I grew up watching Monty Python. I loved the hilarious ridiculousness of it. But it wasn’t until I took a class called “The Films of Terry Gilliam” last semester (I know. Be jealous) that I really understood the significance of Python and what they set out to do.
Python is always kind of what I think of when people talk about “English humor.” I guess even here it’s a little more of a niche thing than entirely popular culture, but I think the irreverence of it is quintessentially English. A lot of new movements came from the anti-establishment sentiments of Python, and, especially in a place that is so astoundingly old, it made it okay to make fun of…well, everything. Gilliam’s animations—taking classics like the Mona Lisa and the Statue of David and cutting them apart and making them do stupid things—made sure that nothing was sacred anymore, not even God. I think Americans are a lot of times too afraid to offend anyone to really catch onto humor like that in Monty Python, and I think that’s the one of the biggest differences between us and the UK and also why Monty Python is popular with a smaller, cult crowd in the States. I think the fact that there is so much history here is why the English are okay with making fun of it. It’s nothing to them that a building is 800 years old. I guess Americans still feel that they have to prove themselves, because we’re relatively new on the block, while the English are long established and can just sit back and revel in that.
Okay. To the point. Finally. I had always wanted to see Spamalot, and it seemed perfect that we were going to see it, having grown up believing in its English-ness.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I loved it. What made it so wonderful was the fact that turning it into a musical gave Eric Idle a whole new layer of societal norms to make fun of. There are new cultural things that couldn’t have been taken on in the movie because of the format and the time period. Musicals just can’t be left alone—there are so many things to latch onto with them. I was a little hesitant just because it’s so hard to beat the original cast members, but once Eric Idle appeared as God it was made for me. I mean, Eric Idle is like Monty Python God, and he wrote the play, so it was just too perfect. The play was so current, too; I imagine that the song with all the pop culture references is constantly rewritten to keep up, which is very smart.
I loved when the actors broke character and the fourth wall, because it really continued the tradition of tearing things apart. In any other circumstance it would be very unprofessional, but when Python does it it makes a fantastic statement about the structure of musicals and how we so willingly suspend our disbelief over these silly, formulaic shows. The songs, the dancing, the sets, the lights, are always the same, and it takes something like Monty Python to so publicly point it out. The movie poked fun at musicals a little bit with the scene with the Prince who just wanted to sing, but Spamalot did it to the point that it was overdone, which was on purpose, of course, and was perfect.
It was interesting watching the show with other Americans, especially Americans who may not have seen or liked Monty Python. A few people I talked to before the show didn’t really want to go and weren’t particularly excited about it, but the impression I got afterward was that everyone seemed to really like it. Even if people don’t get the deeper anti-establishment meaning they can still enjoy the silliness.