Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Thoughts on Monty Python Live (Mostly)


Recently, the remaining members of Monty Python got together to broadcast a live show as a sort-of last hurrah before more of the group passes on, are no more, cease to be, expire and go to meet their Maker, are late Pythons, are stiffs, become bereft of life, rest in peace, push up the daisies, kick the bucket, shuffle off their mortal coil, or run down the curtain and join the choir invisible.

I looked forward to seeing the remaining group, as I've been a fan of theirs for a good, long while. The show was directed by Eric Idle, who brought us the wonderful musical Spamalot. The show included live sketches with the remaining five, and included Carol Cleveland, as well as vintage footage to include Graham Chapman, the first fallen Python. The live broadcast also included Eric Idle songs, complete with dancers.

The broadcast was disappointing and embarrassing.

Directing the show, Eric Idle based his definition of humor on the idea that if it was funny before, more of the same must be funnier. This is not true of humor. Mel Brooks and Woody Allen both fell into the trap of thinking that more was better, until their humor became so over the top, that it no longer resembled the brilliancies of the past.

So too with Eric Idle's direction. He included far, far too many of his own songs, most of which are bawdy. Then, combining them with young dancers, they went from bawdy, to raunchy, to downright offensive.

Yes, offensive. I, who have watched and enjoyed Monty Python nearly my whole life, found the live broadcast offensive.

Most of the offense came from the Eric Idle songs. We were treated to classic humor, such as the Lumberjack Song, the Philosophers' Song, and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. But in between were songs and dances that were so over the top, they ceased to be funny, entertaining, or even mildly amusing.

As a case in point, one of Eric Idle's songs, which I've never cared for, lists dozens of names and euphemisms for male genitals. In the live production, we were "treated" to a full-length production which also included a verse with names for female genitals, and a verse which included euphemisms for the rear end. The latter (so to speak) was obviously placed in the show in order to include homosexual sex. At the end (so to speak), phallic "canons" were pulled on stage, which sprayed the audience with white foam.

It was over the top. It was too long. It was debasing. It was offensive. And it was not funny in the least. The live audience didn't think very much of the song either.

If that were the only pecadillo of the show, I might have enjoyed the rest. Be we were subjected to song after song after song which were just as overblown and offensive.

Consequently, the humor was lost from the show.

Most of the sketches focused on sex, including a lot more homosexual sex, or bathroom jokes to attempt to, I don't know, shock the audience into laughing. The audience didn't respond. Oh, they cheered and clapped for the Pythons. I did as well. After all, the Pythons have created some amazing humor that spans generations. But neither the audience in attendance, nor I at the broadcast, laughed very much.

And that, ultimately, was why I bought tickets and attended the event. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to see the Pythons be funny. I wanted to re-experience, in a live performance, some of the sketches for which they are famous. I wanted to see new material. I wanted to be entertained.

Alas, I was not entertained, nor did I laugh at the endless and poor humor based on over-the-top sex jokes.

There were some bright moments. The Bruces sketch was well done. We were treated to a video of Stephen Hawking running his motorized wheelchairs over a young, and obnoxious physicist. (Hawking was in attendance at the theatre.)

Michael Palin and John Cleese shared a good moment recreating both the Dead Parrot sketch which moved directly into the Cheese Shop sketch. They both showed amazing comedic timing and improvisational skill.

I was saddened to see that Terry Jones has aged to the point where he has lost most of his comedic timing. He had to read most of his sketches from cue cards.

Carol Cleveland was amazing. At 72 years, she still has the same, sexy comedy that earned her the title as the "seventh" Python.

Terry Gilliam has never been in the same league as the other Pythons. While his animation is quirky, I've never found its humor enduring. His acting and timing on stage have always been inferior to the others, yet, for all that, it was good to see him.

Graham Chapman, who had the poor graces to die too young, could only appear in film clips from the original show. His performances, of course, were spot on.