Python shows: persistently humorous

February 19, 2006|By ED BARK | ED BARK,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Monty Python's Flying Circus, which first assaulted British sensibilities in 1969, made its American TV debut in 1974 -- in Dallas, of all places.

"It was extraordinary," troupe member Eric Idle says. "I mean, for us it was just an amazement that people were watching it in Dallas ... and were loving it. And then it spread, you know, went around the PBS network."

Monty Python is still being spread thick. The reigning Tony Award winner as Broadway's best musical is Spamalot. DVD collections also continue to proliferate, even though the five surviving Pythons (Graham Chapman died in 1989) haven't worked together on stage or film since 1983's The Meaning of Life.

"We've discovered that the less we do, the more money we make," says Idle, 62.

The latest evidence of this is PBS' three-week presentation of Monty Python's Personal Best. It premieres Wednesday night at 10 (MPT, Channels 22 and 67) with an hour apiece from Idle and Chapman, whose selections were made by consensus. John Cleese and Terry Gilliam's hours are on March 1, with Michael Palin and Terry Jones on March 8.

Producer John Goldstone, who had to deal with the dueling egos during the skit-selection process, says it "became complicated" by the time Jones' turn came.

"He wanted a whole lot of sketches that everybody had already chosen. So we had to negotiate. But everybody chose 'Fish Latin.' And it's in everybody's program."

Early Pythons were heavy on cross-dressing and effeminate riffs that would flunk today's political correctness tests. Holding up better is the "Silly Olympics." Competitions include the "Steeplechase for People Who Think They're Chickens" and a "Marathon for Incontinents." Then again, "The 1,500 Meters for the Deaf" doesn't sound very funny anymore -- and isn't.

Idle says the Pythons won't ever reunite or collaborate on new material -- "not even for ready money."

"We hate each other," he says. "There's so much animosity. We're all over 60. I'm sorry to say this, but comedy is really a young man's game. It's sort of about what you had to say when you were fresh and young. I'm perfectly happy to get drunk with the rest of them ... but I think it should go no further. We've earned that, I think."

Ed Bark writes for the Dallas Morning News.

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