Summary: 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 and Second 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.
If You Like Monty Python…, by Zack Handlen 7.5
‘If you Like Monty Python…’ is a guide for people who want to explore beyond Monty Python, who have had enough of replaying the legendary British comedy troupe’s limited output repetitively. It’s essentially a short book that introduces their fans to other comedians, comedy shows, funny movies and more.
Ever since I decided to dig deeper into Python, I’ve had this book kicking about – mostly in the loo, where its brief sections served their purpose. But it wasn’t until now that I decided to finally read it through and through; I was curious to find out what Handlen had to say on each of his subjects.
The book is methodically broken down in clear parts, starting with comedy before Python, the Monty Python era, sketch comedy after Python, comedy shows, motion pictures, and then a hodge-podge of other humourous media. It’s a very good overview of what’s out there for Pythonites in search of new chuckles.
Unsurprisingly, as I went through the book, I found that a lot of the references were already familiar to me and, in many instances, not at all new; I have watched a lot of comedy in my time, after all. But it did remind me of a bunch of stuff that I’ve had on the back-burner and should finally get around to.
For example, the Pre-Python section made it clear that I need to get around to the Marx Brothers once and for all. I’ve recently gotten my hands on a boxed set of their films, so that will be one of the more important acts to explore – especially since they’ve influenced as many comedians as the Pythons did.
It also made me curious about the Alec Guinness comedies with Ealing Studios. I enjoy ‘The Ladykillers‘, but haven’t seen any of Ealing’s other films (naturally, I’ve seen many of Guinness’ films and he’s always terrific, even if I don’t like the films, per se). So that’s something else I need to explore a bit.
Then there’s The Goon Show, the Pythons’ greatest influence. Since most of their work was on radio and in print, I suspect that this may be a bit difficult. And there’s Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, whom I’ve only really started to pay attention to with ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball‘ shows. Their work is a must.
The Python years I’ve already covered quite well, but the sketch comedy shows that are somewhat related I haven’t explored much yet. Apparently, the first season of ‘Saturday Night Live’ is essential viewing, and then there’s ‘SCTV’, which I had started once, but didn’t grip me. Perhaps I should give those a try.
Handlen also refers to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s work together, which is also already on my radar due to the ‘Secret Policeman’ shows, and ‘Mr. Show’, which I’ve been meaning to get to. But ‘The Dana Carvey Show’, Big Train’ and ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ had never registered before. I’ll consider those.
The television programme section was interesting because for every show I’d already seen (‘The Muppet Show‘, ‘Police Squad!‘, ‘MST3K‘, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Spaced‘, ‘The Office’, …etc.), there were a bunch more that were already on my radar but that I’d not yet seen, such as ‘Blackadder’, ‘Red Dwarf’, and ‘Newsradio’.
The movies section was less of a grab bag of new things to explore than a confirmation that I’m on the right track – I’ve seen almost all the films he mentions and I’d agree with most of them. The one that stands out the most of the ones I haven’t seen, however, is ‘Idiocracy’, which has come strongly recommended.
The book closes with a brief overview of stand-up comedians such as George Carlin and Richard Pryor, as well as animated shows like ‘Wallace and Gromit’ and ‘The Tick’, which are certainly worth checking out, amongst other things. There are appendices as well, one with Python quotes (and how to use them), and one with checklists.
Frankly, I find this book to be a very good resource for anyone wishing to explore comedy to a larger degree – not even from a Pythonesque standpoint. Some of the connections are sometimes tenuous, with many sections opening with a claim about Python’s humour and then discussing other people’s works.
But it’s nonetheless a pretty good guide.
If anything, it could have benefited from a good editor to clean up the grammatical errors and general slips of the tongue (ex: writing “living” in lieu of “leaving”, and so forth). But it’s otherwise fun to read, informative and makes for an excellent reference book when one needs to find a good laugh.