Favourite Lesser-Known Monty Python Sketches? - Macleans.ca

Favourite Lesser-Known Monty Python Sketches?


Here’s a question for the Monty Python 40th anniversary festivities: what’s your favourite Monty Python sketch that isn’t (in your opinion) all that well-known? It’s hard to define which sketches are particularly well-known, apart from the obvious ones like “Dead Parrot,” “Argument Clinic,” “Silly Walks,” and other sketches featuring Cleese and Palin (they did seem to team up a lot in the sketches) plus “Lumberjack Song” and a few others. But everyone who watches a sketch comedy show regularly has a favourite sketch or two that doesn’t seem to be talked about all that much. What’s yours with Python?

One sketch I consider one of their best, even though it definitely doesn’t seem to be one of their best-remembered, is the “Railway Timetables” sketch. An Agatha Christie-style country house murder mystery starts with the characters discussing the train that one of them will be taking to Basingstoke. Then after they find the dead body, they keep talking about train timetables. And every new character who enters is obsessed with train timetables. And finally that’s the key to the murder. The sketch is classic Python for me, because it starts as a parody of something recognizable (in these country-house mysteries, characters are always talking about taking the [fill in time] train to London or some obscure hamlet), then keeps hammering away at its theme until it goes beyond parody into absurdity, keeps ringing in new variations on the theme (“How could anyone shoot himself and then hide the gun without first canceling his reservation?”), and requires all the actors to memorize and recite some pretty complicated dialogue. But no matter how crazy it gets, it never stops being an accurate parody of old-fashioned drawing-room mysteries, so it works on two levels: as parody, and as absurdity for its own sake. Which is pretty much true of most good Python sketches.

Plus it has a decent role for Carol Cleveland, who rarely had much to do in the episodes but was by far the most valuable non-Python performer on the show, since she could keep up with the regulars while playing all the female parts they couldn’t do themselves.

This upload includes the follow-up sketch, John Cleese’s commentary on the meaning of the play we have just seen, which is one of the best stream-of-consciousness monologues the show did, and which many people prefer to the sketch itself.

What are your favourite obscure Monty Python sketches? (I’ll try and find YouTube links to them; most of the Python sketches are there.)

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Favourite Lesser-Known Monty Python Sketches?

  1. I don't know if it qualifies as obscure or not but I am brought to tears by the Fish-Slapping Dance. It is sheer absurdist joy.

    • "The Fish Slapping Dance." That does seem to be one of everybody's favourites, and yet it's not all that well known — maybe because it couldn't be done life.

    • "The Fish Slapping Dance." That does seem to be one of everybody's favourites, and yet it's not all that well known — maybe because it couldn't be done live.

    • "The Fish Slapping Dance." That does seem to be one of everybody's favourites, and yet it's not all that well known — maybe because it couldn't be done live.

      (After writing the above, I checked Wikipedia and found that they say the same thing about it — it's not as well-known as it should be because it couldn't be done in live shows. No one will ever believe I wasn't cribbing from Wikipedia.)

  2. The Bruce's Philosophers' song.

  3. Oh, this is a good topic. There are all sorts of possibilities. But the one Monty Python sketch that can always make me smile. It's called "Historical Impressions" as it has Julius Caesar as a Cockney comic, Napoloen as a famous airship disaster (the British version of the Hindenburg), and the key bit for me, Michael Palin as Cardinal Richelu, as Petula Clark singing "Don't Sleep in the Subway."

    Of course, there are all kinds of others, such as

    –The Fish Slapping Dance
    –An idiotic trial with Cardinal Richelu as a defence witness ("Curse you, inspector. You are too clever for us naughty people.)
    –The opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    –Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: "Oh God, you are so big.)
    –Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Norwegian Party (it's just so tasteless)
    –Twentieth Century Vole
    –The Bishop
    –Atilla the Bun
    –Scott of the Antarctic
    –Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook
    –Whicker's World
    –Life of Tchiakovsky
    –Sam Peckinpah's "Salad Days"

  4. Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Wood Party (who manages to fall through the earth's crust)
    Storage Jars
    Travel Agent / Watney's Red Barrel
    The job interview with John Cleese & Graham Chapman ("5-4-3-2-1!")

  5. Partisan's list covers a lot of my favorites, but since the original post mentions Carol Cleveland, I'll point out that her part (as the actress who never acted outside of a trench, groove, or furrow, and "played Mrs. Jesus Christ in a geological syncline") makes "Scott of the Antarctic" for me.

    And the Gilliam animation of Rodin's kiss probably made me laugh harder than anything, ever, the first time I saw it.

  6. Mr Hilter

      • I have always loved the line, "Excuse me not shaking hands, but I"ve been rubbing a little lard on the cat's boil."

  7. I forgot two others:

    —The Architect's sketch
    —The Naval Expedition to Kae Tahoe ("…may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit, but all new ratings are warned that if they wake up in the morning and find any toothmarks at all anywhere on their bodies, they're to tell me immediately so that I can immediately take every measure to hush the whole thing up. And, finally, necrophilia is right out.")

  8. Ant Poetry!

    Also, another vote for Mr. Hilter.

  9. Everyone knows "Nudge Nudge" but there are a bunch of other great Eric Idle sketches that seem to get overlooked: the butcher who alternates between being nice and rude with each sentence, the registrar who thinks the man asking for a marriage license wants to marry him, the mass murderer who apologizes at his trial, the travel agency sketch (with Idle's lengthy monologue) and "Timmy Williams' Coffee Time" (a scathing parody of David Frost)

  10. Philosopher's Football Match!
    I love it.

  11. "Why do you want to join the secret service? Can you keep a secret? Well, you're in then"!
    John Cleese and i forget???

  12. Another fave is their musical mocking of cheesy travel adds. To whit:
    The Findland song.

  13. definitely philosopher's soccer, unless it's attack by fresh fruit or gumbie brothers or the bruces or spam,spam,spam,spam…..

  14. Any skit where John Cleese appears in that long blonde wig — kills me — sometimes he's an undertaker wearing the mourning bonnet, or the one where you hear a clickety clack sound coming from a cottage, and when the camera finally zooms in, it's Cleese, in the wig, typing. "And now for something completely different…"

    40th anniversary! How can it be so? How freaking old am I, anyway!?

  15. I like the LP sketches especially Wilde vs. Shaw and the glam rock history of British agriculture

  16. Ralph Mellish.

  17. Dennis Moore – stand and deliver!

  18. When I was a kid I saw one small bit on TV about fleas climbing a mountain. left me breathlessly rolling and laughing on the floor.

  19. It's probably not quite "lesser-known" around here, as someone always links to it every Canadian election, but Election Night Special.

    • Another vote for the Election Night Special. The names of the Silly Part candidates just kill me!

  20. So many great sketches.

    One of my favourites is the end of the world sketch. Slays me every time.

  21. Blackmail. "We'll be seeing more of that photograph later in the program … unless we hear from Charles or Michael."

    • For literary fans:
      The Thomas Hardy novel sketch.

  22. There are so many. Some have already been mentioned here: How Not To Be Seen, the Fish Slapping Dance, the funniest joke in the world, the Pither cycling tour. ("Mother! So this was all a dream." "No, dear, this is the dream. You're still in the cell.")

    Some more:

    – the flying sheep sketch ("Notice further that they do not so much fly as plummet.")
    – the Exploding Blue Danube Waltz
    – the Battley Townswomen's Guild re-enacting the Battle Of Pearl Harbor
    – the department store sketch in which everybody has to get into the tea-chest and sing
    – the Four Yorkshiremen sketch from the Drury Lane album ("Cardboard box? You were lucky.")
    – the duelling announcers who battle over control of a single microphone

  23. "4 Yorkshiremen" talking about the old days is my favorite. I actually knew people from Yorkshire and they were always going on about the tough times of yesteryear. Good satire always has a smattering of truth in there somewhere.

  24. One of my favorites that no one else has mentioned (or maybe I just missed it) is Crunchy Frog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy6uLfermPU). It just builds and builds, finally coming up with the most perfectly absurd name for the product imaginable.

  25. The Inspector Tiger sketch still cracks me up:

    Lookout: This house is surrounded. I must ask that no one leave the room. I'm Chief Superintendent Lookout.
    Lady Velloper: Look out?
    Lookout: (jumping) What! Where! Oh, me. Lookout. Lookout of the Yard.
    Lady Velloper: Why, what would we see?
    Lookout: I'm sorry?
    Lady Velloper: What would we see if we look out of the yard?
    Lookout: … I'm afraid I don't follow that at all.

    Also the RAF banter sketch:

    Squadron Leader: It's perfectly ordinary banter, Squiffy. Bally Jerry, pranged his kite right in the how's-your-father; hairy blighter, dicky-birded, feathered back on his sammy, took a waspy, flipped over on his Betty Harpers and caught his can in the Bertie.

  26. did you see the sketch that monty python members did long after one of their troupe died? they were kicking his “ashes” all over the stage!! not the best comedic troupe ever, i have to say. benny hill’s crew was by far the best ever.