Christopher Hitchens on Monty Python - Vanity Fair Nov. 2009

Here is the link to the article which has a photo of the guys "smoking" and a video of the photo shoot. :)
The article is below.

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2009/11/monty-python-200911

Circus Maximus
Tim Walker and Christopher Hitchens spotlight the five surviving members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the 40th anniversary of the broadcast that changed comedy. Looks like they had a blast.
By Christopher Hitchens
November 2009

The Cleese-family surname was actually Cheese until 1915, when John Cleese’s father joined the wartime British Army and decided to forestall any possibility of ridicule in the ranks. It’s quite thinkable that a tall, thin master of ridicule named John Cheese could have helped found a comedy team called Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but then would we ever have had the “Cheese Shop” sketch or the “Blessed Are the Cheesemakers” scene in Life of Brian? And these are not the only imponderables. Forty years on since their first broadcast, from those dear dead days when the world contained only one hilarious Palin, is it possible to imagine life before the Norwegian Blue parrot was pronounced dead (and not “pining for the fjords”)? Before “The Ministry of Silly Walks” and the “Summarize Proust” competition? Before Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion paddled to Paris to ask Jean-Paul Sartre to settle their ontological dispute?

There is one American in the crew—that fine son of Minnesota Terry Gilliam—but the essential founding gag of the scheme was the bubbling magma of absurdity that lay beneath the fragile crust of British reserve. At any moment, a man with a bowler hat or an umbrella might become a raging cross-dresser or barking sadist.

Shakespeare always took care to write in at least one sitcom sketch for the plebs, from the porter in Macbeth to the gravedigger’s scene in Hamlet. With Python, the trick was in reverse: egghead allusions to literature and philosophy—the semaphore version of Wuthering Heights; the ballad of the drunken thinkers, from Socrates to Hegel—mixed into a fiesta of manic vulgarity and multiple entendre. A good sign, here, is not knowing when to stop and indeed sometimes not having any idea of how to do so: thus the lavish use of the quenching 16-ton weight, or the admonishing appearance of Graham Chapman to announce that this silliness had gone far enough. (A moment to acknowledge that absent friend: Chapman was lost to us in 1989. He had proudly “come out” long before, when coming out was new, and went on to immortalize both Brian and Biggus Dickus in the single funniest movie ever made.)

There is a thread that picks up from Beyond the Fringe (for the eggheads) and the Goons (for those who like a silly laugh) and stretches from early David Frost revues through to Second City and Saturday Night Live. It’s the Python line, signaled by the deceptively jaunty theme music of John Philip Sousa’s “Liberty Bell” march. Its spin-offs include the popularizing of the word “spam” for electronic junk, and the habit of the late Elvis Presley of calling people “Squire” (nudge nudge, wink wink). It didn’t used to be easy to imagine the Pope quarreling with Michelangelo over the number of figures in a painting (“I’m the bloody Pope, I am. I may not know much about art, but I know what I like”), whereas now it’s impossible not to picture it. Imagine a cartoon version of Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp.’” The piercing screech of the falsetto housewife, the hopeless warblings of the transvestite lumberjack, the deep and fluted tones of the sinister interviewer: these have taught us to always look on the dark side of comedy.

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