And Now For Something Just The Same?
So the Pythons’ reunion sells out in 43 seconds. There’s life in the franchise yet, but what kind of life? It is that of a reanimated zombie, or a rejuvenated second spring?
In a rather blown-up spat in the Guardian, Charlie Higson and Adil Ray took either side of the argument. To Charlie, they are a wonderful vintage act with lessons still to teach the young’uns, to Adil a fossilised bunch of old farts with nothing to say to a new generation.
I was lucky enough to see the pre-Python Palin perform at a get-together of the Oxford University Etceteras Club (their version of the Footlights). He inspired me for years, and still does. The a-logical buffoonery of “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”, with some of the team that were to become the Pythons, spoke directly to our post-war, break-out, desperate to play generation, and when the Pythons burst out in all their glory a year later it was as if heaven had descended on earth.
It all began with them. Not surrealist comedy – that had been done by the Goons – or madcap characters – ITMA was before them – but intellectually respectable comedy. Comedy with a hinterland. Philosophy, history, abstract concepts were all jumbled in with suburban banality and random nonsense. Marx and Hegel jostled together with Arthur Two-Sheds. It was influenced by Ionesco and N F Simpson as much as by Tommy Cooper, but it was never remotely pretentious.
Spike Milligan and Galton & Simpson were the generation who fought in the war, keen to debunk the fossilised authority of the officer class, a more egalitarian society in view. But the Pythons simply exploded everything. Nothing made sense, the only fun to be had was to turn everything inside out.
That was then. Today’s standups and sketch comedians work in an entirely different landscape. Comedy is more personal and audiences much more knowing. The rules have already been broken and put together again. There is no great cachet now, thanks to the Pythons, of being clever, surreal or literate. It’s just another style choice.
Let the old boys and their audience have their fun and pay off their tax bills. Let them roar “This is an ex-parrot!” together. But let’s not pretend it’s that different from the elderly ladies who scream “Where the nuts come from!” in “Charley’s Aunt” (I love that, as well). They won’t be doing any new material, but I don’t think anyone wants them to. I wish them well, but I won’t be going along (I’d have never made the 43 second deadline anyway).