Monty Python: Live at Aspen

Monty Python Live at AspenSynopsis: See Monty Python through the eyes of Monty Python. The entire troupe, including Graham Chapman (in powdered form), joins host Robert Klein for a chance to spread the blame in this 1998 HBO 30-year retrospective.

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Monty Python: Live at Aspen 8.0

eyelights: the troupe dynamics. Graham Chapman’s presence.
eyesores: Robert Klein’s abrupt questions. the editing.

“We tried to do something that was so unpredictable that it had no shape and you could never say what the kind of humour was, and I think the fact that ‘Pythonesque’ is now a word in the Oxford English Dictionary shows the extent to which we failed.” – Terry Jones

On March 7, 1998, Monty Python reunited on stage for the first time in 18 years at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. It was a form of pre-cursor celebration of their 30th anniversary, being actually their 29th year as a comedy troupe.

Hosted by Robert Klein, the “almost full Monty” and an urn containing Graham Chapman’s “ashes”, sat in a semi-circle before an enraptured audience of celebrity fans and guests for a one-hour question and answer session covering their career.

The result was broadcast on HBO on March 21, 1998, and issued on home video as part of the ‘Monty Python Live’ 2DVD set in October of 2001. It is now available in the many boxed sets that have been produced throughout the years.

It’s a pleasant enough reunion, the only one until their “Live (Mostly)” set from 2014: the five of them reminisce, prompted by Klein, retelling almost verbatim stories that fans have heard before – thankfully not at great length, just enough for recall.

The Pythons did tell a couple of stories that were new to me (such as the Michael Palin improvisation about Carol Cleveland, which put Cleese in stitches) and answered a couple of written questions from fans, much to the delight of the audience.

The key problem is that Klein didn’t seem to do his homework, getting some of his facts wrong at times (saying that he was bowled over by their first album, ‘And Now For Something Completely Different‘) and referring to ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail‘.

Eek.

But the producers did a great job putting the show together, inserting clips at the appropriate moments for maximum effect and cobbling together a good highlights reel at the onset. However, the exchange felt abrupt at times; it was perhaps edited.

Of course, it was brilliant to see the Pythons together again, effortlessly playing off of each other, heckling Eddie Izzard’s effrontery, and even doing a hilariously bitter acceptance speech after receiving the AFI Star Award by the American Film Institute.

Then there’s the Gilliam vs Chapman faux pas, which provoked what Eric Idle felt was the biggest laugh they ever got from a live audience! I found it clumsy the first time around, but had no such objections this time – and even loved the fallout of it.

The show ended with a poorly-contrived performance of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”, which had the crowd singing along. It left me with a nice feeling. The Pythons were a blast, but they purposely teased their audience, leaving them wanting more.

“You’re all creaming your jeans to find ways to rub shoulders with us now.”, John ranted.

He’s so right.

Date of viewing: March 21, 2015

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