Monty Python

Active - 1971 - 1982  |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

With the blare of a brass band in the background, a big, crushing foot, and a decidedly rude raspberry, five talented comedians and one Yankee animator took Great Britain by storm in 1969. No sooner than Monty Python's Flying Circus arrived on the BBC airwaves than it was taking broad, often hysterically funny potshots at all that British tradition held dear. Even the Queen herself was not spared from their wicked satirical ways. The five core performers, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman, were young but talented comedy writers and performers. The five met while working on David Frost's The Frost Report as writers and performers. After the show's demise, Cleese and Chapman continued writing together and helped produce scripts for The Magic Christian (1969). Cleese also played a major role in the film while Chapman made a cameo appearance. Cleese and Gilliam met while the latter was working on a photo spread for Help! magazine. It was television producer/writer Barry Took who helped the group launch the first episodes of their innovative sketch comedy show in the spring of 1969. The five wrote and performed all the sketches. Gilliam was responsible for the show's distinctive segues in which Gilliam employed cut-outs and placed them upon fanciful air-brushed backgrounds to create an almost grotesque form of simple animation. Initially the show was unofficially known as Baron Von Took's Flying Circus, but when the BBC decided to pick up the show as a regular series, they decided the show needed a catchier name. Several zany titles resulted until John Cleese came up with the last name Python and Eric Idle remembered a character he had met in a pub years before. The stranger had been a dapper sort and every time he came into the pub he would ask the patrons, "Has Monty been in yet?" Idle's compatriots liked the name and so the troupe and the show became Monty Python's Flying Circus. The show ran for three years and developed an enduring cult following. In addition to their television show, the troupe has traveled the world on live concert tours, recorded comedy albums, produced humor books, and has made several feature films, most notably their second and third features, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and The Life of Brian (1979). The team split up for good after their last movie, Monty Python and the Meaning of Life (1983). Though each has gone on to different projects, they occasionally show up in each other's work. Palin and Cleese in particular have worked on projects together, notably A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Fierce Creatures (1994). Graham Chapman died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 48.

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