It was a weekend ritual in the late 1970s for many people to tune in to PBS for another surreal, irreverent, anarchic installment of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The imported series, which first ran on Britain’s BBC from 1969 to 1974 for 45 episodes, left behind a slew of vivid memories.
The brilliant comedians of the Python comic troupe, including John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones, later moved on to movie parodies (Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and stage musicals (Spamalot). Considering the influence of their original TV series, however, the regulars at Central New York Playhouse are performing a Monty Python tribute through Saturday, Nov. 21, at the company’s Shoppingtown venue.
Enthusiasts such as Eric Feldstein, Simon Moody, Justin Polly, Doug Rougeux, Alan Stillman, Isaiah Vergara and Aidan Yazell, along with Kasey McHale as the sole female, try their hand at recreating classic Python skits. Among their more successful attempts is the iconic “Spam” skit, in which a couple orders breakfast from a waitress who rattles off a long list of choices: bacon and eggs with Spam; Spam, sausage and pancakes; muffins and Spam. This sketch is so familiar that the audience was able to join in the Spam-Spam-Spam chant at the end. The skit is rumored to be the reason our unwanted e-junk mail is called spam.
Much Pythonesque humor is verbal. In the famous Dead Parrot skit, the irate pet shop customer gets a big laugh when he whacks his clearly deceased bird against the counter. But what’s really funny is how he makes his point with an endless stream of synonyms for “dead”: “This bird is inert. He’s passed on. He’s defunct.”
The Python team used a thesaurus in writing the sketch, which evolved from a previous skit about the lame excuses a car salesman makes to an irate customer whose recently purchased vehicle is clearly falling apart. In typical Python fashion, they took a kernel of truth and shoved it into an absurd situation.
Anyone who has had to answer what seem like irrelevant questions posed by a policeman investigating an accident will relate to the skit about an agitated man who reports that he’s been robbed. The police, however, focus on the proper dynamic level of his voice: not too loud, not too soft, not too high, not too low.
Several CNY Playhouse skits employ Pythonesque incongruity. Red-robed Spanish Inquisitioners burst into a middle-class living room, yet they are not satisfied with the dramatic effect produced by their entrance (a Pythonesque mockery of theatrical conventions), so they exit and try again. This tribute to Monty Python is a worthy venture, even if it sends us back to YouTube to enjoy the original.
Header photo: Doug Rougeux (right) in Central New York Playhouse’s A Tribute to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Amelia Beamish photo.