I blow my nose at you…
I fart in your general direction.
— Monty Python’s Holy Grail
There are only four farts explicitly mentioned in The Pythons Autobiography By The Pythons, in which the infamous comedians tattle on themselves. Oh, there’s an occasional kangaroo’s bum, one wee and a few poohs. But such images pale when compared to the truly funny fart.
Farts have a long and proud history.
The celebrated Greek playwright Aristophanes (born somewhere around 446 BC) was a satirist whose comedy was much feared by the powerful. His play The Clouds is filled with breaking wind (and can easily be found online for free; even just 10 years ago, it still figured on the reading list for an Intro to Political Science course at Concordia University). Farts aside, The Clouds is also believed to have helped convince many that the philosopher Socrates (a main character in the play) deserved the death sentence for his constant, destabilizing questioning of the powers-that-be.
You’ll find farts in 1001 Arabian Nights, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale, and in the works of Benjamin Franklin (“To The Royal Academy Of Farting”), as well as in Mark Twain’s 1601: Conversation, as it was the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors. Even more recently, sober polite Canadians Terrance and Phillip are famous for their televised fart fests (find the adult movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut filed at MU-41 in the Lennoxville Library; the older written works listed above can be found online).
A fart is the great leveller, a completely normal biological function, yet is considered terribly embarrassing. Offensive, even.
Many comics live for the perfect fart joke. And it’s often directed at those who sniff at fart jokes.
Monty Python’s gaseous “general direction” gag in the cult hit movie, The Holy Grail (filed at CV-15 in the Lennoxville Library), has become a catchphrase that has survived multiple generations. You can find it on T-shirts and more… The Pythons know a funny when they make one.
And so it is a bit of a surprise to find the first bit of flatulence buried at the end of page 341 in their autobiography (edited by Bob McCabe, 2005, filed at 927 in the library). Poor schlubs send offers of work to the six members of the storied Monty Python troupe, offering mediocre contracts for comedy, and the Pythons react en masse with “farting and jeering.” Twice, in fact. Later in the book, you’ll twice find the “old farts” who are the now-aged Monty Python folk. Not literal references, so they don’t count.
There is certainly humour in the memoir, but this is a book about the perils of fame, the difficulties of working together, the problems of censors, and a solid bunch of gossip about relationships and people. A great read if you already know their work.
The memoir takes a bit of getting used to, as the six each take turns over a few paragraphs. Graham Chapman, who died of cancer before the book’s publication, is represented by relatives and his own diary.
The Pythons began in 1969 with four seasons on BBC television, followed by movies and books.
The Holy Grail was the troupe’s second film, but the first made specifically for the big screen (the previous effort merely reprised some of their sketches). It was a quest movie. King Arthur was insulted in multiple ways as he sought to complete his members of the Round Table: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.”
It might have helped if the king could have afforded a horse, but no. Clip-clopping coconuts had to do.
The next film, Life Of Brian (filed at CV-34) was particularly controversial, with many seeing it as an attack on Christianity. Pythons respond in the memoir by denying blasphemy. It is, rather, heresy – an attack on churches and their (to Python) mistaken interpretations of the Bible, not an attack on the Bible itself. Enormous research and thought went into the script, they say.
In short, Monty Python wants you to know that comedy is serious business.
Pythoners went on separately to all sorts of other projects. Here are a few of the films.
Terry Gilliam was involved in movies such as The Fisher King with Robin Williams (filed at CV-23), the drug-fuelled Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas , with Johnny Depp (filed at LIT-71), and the dystopian The Zero Theorem (at SF-272).
Eric Idle has appeared in multiple television series and is a voice actor in animated films (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at K-531; Dudley Do-Right at CV-101; Secret of NIMH 2, filed at TNMT).
John Cleese is justly famous for A Fish Called Wanda at CV-55. And check out Fierce Creatures at CV-114.
Terry Jones wrote the screenplay for the excellent scary children’s movie Labyrinth (filed at SF-180).
Michael Palin’s tour de force Brazil is a must-watch (at SF-300).
— Eleanor Brown, April 1, 2016