It isn’t often that memories of Monty Python’s Flying Circus are triggered, but when they are, it’s a fun side street off Memory Lane to stroll down. The successful broadcast of episodes of the breakthrough series by KERA in Dallas in 1974—the first airings in the United States, by the way—led to other PBS stations picking up the show. And before you could say “the meaning of life,” a phenomenon had been born.
I remember watching the show on KERA (literally channel 13 in those days) and being delighted by the sort of comedy collage that they brought to television. Every rule was broken, from the use of cold opens to ending sketches with a random knight in armor showing up and thwacking someone on the head with a rubber chicken to having a formally dressed John Cleese appear to move the show forward by announcing, “And now for something completely different.”
When Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in 1975, all the cool and aspiring-to-be cool kids went out to see it. No one could foresee at that time the effect this merry band of marauding comics would have on the culture, pop and otherwise. The endurance of that influence and the circuitous route my own life has taken can both be demonstrated by the coincidence of my being asked for a light in Schubert Alley.
Spamalot, the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was in previews on Broadway at the Schubert thirty years after the release of the movie. Being in New York at that time, my attending at a performance was de rigueur. Stepping out for a smoke during intermission, a vaguely familiar yet strangely foreign voice drifted over my shoulder. I turned to find a smoker in need with an unlit cigarette. It was Eric Idle.
There was no temptation on my part to say much to a man who had written the book, lyrics, and music for the show I was seeing before its official opening. He needed nicotine and to be left alone. He was still smoking with his back to the theater as I headed back inside. I tossed off, “I’m enjoying the show.” He said, “Thanks.” Anecdote concluded.
My personal favorite bit from all of Monty Python is the fight between King Arthur and the Black Knight in the Holy Grail movie. After observing the Knight’s prowess, the King asks the Black Knight to join him, but the recalcitrant knight refuses and denies the King access to a bridge he needs to cross. “None shall pass,” he repeats. A sword fight ensues in which the King gets the better of the Black Knight, cutting off an arm, the other arm, a leg, and then the other leg. The obstinate knight refuses to concede defeat, continuing to insult and taunt the King. “I’ll bite your legs off,” he threatens as the King passes to the bridge.
The face of the Black Knight is not shown in the movie, but the part was played mostly by John Cleese. It could just as well have been Mitch McConnell behind that armored mask.
The Senate Minority Leader has long been viewed by many as the most ruthless, cynical power player in Washington. Even some of his distractors begrudgingly respect his political calculations while bemoaning his hypocrisy and lack of principle.
Speaking of threatened changes to or elimination of the filibuster, McConnell took to the floor of the Senate this week, promising “a completely scorched-earth Senate” and warning that “majorities are never permanent” while outlining a conservative wish list of issues (right-to-work, concealed carry reciprocity, the right to life of the unborn, etc.) designed to conjure visions of the Republican dystopia that liberals fear most. All this would be accomplished “as soon as Republicans [wind] up back in the saddle” which, of course, can’t be done in the just over two years it took for the Republicans to lose it all.
Threats of this sort, predicated on a future Republican return to power, can’t possibly be fully acted upon until at least 2025. Under the brightest possible outcome next year for the GOP, namely flipping both the Senate and the House, any Republican legislation would only be passed with the threat of veto from the Democratic president.
“I want my colleagues to imagine a world where every single task requires a physical quorum,” fell out of McConnell’s lips, a threat to senators who seemingly fail to show up for work on a regular basis—unlike the majority of the Americans they represent.
Should the Republicans fail to take back the White House in 2024, the timeline for the apocalypse moves even further out to 2029. Perhaps McConnell should stop
staring at his political calculator and invest in a new calendar. And perhaps the entire Democratic party should stand up and say, “Bite me.”
Sometimes, all of this political posturing—and that’s exactly what this is—should go to our spam mail, rather than our regular inbox. Spam, whose meaning changed, courtesy of Monty Python.