In the lead-up to their 10-night run starting tonight at the O2 Arena in London, their first live—er, “mostly” live—shows since 1980, Monty Python have never been afraid of mentioning the lucrative reasons for their reunion. Indeed now they’ve corralled Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts to impress on us even further their self-proclaimed status as “wrinkly old men trying to relive their youth and make a load of money.”
So it’s no surprise that although there is set to be a grand, “exhausting” opening, Stephen Hawking, “special effects,” and a troupe of male dancers to interpret the Ministry of Silly Walks due to John Cleese’s now understandably feeble, 74-year-old knees, the majority of the show—which streams this summer to cinemas around the world—will consist of “classics” rather than new material.
With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 of their top moments that they might be wheeling out for this, their last hurrah.
1) Argument Clinic
Perhaps the definitive John Cleese and Graham Chapman sketch, with the humor being almost entirely verbal, its insights into the complexity of the English language are unmatched in their depth and accuracy.
Belying its roots in radio comedy, its rapid delivery style has influenced decades of modern film and television, including works as far-flung as Aaron Sorkin films and Gilmore Girls.
2) Novel Writing
These days the Monty Python albums barely get a chance, but you’d be remiss not to give them your time—especially 1973’s Free Record Given Away With the Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief, which came bundled in a package with, you guessed it, a matching tie and handkerchief and distributed to menswear stores.
Perhaps a precursor to the later “Philosophers’ Football Match,” “Novel Writing” establishes the Monty Python trope of mashing up high and low art.
3) The Dead Parrot
The most famous of all their sketches is one that will almost certainly be revisited live. While most seem to revel in Cleese’s recitation of synonyms for dead, others simply enjoy that the pet shop has a slug for sale.
4) The Stolen Wallet
Clocking in at just over 30 seconds, this sketch encapsulates a whole generation’s sexual unease and homophobic undercurrents. The joke itself is that this whole contrived exchange has probably been uttered verbatim somewhere in the real world.
5) Upper Class Twit of the Year
Cleese recently opined that he lost his role as Q in James Bond films as non-Brits don’t understand “subtle British humor or class jokes.” However you don’t need to hail from the British Isles to find enjoyment as the inbred upper classes are lampooned in a series of ridiculous contests.
6) Australian Philosophy Department
By no means their funniest sketch but perhaps their most influential. The Philosophy Department of the Australian University of Hullabaloo single-handedly killed off the name Bruce in Australia. To this day I have never met a “Bruce”—or, for, that matter a “Sheila”—and I’m Australian.
7) Four Yorkshiremen
The classic sketch of negative one-upmanship. If the public’s appetite for stories of escalating hardship are anything to go by, there’s certainly no better way at amplifying your own success than by exaggerating your own impoverished upbringing. Jung Chan and Frank McCourt owe a great debt to this one.
8) The Funniest Joke in the World
Basically a shaggy dog story, the joke itself is famously mere gibberish but that’s of course beside the point. An interesting aside: Although the Pythons have never sent any of their fans shuffling off this mortal coil, their contemporaries The Goodies have.
9) The Bishop
As a sort of spoof of Roger Moore’s The Saint, with its flimsy sets and wooden acting, this clip is a standout for its circular repetitiveness. Of course it’s nowhere near as bizarre as some of the thematic choices of its target; a particular episode where the future James Bond fights giant ants stays with me years later.
10) Ministry of Silly Walks
As mentioned above, this won’t be seen in its full glory (due to Cleese having the ACLs of John Elway), which is a shame as it ranks near the top of all physical comedy. The almost believable existence of its ridiculously niche, grant-giving government ministry amazes even 45 years later. If only Cleese’s knees had that sort of longevity.
Bonus: Sven from Swiss Cottage
Peter Cook was not a Python, yet his influence is obvious and credited. In the 1980s he used to amuse himself by calling Clive Bull’s late-night talk show on London radio station LBC as Sven, musing on his hatred of Norway’s obsession with all things fish and fishing and his extremely depressing lovelife.
Screengrab via Monty Python/YouTube