Why Monty Python’s reunion should be hailed *(even if not something completely different)

November 21, 2013

As the Variety e-mail alert dropped into my inbox Thursday morning with all the thudding subtlety of an enormous animated foot, I had to check it twice to make sure this wasn’t the Onion. Or spam.

Or, in this case: “Spam, Spam, Spam. And Spam.”

And the fact my response to this news was a Pavlovian bark of dusty punch-lines told me everything I needed to know about the news:

I am pleased that the living members-slash-comedy gods of the Monty Python troupe are descending from Olympus to reunite, if only for a night. Because their sketches of yore are so ingrained on my brain, I welcome a single live show that trots out some of the old hits.

“Bring out your dead.”

Yearning for a Flying Circus return, of course, isn’t just about singing along to lumberjack tunes as if you were screaming “Free Bird!” The troupe’s reunion, reportedly for the first time in some 15 years, is about celebrating the five surviving members. This show — planned for July 1 at London’s O2 Arena — isn’t just about, say, Eric Idle and John Cleese getting together for a moderated memory-tour chat. With this, we get a performance by the quintet, the entire surviving complement — the full Monty.

Python can’t come out and trumpet such celebratory sentiment, of course. Too much saccharine, not enough malt vinegar. They smartly go darker, appearing at a London news conference Thursday beneath the banner: “Monty Python Live (mostly)” — with, reports Variety, “an image of a giant foot in a grave-yard, with the motto: ‘One down, five to go.’ ”

(Missing member Graham Chapman died in 1989. And unfortunately, as the joke goes, not even a cartoonist — such as the troupe’s Terry Gilliam — can reanimate him.)

“And now for something completely different.”

This stage show will inevitably be partly a night to get nostalgic. Python-heads don’t need something completely different. Just sort of different.

Cleese rightly said at the news conference: “People do really want to see the old hits, but we don’t want to do them in a predictable way. The main danger we have is that the audience know the scripts better than we do,” Variety reports.

What’s the worst that could happen? A loud audience love-in? According to the Telegraph, Terry Jones said Thursday that he worries the troupe could ruin its legacy. Which, of course, is rubbish. This isn’t Spinal Tap mounting a reunion tour of America. This is a one-night stand with an old flame — one who also gives great quote and anecdote.

Michael Palin said the material is encouraging, the Telegraph reported from the presser, and Cleese said that it “suddenly feels funny again” and that the live audience’s response will be crucial to the humor.

“Not dead yet.”

Besides, this isn’t mere Idle worship. Python remains part of that essential (mostly) living bridge between “The Goon Show” and “Saturday Night Live.” They might be giants (just look at those animated feet), and they definitely are legends.

If the comedy gods want to muck about for a night — and provided that this filmed concert isn’t really a trial balloon for a full-scale return trip — let them, and us, have our fun. “We quite enjoy getting together to be very silly,” Palin reportedly said Thursday.

Whether experienced live or on DVD, it will be the Night to Say “Ni.”

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