Running for five years and forty-five episodes, you can ask ten different Monty Python fans what their favorite sketch is and receive ten different answers. In 1969, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam came together to produce a show that was surreal, irreverent, and side-splittingly funny. What follows are five of the most memorable sketches from the group, the ones you can quote with someone who’s barely familiar with the show and they’ll still get it.
5. The Argument Sketch
“‘Is this the right room for an argument?’ ‘I’ve told you once.’”
Appearing in the programme’s 29th episode, the sketch’s focus was on how people sometimes pay for an experience they feel is helpful but turns out to be frustrating and unpleasant. Featuring Palin, Cleese, and Chapman, Palin first walks into the wrong room of the clinic where he’s verbally abused by Chapman until the latter realizes the mistake and becomes completely apologetic. On finding the right room with Cleese, Palin pays for an argument only to have Cleese parrot and gainsay everything Palin says. When Palin has had enough, he wants to register a complaint but ends up being hit on the head by Terry Jones followed by everyone being arrested for using clichés.
“Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam! Lovely, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!”
Another sketch combining Python’s satire and absurdity, a couple is dropped into a restaurant surrounded by Vikings and where every menu item contains Spam. The Pythons wrote the sketch in part because of the pervasive presence of the mystery meat product during Britain’s postwar food rationing. Chapman playing the wife and Terry Jones as the waitress (in a classic example of Python cross-dressing and Pepperpot voices) get into an argument as Chapman’s character can’t stand Spam, then as Jones lists off all the menu items involving Spam, the Vikings begin a chant that only ends when Jones yells at them to shut up. The cultural impact of the sketch goes beyond humor as the term “spam” for unwanted email originates here.
3. The Spanish Inquisition!
“Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise! Surprise and fear! Fear and Surprise! Our TWO weapons are fear, surprise…and a ruthless efficiency! Amongst our weapons…”
The three-part sketch usually begins in another sketch as soon as someone says the phrase, “Well, I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition!” Then burst in three cardinals: Fang, Biggles, and their leader, Ximeniz, who proceed go on about their tools of persuasion and attempt to coerce confessions through comically pathetic means such as trying a person to a comfy chair and hitting them with soft pillows. Showing the Pythons’ knowledge of history, the sketch pokes fun at the fanaticism of the real Spanish Inquisition. Cardinal Biggles is also named after the children’s book character, a pilot, hence why Terry Jones wears the aviator’s cap. The final sketch of the episode wraps up the cardinals’ appearance and ends in a most unexpected manner.
2. Nudge Nudge
“Is your wife a goer? Know what I mean? Know what I mean? Say no more!”
Eric Idle originally wrote the sketch for another show, but it ended up being rejected, and Idle admitted that a lot of the humor derives from the delivery. In it, Idle approaches Terry Jones at a bar and begins hitting him with fast-paced innuendo about Jones’ wife to which Jones responds with confusion. Winking and nudging his way through suggestion after euphemism, Idle finally gets to the hilarious point of his questions. It’s hard to explain what makes this sketch so funny, it just has to be experienced, so experience away!
1. The Dead Parrot Sketch
The sketch anyone who has ever heard of Python knows. Seriously, we do a Python panel at Dragon*Con every year and there is *always* somebody who wants to read from it. Also known as the “Pet Shop Sketch” or simply “The Parrot Sketch”, it involves John Cleese attempting to return a dead parrot to Michael Palin’s pet shop after the latter fraudulently convinced Cleese it was only sleeping. Other than the fight between disgruntled customers and fast-talking shop owners, the sketch parodies the many British euphemisms for death, with Cleese admitting that he and writing partner Chapman used a thesaurus to find every possible way to say something was dead. Depending on which version you watch, there are several potential endings, including Palin starting “The Lumberjack Song” or asking Cleese “Do you want to come back to my place?” Palin and Cleese have performed the sketch on various programmes over the years, including one turn on Saturday Night Live.
What’s your favorite Monty Python sketch? Let me know in the comments!