Synopsis: This is the story of the OTHER British invasion – the funny one. Monty Python’s astonishing American success was due as much to the passion of well-placed fans as it was to a string of absurdly lucky breaks. being really, REALLY funny helped some, too. Featuring interviews with the Pythons, Hank Azaria, Jimmy Fallon, David Hyde Pierce, and others.
Monty Python Conquers America 7.5
eyelights: the breadth of interview subjects. the thoroughness of the overview.
eyesores: the vacuousness of some of the celebrity interview subjects.
Can you imagine a time when Monty Python wasn’t popular in the United States? Well, the reality is that it took years for the troupe to make inroads there. Whereas Canada had devoted fans very early on (to the extent that the Pythons could take their live show across that country) Americans were slow to open their minds to the troupe.
But when they did, it was explosive.
‘Monty Python Conquers America’ is a 55-minute documentary that was produced in conjunction with the 2008 release of the ‘Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Collector’s Edition’ boxed set. At the time, ‘Monty Python Conquers America’ was only available in there, frustrating long-time fans who already had everything else.
Thankfully, A&E repackaged it with the box set’s other exclusive documentary, ‘Before the Flying Circus‘, in a double-disc set called ‘The Other British Invasion’. Neither appear to have been broadcast anywhere: there is no information on the imdb, A&E no longer distribute Python’s material, and all other sources provide no insight.
It may very well have been produced strictly for the boxed set.
‘Monty Python Conquers America’ begins in London 1970, when Victor Lownes of Playboy Enterprises fell in love with the show and decided to offer the group money to finance a big screen picture. Although at the time they felt that the U.S. would never understand them, they jumped at the chance and made ‘And Now For Something Completely Different‘.
It was an unmitigated disaster: Columbia Pictures, which were distributing the film, didn’t get it and decided to shelve the picture indefinitely. It ended up being shown mostly in the U.K., to a bewildered audience who had already seen most of the sketches. This attempt at introducing the troupe to a new audience was completely squandered.
Their success would come from the most unlikely place: Charisma Records’ Tony Stratton-Smith, who approached them to make an album. Interestingly, Charisma dropped off a bunch of their albums at the Buddah Records offices in New York City one day, and a couple of Python albums happened to be at the bottom of the pile. They were picked up.
It was the start of a love affair with Python: fans (including well-known comedians) would pass the albums around to each other. Then came a few failed promotional attempts, including an ill-fated one on ‘The Tonight Show’, before they made inroads on PBS television. As strange as it may seem, this is where they finally broke through.
In Dallas, Texas, of all places.
‘Monty Python Conquers America’ explores the legal battles that followed and the eventual mass acceptance of Python in the U.S., leading to the infamous Hollywood Bowl performances, which saw 8000 people fill the outdoor auditorium for four nights in a row. It also discusses the impact that they’ve had on popular culture with their unique brand of humour.
What’s appealing is that the programme features a large number of interview subjects – not just the Pythons themselves, but many collaborators and noted comedy big shots such as Judd Apatow, Hank Azaria, Jimmy Fallon, David Hyde Pierce, Carl Reiner, Paul Rudd and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It’s a diverse bunch that are fun to watch.
Ultimately, it’s a good thing that ‘Monty Python Conquers America’ was made available separately: it explains a key aspect of Monty Python’s success in a relatively thorough fashion, filling in the gaps that other documentaries couldn’t. And given its condensed format, it’s perfect for anyone wanting to explore that chapter in Python history.
Date of viewing: March 14, 2015