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Pythonmania: of snakes and critics

A scene from Monty Python Live (Mostly) – a comedy show can be one man and a mic or have hundreds of cues and props. Photo: Ludwig Shammasian A scene from Monty Python Live (Mostly) – a comedy show can be one man and a mic or have hundreds of cues and props. Photo: Ludwig Shammasian
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So this was the week that was; the Python comeback. The O2 was awash with amateur knights who said ‘yay’, toy parrots and Life of Brian leftover extras; it was comedy’s closest moment to Beatlemania.

For me the event/spectacle/show, as that was what it was in a defining order, said as much about the relevance of comedy criticism than about the Python legacy.

At their last press conference before the O2 run, the troupe were asked if they were bothered by what the critics might say. “It’s too late anyway” rejoindered Eric Idle; “I can’t name one, can you?” came John Cleese’s retort, blunt as ever.

It’s as if they saw the indifference coming. To be fair they attracted responses from the ecstatic to the damning, with the median average that could be characterised as a benevolent shrug.

But the crowd’s ecstatic reaction inside the arena was the key measurement for some.

Jason Manford tweeted:

@JasonManford: Re: Monty Python. How on earth can a show that reportedly got a standing ovation receive negative reviews from journalists!?

Jim Davidson fanned the flames:

@JimDOfficial: @JasonManford It is because the little insignificant shits have to justify their existence. They have already written it before the show!

Luckily, there were some voices of reason:

@BeardedGenius: @JasonManford In fairness the Pythons could come on stage and just stand there and people would give them a standing ovation.

To be fair there was something out of synch about the whole affair. There are so many sliding scales here: how much of a fan were you to start with, what were your expectations, what can you compare it with?

The Python reunion/farewell might be the closest thing the genre has to Beatlemania (barring brief Booshism and Michael McIntrye) but seeing the Pythons live wasn’t as life-affirming as watching the Rolling Stones last year, for example.

That’s hardly fair, I know, but the exuberance lacking from some sketches did make me feel uncomfortable about reprising these legendary skits. Rock anthems capture enduring emotions, sketches come with more contextual baggage, and their evolution has been more marked than three chords could ever allow.

So, the sketches with refrains closest to catchphrases, such as the Dead Parrot sketch, fared better because they have an identifiable chorus opportunity – then there is the Lumberjack song, well that’s an anthem now. Oh, but what about The Argument Sketch? Oh, that’s just one of those timeless, tightly-written things…(no it isn’t, yes, it is…etc, etc).

Complicated? Yes, that’s why criticism has to go deeper than a gut reaction to give a standing ovation, an impulse driven by feelings other than analysis. Yes, critics are killjoys, but they don’t set out to be so.  We all want a good (k)night out.

Read The Stage review here

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