This week marks a momentous anniversary for all fans of nominally ophidian absurdist sketch comedy. On Oct. 5, 1969, the first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus aired on BBC One. Over the next four years, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin would conjure up 45 episodes worth of groundbreaking television humor and change the face of comedy forever.
Not bad for five overeducated Brits and an unlucky American cartoonist.
As for overeducated, Jones and Palin have degrees from Oxford (in English and modern history, respectively), while Chapman, Cleese, and Idle graduated from Cambridge (with degrees in medicine, law, and English, respectively). Chapman actually qualified as a medical doctor but never entered practice.
As for unlucky, it's unclear whether Terry Gilliam was "cursed" before his Pythonite tenure, but since the group disbanded, his career as a film director has been positively snakebitten with projects often collapsing before production ever begins, or failing at the box office once completed. Gilliam's attempts to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote ended when the film set was destroyed by flood and the lead actor suffered a major spine injury, a failure so spectacular that it became the basis of a successful documentary, Lost in La Mancha.
Monty Python's Flying Circus, however, was a rousing success for almost everyone involved. Yet, despite the fact that Flying Circus appears on nearly every list of all-time great comedy shows you're likely to encounter, the Pythonites themselves consider the show a failure. They have repeatedly stated that their goal was to create comedy that defied classification, but instead their work defined the "Pythonesque" style. Instead of fighting the establishment, they became the standard by which many sketch comedies are measured.
So who is "Monty Python?" Nobody. The name was conjured from thin air, ostensibly to describe a smarmy and incompetent theatrical agent — the sort of person who would have assembled this unlikely group of comics. The "real" Monty Python was comedy writer and television host Barry Took, who actually brought the Pythonites together and suggested the BBC give them a show. As such, the BBC originally considered as a title for their sketch show Baron Von Took's Flying Circus in homage to Took, but the group decided to attach their reputation (and the blame for their efforts) to a fictional entity instead.
What is truly amazing is that the Pythonites themselves wrote almost all the credited material that appeared on Flying Circus. In fact, in the entire run of the show, only two other people were ever credited as Monty Python writers.
WHO ARE THE ONLY TWO NON-PYTHONITES TO EVER WRITE FOR MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS?Get the answer.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.