[purchase the complete Monty Python]
I presume to consider myself to be a pretty funny person, and I like to believe that other people agree with me. If not, I’ve been operating under a serious delusion for a long time. Like musical taste, a sense of humor develops over time, and like musical taste, I suspect most of us who care about such things can point to certain influences on our senses of humor. Clearly, my father, a funny guy in his own right, was an influence on me, and Saturday morning cartoons (particularly Rocky & Bullwinkle, Underdog, Bugs Bunny and The Roadrunner), were an early source of humor. Later in my life, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers, Borscht Belt one-liners, Saturday Night Live, SCTV, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Seinfeld have all been sources that have shaped what I think is funny. And I’m sure I’m leaving some out.
But it is hard for me to imagine how different my sense of humor would be if it were not for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The show aired on the BBC in 1969-1974. I first heard Python on a reel-to-reel tape played for me when I was 11 or 12 at summer camp in either 1972 or 1973 by one of the counselors in charge of the camp radio station (it was a very good camp, and among other things gave me my first taste of radio, something that has led, almost directly, to my writing for this blog). I didn’t know the name of the crazy Englishmen, or really understand everything that they were doing, but I knew that it was funny, and different from anything I had ever heard. In retrospect, what I heard was probably a recording of one of the troupe’s records.
It was not until 1974 that the Flying Circus came to the United States, in New York on Channel 13, the PBS station. I don’t recall whether I first heard about it from my friends, or from an article in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section, but I started to watch in on Sunday nights. I was hooked, and my friends and I began a life-long annoying tradition of reciting bits. This figures into the “how I met my wife” story, but that is, maybe, for another day. It took me a while before I put together the stuff I heard in camp and the TV show and realized that I had been unwittingly ahead of the curve.
My father, for some reason, never got Python, and to this day, it is a point of disagreement between us. (He also doesn’t get Letterman.) Dad was, however, good enough to take me to see “Holy Grail,” in New York City when it opened. I have to admit that even as a big fan, the 14-year old me was a little befuddled by the movie, and it took me a few years and a few re-watches before I truly appreciated its brilliance. And to this day, I still see things through the anarchic eye of the Pythons, who allowed me to understand that comedy did not have rules, and taught me about obscure British politicians and public figures of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Oh, yeah—this is a music blog. The theme song for Flying Circus is an excerpt from Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell March,” chosen apparently because it was something completely different from the spirit of the show.