In what is undeniably one of Monty Python's all time greatest sketches, a young John Cleese enters a pet shop run by Michael Palin to report that the parrot he purchased not half an hour ago is dead. "He's off the twig! He's kicked the bucket! He's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain, and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!" he wails — just a sliver of an epic, blustery monologue that fans can surely recite by heart. Now, though, another Python member has tromped onto our stage to herald a tragedy, and it's pretty hard to find the laughs in this one: In anticipation of the Monty Python reunion this July, sole American member and animator Terry Gilliam has made sure to dampen everyone's spirits by announcing that he finds the thought of a Python reunion "depressing" and hopes that it'll be cancelled.
It’s good, seeing each other again, but then you realise that we’re not as sharp because we like each other more. Probably. There’s none of the tension that existed before, which was what seemed to fuel the stuff. It’s harder to do comedy now anyway: we’re older, we’ve become the Establishment we took the piss out of... Actually, the truth is I find it depressing that we’re getting back together again. It’s like, we worked so hard to get careers beyond it, to get to this stage, and now we’re being dragged back again.
To diehard Python-ites, this all must come as quite a blow — the assertion that the troupe was only ever funny because they didn't like each other, the idea that revisiting old material is a torturous drag, that all they ever wanted to do was move on. I mean, it's all true, of course, at least ostensibly; watch any documentary or Behind the Scenes featurette on the group, and they hardly shy away from discussing their interpersonal hardships. Still, the reunion seemed to signify, at least to this reporter, a sort of coming together in aged, goofy brotherhood — a sentiment all of those blithely cheery interviews about "getting together to be silly" supported (interviews, I would point out, in which Gilliam happily participated).
But apparently, it wasn't to be. Even Cleese, who has swapped his past reservations for a more positive outlook, comes across tepid at best: "I don't think that we're particularly excited but we're just very pleased," he told the Sydney Morning Herald in February. "It just should be fun to get out there in front of 16,000 people, 14,000 of whom know the script better than we do." Indeed, with Graham Chapman gone (RIP), Gilliam so publicly, fumingly bitter, and little more than rehash to offer an already sated audience, it hardly seems worth going through with the show at all — doomed even by its performers to be hackneyed at best. You've got to ask, then, why do it?
The answer, of course, is equally as callous: money. According to numerous sources, including the Pythons themselves, most of the members are experiencing some sort of financial trouble, from Cleese's massive alimony debt to Terry Jones's mortgage — and let's not forget the legal fees incurred by a producer suing the Broadway show Spamalot. It's hard to fault Gilliam, then, for his rather literal cries of "sell-out"; such blatant financial motivation is nothing if not Establishment and, yes, rather depressing.
Still, there is one tiny sliver of hope in all this mess — a chance to reclaim the Pythons' former edge. With any luck, they'll find a way to work some serious self-satire into the proceedings, to call out the preposterousness of a reunion show in which every participant is a reluctant mercenary and 70-year-old men relive their twentysomething glory days. I mean, if anyone could do it, it's the team who brought us "The Four Yorkshiremen."
Meanwhile, though, we'll just have to wait and see whether Gilliam's sour grapes might be distilled, come July, into some sort of humorous truth serum, perhaps with a twist of lemming. Otherwise, we may have to officially declare the Pythons ceased-to-be, pushing up comedy's daisies — truly, finally, an ex-troupe.