to –the last night of the Monty Python Live (mostly) farewell extravaganza at the O2 arena in London, which was broadcast right across the world. Apparently, it’s the last time the veteran comedy troupe will ever perform together – if that proves to be the case then I’m glad to have witnessed it. The Monty Python quintet have never been quite the same since they stopped being a sextet in 1989, but the Flying Circus boys did the memory of Graham Chapman proud with a bedazzling, hit-after hit rendition of their finest comedy material. Background dancers, pre-recorded sketches (ft. Stephen Hawking) and fantastic orchestration bolstered the proceedings. It was non-stop, except for the middle bit, and again at the end when it finished.
As expected the Spanish Inquisition appeared unexpectedly, which was somewhat foolish on their part since they surrendered the number one weapon of their three – or was it four? – main tactics of terror: Surprise. Speaking of surprises, the Monty Python Live (mostly) show held very few of them. All the classics were rolled out, one after the other, although at more of an ambling pace than you may recall from the sketch show or the Hollywood Bowl. Dead parrots ceased to exist; lumberjacks broadcasted their secret love of women’s clothing; arguments – well, more like contradictory conversations, really – were had; finally, there was spam and a Christmas hymn in heaven.
Many laughs were shared by audience and cast alike, but the biggest ripples occurred whenever one of the team tripped up on a line or missed their cue. To the relief of all, the cast openly acknowledged their mistakes; when Eric Idle’s nudging winker ripped off a dangling moustache that had been threatening to fall for half the sketch the crowd cheered and whooped, and Michael Palin – was who on outstanding form – rather than gently prompting a faltering John Cleese, just came right out and said it: ‘Now you say, ‘This parrot is no more’’. A bemused Cleese then repeated the line just like, ahahhhh you guessed it, a 74 year old man whose forgotten the lines he has to spew forth from his clouded mind in order to pay off legal debts.
If one considers why these unplanned, semi-awkward moments were met with such raucous applause (which only prolonged the shambolic likes of an unrecognisably shaky version of the Cheese Shop sketch) it’s hard to be positive. Either all these rabid fanatics know the comedy so word-for-word well that they genuinely appreciate any diversion from it by the comics they love; or they are laughing to shy away from the knowledge that they will never again find the fresh joy of Python and must cover up what is obviously the unwanted product of the Python gang’s rapid aging.
John Cleese has aged least well. Forgetting lines is entirely forgivable, more so because of the stroke-baiting passion he put into the ‘My Theory What It Is’ monologue and the ‘Gay Banter’ career counselor. What isn’t acceptable is the tasteless and impromptu ridiculing of explicitly named journalists and papers, comments which shall not be repeated dailymailscum here in honour of Palin’s request that Cleese politely shut up and not give foul things more air with which to breathe. Palin will live the longest no doubt; he’s always been the funniest and the most active of the bunch, and his comedic genius was simmering away all evening. Then again, the consumer in most Python fans probably hopes Terry Gilliam outlasts the lot because, between writing and opera directing and film making, he’s the only one still operating on the level of creative output that made them all famous in the first place.
A vainglorious Eric Idle, the front man and string-puller who brought the whole thing together, was quite obviously in his own long-past dream world. Talking of idle… Terry Jones let the team down, but then he always was the weakest performer; even several recycled big-screen clips of Graham Chapman eclipsed the moulting Python’s presence. This is not meant as a slight of Jones. He was an invaluable comedy writer on the TV shows and the films, he was just looking a little off last night is all. A pair who everyone wished would go completely off (stage) were Mike Myers and Eddie Izzard, who briefly popped up for seemingly no reason other than to kiss arses and remind the world that they exist.
I sincerely hope that Monty Python made back the money they lost in the Spamalot court case and more, because you can’t say they didn’t try their best. It was an undeniable, one of a kind spectacle. So thanks chaps, it wasn’t something completely different but it was fun all the same. Don’t listen to the naysayers accusing you of being merchandising, has-been sell outs, because Why not visit Finland for a holiday? There are mountains and computers there.