In the late 80’s, MTV was doing this thing where it played Monty Python’s Flying Circus every night at 7.
For you young’uns, Monty Python was a comedy troupe made up of philosophy students, medievalist students, and the usual “how are you going to sell your labor with that degree?” mix. Absolutely brilliant comedy bits that ran with a handful of brilliant philosophical problems cut in with the whole British emphasis on politeness and the tension created thereby.
For example! The Dirty Hungarian Phrase Book sketch ran with the whole “assumption of truth on the part of one’s translator” dilemma that gets touched on in the first couple of classes in any given Philosophy of Language course. That is, deliberate mistranslation of phrases, e.g., “Can you direct me to the station?” gets translated to “Please fondle my bum.”
The Cheese Shop sketch where a customer spends five minutes attempting to buy cheese from a shopkeeper who has no cheese to sell (a dark mirror of the pre-Python Book Shop sketch where a customer spends five minutes trying to buy books that do not exist). The Dead Parrot sketch where a pet shop owner tries to explain that the parrot the customer purchased is not dead and the customer is explaining that the parrot is, in fact, dead.
If you knew an 11th grader during this period, you had to put up with him quoting this crap as if he were the first person to discover it despite the fact that it came out 20 years prior… which, I suppose, is understandable because the comedy stylings from around that time were such things as Small Wonder, She’s the Sheriff, Gimme a Break, Too Close For Comfort, and other “how in the heck did this get greenlit?” shows. In the midst of this desert, a flower of philosophical comedy that was *SO* good that their sketches became examples used by professors in the aforementioned Philosophy of Language courses.
The biggest problem with this type of sketch, however, is the whole “how do you make it pay off?” thing and a lot of their sketches seem to meander off because, hey, how in the heck do you make something like The Argument Clinic pay off?
Well, one member of this chaotic comedy troupe was Terry Gilliam, who took some of the tricks that he learned with the Pythons and began to apply them to stories that he wanted to tell.
But we’ll get into that next week.
So… what are you reading and/or watching?
(Featured Image is “Edison’s Telephonoscope” by George du Maurier from Punch Almanack for 1879)