John Cleese is 74 today! We’re celebrating with an excerpt from If You Like Monty Python… and a hilarious clip from his television special, How to Irritate People.
A regular recurring theme of British comedy is the effect of annoying personalities on the typically reserved, decorous English psyche. Brits have a cultural obligation to face every difficulty with a stiff upper lip, miles of calm, and a patience so wooden you could build a bridge out of it. While this can be effective in most social situations, difficulty occurs when a true irritant arises: someone so pushy, so persistent, so aggravating that he can’t be ignored, and yet simply punching him inn the face would be considered bad form. A fair amount of Monty Python’s humor came from such a conflict, and John Cleese’s classic farce, Fawlty Towers, is practically the definitive statement on the topic. It’s worth it, then, to see the seeds that would eventually bear such marvelous fruit: Cleese’s 1968 television special How to Irritate People.
The slightly-over-an-hour-long show is compromised largely of sketches demonstrating various principles of the process of irritation, with Cleese introducing each sketch with a brief monologue explaining the central idea. There are irritating parents, irritating restaurant hosts, irritating party guests, irritating boyfriends, irritating garage mechanics, irritating elderly women, and so on. The special is hit-or-miss, as many of the sketches (especially early in the show) take the main premise too literally, demonstrating actually annoying individuals and behavior without providing much in the way of laughs. It gets better as it goes, however, and How to… is still worth seeking out, for a number of reasons. There’s Cleese himself, who occasionally looks a little stunned during his hosting duties (though this may be intentional), and the presence of Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Connie Booth makes this a sort of embryonic Python presentation. Plus, some of the sketches work very well, especially a bit about airline pilots near the end, which has Cleese, Chapman, and Palin all working together.
From their perfectly insane television show to their consistently irreverent and riotous movies, Monty Python has owned the zany and absurd side of comedy since their debut. Their influence can be felt in every comedy show that followed them, from Saturday Night Live andSecond City television, to The Kids in the Hall, not to mention all the laughs writ large on the silver screen, where their brand of absurdity opened the doors for such people as Jim Carrey who made a name for themselves by pushing the funny even further.
This is the first book to look at everything influenced by the Pythons, but also at those who came before them – from the classic British comedies to the Marx Brothers, and everything in the Python universe, from Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda to Spamalot and Brazil. If You Like…Monty Python is a book for any fan who has graduated from the Ministry of Silly Walks and wants more.