Monty Python’s Ongoing Circus

Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP

It’s been 40 years since Monty Python befuddled its first TV audiences. Among the anniversary tributes is An Evening Without Monty Python, a live revue of cover versions of some favorite sketches, October 6 through 10 at Town Hall. Later, on October 15, the original troupe members will gather at the Ziegfeld to screen their new career-tracing documentary, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut). Justin Davidson spoke with Eric Idle, the Python who has been doggedly recycling his comrades’ jokes in Spamalot and elsewhere, and who is directing the Town Hall incarnation.

How much of the show will be familiar?
It’s all culled from Monty Python, because the best thing about it was the writing, which was fantastic. I defy you to see “The Argument Clinic” without laughing. “Silly Walks” is one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen.

Is it strange directing other actors in scenes you did 40 years ago?
I don’t think it depends on the original Pythons. When we did a reading, some of the actors could just go onstage and be instantly funny, riffing on what was there in the script. This is a revue. It will change, and take on its own life.

Back in the sixties, you targeted upper-class twits, boring BBC nature documentaries, and broad-shouldered housewives in slippers—not the stuff of today’s cutting-edge comedy. Do you find the same things ridiculous now that you did then?
I do. Monty Python is all about human things: mothers and army officers and police. It’s a postadolescent view of the world, which says everything’s much more fucked than we can imagine. Not that we were really adolescents. We’d done about ten years of apprenticeship in comedy before we got our own crack. We knew what funny was. And we knew we wanted to do things we hadn’t seen before.

Was the process of making the original shows as anarchic as the humor?
Not at all. It was a very sensible company. We had to shoot in two hours with a live audience, and very limited time for editing, which we did with a razor blade.

So what’s next in the exploitation—I mean, exploits—of Monty Python?
The European premiere of Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), which tells the story of Brian in oratorio form.

Will it come here?
We’d love to do it in New York, if they’d book us. It takes a lot of people—a symphony orchestra, a choir, and opera singers—for a very, very stupid evening.

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Monty Python’s Ongoing Circus