It was a news story that caught my eye and never faded from memory. Twenty-five years ago, the Delaware County Daily Times reported that an Upper Darby police canine officer underwent 10 days of intensive training to become the handler of a Belgian Malinois. Part of the training involved learning Dutch so that he could direct commands to the Dutch-bred dog.
So what, you might say. It’s just the story of a handler learning how to communicate with his canine partner. My wackier side sees it differently. Here is a human being learning a foreign language so that he can talk to a dog.
As such, the episode is speaks an international language that is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as Pythonesque: “Denoting or resembling the absurdist or surrealist humour or style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British television comedy series (1969-74).”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the show and its subsequent movies and spinoffs. The occasion invites us to flex some Python muscle, even if we are mainly preaching to the choir (and not the choir invisible).
I will leave the analysis and interpretation to others who celebrate the milestone. I’d rather focus on the irony, the delicious incongruities and the sheer humor that have kept me in stitches for a half-century. What makes things even more delectable is that so many of the sketches are a history and literature lesson woven into comedy.
The Pythons can take a single, famous Oscar Wilde quote, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” and out of it spin an entire skit of famous authors insulting the King of England with one another’s put downs.
They can reduce Marcel Proust’s seven-volume, 3,000-page, Remembrance of Things Past into the All-England Summarize Proust Competition, in which each contestant has 15 seconds to sum up the magnum opus.
In Life of Brian, they can caustically opine on the Roman Empire: “Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
Pythonesque: “Denoting or resembling the absurdist or surrealist humour or style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British television comedy series (1969-74).”
And they can turn Cardinal Armand du Plessis de Richelieu, first minister under King Louis XIV of France, into a character witness in the trial of a man accused of a parking offense.
They never waste an opportunity on a name. We have Norman St. John Polevaulter, the man who contradicts people; Ricky the Magic Pixie, who has an ulterior motive in visiting Daisy Bumble in her tumbledown cottage; Mr. Wensleydale, the man with the cheese name who runs the cheese shop that sells no cheese; Inspector Dim of the Yard, who exposes Cardinal Richelieu as a fraud, and Dr. E. Henry Thripsaw, who craves having a disease named after him. There’s also a cast of colorful others, such as Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson; Mrs. Two Lumps, the errant tea server in the Ministry of Silly Walks, and Arthur Frampton, a man with three buttocks.
And would anyone have otherwise known that there is actually a cheese called “Stinking Bishop?”
Those who have been fired or are about to be may wish to bone up here on how to get even with the boss. You might try “Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!” (the Abuse Room in the Argument Clinic). Even better would be the invective from the rejected developer in the Architect Sketch: “This is just the sort of blinkered Philistine pig-ignorance I’ve come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome, spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker’s cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement!”
But perhaps the best ingredient of any sketch is the ever-present stream of consciousness.
My favorite would be that of Harry Larch, the parking scofflaw pleading for mercy before being sentenced:
“Well … I’d just like to say, m’lud, I’ve got a family … a wife and six kids … and I hope very much you don’t have to take away my freedom … because … well, because m’lud freedom is a state much prized within the realm of civilized society. It is a bond wherewith the savage man may charm the outward hatchments of his soul, and soothe the troubled breast into a magnitude of quiet. It is most precious as a blessed balm, the saviour of princes, the harbinger of happiness, yea, the very stuff and pith of all we hold most dear.
“What frees the prisoner in his lonely cell, chained within the bondage of rude walls, far from the owl of Thebes? What fires and stirs the woodcock in his springe or wakes the drowsy apricot betides? What goddess doth the storm toss’d mariner offer her most tempestuous prayers to? Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”
For me, the Pythons are the very stuff and pith of what I hold most funny, undiminished, yea, enhanced, by the passage of years.
Bob Martin (Inkwire86@verizon.net) is a retired Inquirer editor and writer.