All I want for Christmas is a ticket to see the Monty Python reunion show in London.
By CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
Im not the only one. When the iconic British troupe of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam (the other founding member, Graham Chapman, died in 1989) announced they would play Londons O2 theater for a single show in July, the 14,500 tickets sold out in 43.5 seconds. Nine more shows were added.
That means 145,000 people will get to see the surrealist superstars. I should be one of them, because Monty Pythons Flying Circus, more than any book, movie or music album, imprinted on me a way of looking at and engaging the world that endures to this day.
My mother was very careful about what shows my siblings and I got to watch on television, understanding the mediums power to create and reinforce positive role models or negative stereotypes.
Julia, starring Diahann Carroll, was allowed because it showed a strong African-American woman in a leading role. The Mary Tyler Moore Show also got the thumbs-up because it depicted a single woman with a successful career. All in the Family was accompanied by in-room commentary; mom needed to make sure we understood Archie Bunkers bigoted ideas were being pilloried, not promoted.
Western and cop shows were out because they glorified violence, and Hee Haw was hopelessly low-brow. Get Smart slipped in under the wire because Dad liked it.
Between moms one-show-a-day limit and the restricted menu of choices, TV was a treat that never really lived up to my keen anticipation.
That all changed in 1974 when Monty Pythons Flying Circus exploded onto the screen of our 26-inch Zenith console when mom was not in the room.
The Flying Circus grabbed me from the animated opening credits with words popping out of flowers, heads hinging open and nude bodies steaming by on top of trains, all set to a rousing John Philip Sousa military march. I had no idea what it all meant, but it seemed subversive and important.
The shows characters and sketches turned reality on its head with men dressed as women, knights attacking bystanders with plucked chickens and Spanish Inquisitors crashing into modern-day living rooms. It changed my perception of reality by showing that it could be denied, questioned or reinterpreted endlessly.
A dignified anchor person, usually John Cleese, gave the most absurd situations gravitas from a cheaply constructed desk that would be placed, with no explanation, in a remote meadow or on a beach. Sometimes the opening titles would not appear until the middle of the episode, other times the end credits would roll in the middle. Some sketches had no proper ending. Instead, an actor might abandon his lines declaring the proceedings simply too silly or a 16-ton weight would fall on a characters head mid-sentence.
That things could begin or end wherever you say was a revolutionary idea for a bored high-school freshman living in a sleepy town on the Chesapeake Bay. Watching Flying Circus, I could feel the invisible boundaries I operated in expanding, I could see the horizon bend.
Even more promising was the notion that intelligence and levity could coexist. At my school, they didnt so much. The smart kids were terribly dull, the fun kids not terribly bright. I had no clue who Cardinal Richelieu or Wittgenstein were, but hearing the hyper-educated Python crew drop their names to make humorous points was enough to make me pay attention later in college history and philosophy classes. The verbal virtuosity in the Cheese Shop and Dead Parrot fine-tuned my ear to language, the first step toward becoming a writer.
In college and beyond, Flying Circus was an acid test for ferreting out kindred souls. Practically everyone liked the Monty Python movies The Meaning of Life and Life of Brian; I thought they were just OK. But if a new acquaintance had the Flying Circus episodes on VHS, that was someone to run with.
The shows immortal catch phrase And now for something completely different crystallized the hyper-pace and lack of context of modern life and is more true today than it was then.
It was meant as a critique, but it became a leitmotif for my life. Unsure what to do next? Try something completely different!
In any situation, my impulse is to do the unexpected because that is what takes your breath away, in a good way. My memory box is full of gems not acquired by doing the safe or familiar thing: living in foreign countries, making wood block prints, flamenco dancing, collecting hand-painted linen postcards and vintage Viewmaster reels of national parks, moving to the country, working for a newspaper. My life is a flying circus and so far, its been a great ride.
I dont have a ticket to the Monty Python show yet, but a trip to London could always become next summers completely different something. Its far too early to tell.