Monty Python's Flying Circus

Definitely one of the most amazing groups to ever come together and write and perform. Formed around the programming of the BBC in the mid-late '60s, they were all working on different shows either being aired or in production. With educations coming mainly from Oxford and Cambridge (with styles and working relationships formed heavily around these distinctive backgrounds,) they brought a brilliantly deranged and completely new form of comedy to the screens of British television. Though the program was not originally that popular in England, it managed to continue for four seasons on the BBC; however, the final season was shortened to only six episodes and had lost the talents of John Cleese in the only line up change to occur in the run of the original series. Forty-two episodes were aired in all. When exported to the United States, it became an underground hit and catapulted the popularity of the program. After the show stopped production, the group went on to produce films. The first of these was, of course, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Produced with very limited funds coming from sources including George Harrison and Led Zeppelin, this brilliant film is probably the most famous and poplular of the Python works. I will not go into the plot at all because to do so would be a waste of space here (not like that isn't...or that... or that... or this!) and since you've probably already seen it. They then went on to do the Life of Brian, a film about a man whose life starts and ends like that of Jesus Christ, but got severely lost somewhere inbetween... go figure! Then there was their final work together, the Meaning of Life, which can be disappointing if you don't take the time to realize that it is in many ways the best of the lot. I suppose that's left open to serious argument, so please feel free to assault me in E-Mail. There are quite a few albums available to hear what they did as an audio outfit: the best move you can make is to buy the Instant Monty Python CD Collection box set, which has all nine albums on six Cds. Worth the pittance you'll pay for it (around $60... it's SIX CDS!!! COME ON!!!) My only complaint with this is that they set up the tracking as one track per album side... not so bad if you want to listen to the whole album, but a nuisance for radio play or adding to mix tapes.

"Ah, yes, the rattle, yes...very good." - from the Minister for Overseas Development

The group members have all gone on to perform seperately quite successfully. John Cleese continues to do films and adverts (Magnavox and Schweppes, for instance) in addition to doing amazingly well in producing corporate training videos. He's also sick of hearing people talk about his days with Python, and would rather talk about what he's doing now...just in case you run into him. Terry Gilliam is a tremendous director (but you can see those details in my films section.) Terry Jones went on to direct and act as well, releasing Erik the Viking as probably his best. Michael Palin did a show called Splitting Yarns that is very much worth checing out, as well as continue an association with the BBC in various shows. Eric Idle has continued to act in films, most of which are sadly duds; however, he did star in a decent show that lasted six episodes on NBC several years ago that few know of called Nearly Departed. Graham Chapman, is the only one that failed to do anything. Fuck all. Total wanker. Oh...just because he's dead! That's no excuse... the git. (Graham, was probably the most perverse of the group as well as 'the star' actor... This dark sense of humor led to John Cleese reportedly breaking into the Dead Parrot sketch at Chapman's funeral... also reportedly at the request of the deceased. He had a wonderfully sick delight in offending people, so why not do it one last time when people least expect it? What a great guy!) You can't go wrong with Python... they did so much crazy stuff that you have to find some of it humorous.


There are others, but check out the links for these... these are my picks. I might've listed 'And Now for Something Completely Different,' but it's just TV skits reiterated on film... nore trivia than anything.

the Kids in the Hall

This is very possibly the most talented group to ever perform in the television medium apart from Monty Python. Harkening from Canada, they fortunately never moved to the United States to be destroyed by our corporate approach to humor (as in DON'T USE YOUR BRAINS.) They ran from 1989 to 1994 with no cast changes among the five members, with writing and performing quality consistently maintained throughout the run of the show. Material was often extremely strange, with the all male cast playing parts both male and female. All the members of the group are terrific actors and I was hardpressed to decide which member was the most talented before I just accepted the fact that they're all incredible and by means and balances equal...but Dave Foley makes the best woman... though Scott Thompson's Francesca Fiore is a very close second. A constant theme through the show was homosexuality, coming mainly from the fact that Thompson made it very clear to the world that he was (probably still is, actually...) gay. This theme was most openly exploited with his character Buddy Cole, the no-holds barred fag that performed monologues from the bar to the cemetary, often with a cocktail in hand (pinky extended, of course.) Other frequent characters include Foley's boss of A.T. & Love, Bruce McCullough's storytelling Gavin, Mark McKinney's Headcrusher, and Kevin McDonald's Simon Milligan... or Master to Foley's Heccubus. Hmmm.... three guys with Mc in their name. Irish? I wonder... Anway, also worthy of note are Jerry and Jerry Sizzler (two clearly insane people,) also by McDonald and Foley. Why? You ask why? SHUT UP, PRICKS!

I'm not sure whether SNL Producer Lorne Michaels discovered them or just got them their start in the United States, but I have to thank him in any event. A deal was struck with HBO to bring them to American televisions, which is where most Americans caught their first glimpse of the group. In 1992, CBS negotiated to bring them to an even larger audience... most people didn't get them, so that deal didn't last. They are currently being IGNORED by Comedy Central, having had their former time slots taken away from them... grrr... They also released their first film as a group in late Spring 1996: Brain Candy. Originally titled the Drug, the title was changed supposedly to keep controversy to a minimum. The film is really quite good, although it doesn't quite catch the essence of the show as they rarely did long form shows (Chalet 2000 is the only one I know that extended through the entire show, as opposed to Python's flirting with this for several shows, including Mr. Neutron, the History of Ballooning, and the Cycling Tour.) This is available on video: I highly suggest it. But since ending the show, they've all kept themselves rather busy. Foley is most visible in the show News Radio, which is wickedly funny due to excellent writing and a great cast that includes SNL vet Phil Hartman and Ben Stiller Show vet Andy Dick. Mark McKinney was on SNL for a season, but I'm not sure if he's continuing with the show. Kevin McDonald has been in films, including National Lampoon's Senior Trip. Bruce McCullough released a comedy album with some material from the show and music by KitH soundtrack providers Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet... some of this is really great stuff. Scott Thompson has more or less disappeared, apart from hosting the occasional comedy special and maybe perhaps his invasion of cyberspace with SCOTTLAND. But hopefully they shall continue to produce films or do some kind of work together.

the State

Leave it to MTV to bring to us one of the greatest American comedy groups...and then lose them. GRR!!! Ok, I'm not entirely sure what happened with them legally and so forth, so here's what I know. They were picked up in the early months of 1994 as a half-hour sketch comedy show...only three or four episodes were produced. These episodes, however, had some of the greatest comic sketches produced in this country in the past decade or more. They were daring, silly, quirky, and worthy of, well, Kids in the Hall and Monty Python stature. They were also very American without being stupid or aimed at appealing to the lowest possible denominator (as in SNL of the past 15 years and more.) Characters like the rebellious Doug, catchphrasing Louie, and the slickly '70s Barry and LeVon made life a little better in this 'real world' of ours by providing one liners for everyday use: "I'm outta heeeeeere", "I wanna put my BALLS in that!", and "Awwwww yeah...." became the new things you'd say to your friends whenever the mood would hit you...thankfully replacing all those Wayne's Worldisms that had demolished our common sense by sticking around a bit too long. They took some things way too seriously... like the proper storage of cheese. But then they brought on the truth about our school system with the Power Guidance Counselor... and they revealed the inner science in the workings of our hormones. More episodes were ordered, and they continued to throw their unique brand of humor our way. Eventually they got to be enough of a success that the major networks started looking at them. Again, CBS took them on as they did the Kids...and dropped them soon after since they didn't beat the Superbowl in the ratings war. And they've, to my knowledge, not been seen since. They do have a bare bones web-site that's worth checking out. There are also some State tribute pages. There is also a State tape available in stores according to their site, but I've not yet seen it or I'd own it. Oh, they recently signed a deal to produce a film for theatrical release in the next couple of years. Sounds interesting, eh!

the Young Ones

Four students in London, England...supposedly attending University. That they never go to class and never seem to do any work isn't that unrealistic...that's pretty much how the University system works in England. But these guys take it to a new level. They are possibly the most mis-matched house-mates ever. A social poet (and a bad one at that,) an anarchistic pre-med student, a hippie, and a cool person who really isn't all that cool come together to create... a big mess. Together they braved the most harrowing situations known to man - really! Like terrorists, travelling back to medieval times, floods, and the constant pain of having no money... and they do this (oddly enough) while barely ever leaving the house. They are the prototypical slackers - a lesson to us all. This is definitely one of my favorite television shows of all time. The show was written primarily by cast member Rik Mayall with heavy contributions by British comedian/author Ben Elton, mainly in poor taste but with a clever wit and creative turns and twists. The show was not polite at all, and despite being outrageously funny, had a new musical guest each week. This included Madness (the only group on twice, once each season,) the Damned, Motorhead, and King Bishop's Nice Twelve (featuring one Stewart Copeland!) They also featured British comedian Alexei Sayle as a member of the family of their odd landlord (odd that they all looked so similar...almost like they were related or something,) where he would usually provide a soliloquy/stand-up of some sort in addition to taking part in the show itself.

The show had two runs... six shows in 1982 and six shows in 1984. They were first run in this country on MTV... and they ran the same 12 episodes for probably four years. They were extremely well received by the public in certain circles... mainly high school students... and prompted MTV to get a little more ambitious by running the Comic Strip Presents. CSP featured all of the Young Ones except Mike, as well as frequent Young Ones guests Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (who later went on to produce Absolutely Fabulous.) This daring show presented a new story with entirely new characters each week, usually with French, Saunders, Mayall and Edmonson in the cast. Arguably the best of these was Bad News, a tale of an up and coming heavy metal band in Britain (played by the Young Ones minus Christopher Ryan and including some other guy who I've never seen before.) Essentially this was a British rip-off of Spinal Tap, but who cares when it's these guys doing it? It's brilliant. A pale shade of it was released as an audio comedy with several bad metal songs on tape and CD in this country on Rampage records, a subsidiary of Rhino. It's worth a listen. Though CSP was nowhere near as good as the Young Ones in my opinion, it was still a fine show and a demonstration of the versatility of the performers. In any event, the success of these shows prompted MTV to expand their lineup with re-runs of Monty Python's Flying Circus which introduced a younger generation to the show than public television did. Speaking of Python, Terry Jones appeared on the second season epidsode Nasty (the same one with the Damned in it... one of the best episodes.)

After the Young Ones and besides CSP, most of the cast kept busy. Mayall and Edmonson went on to do Bottom on television. Previous to the Young Ones, they had appeared together as the Dangerous Brothers on Britain's Live on Saturday Night program. Mayall also had several film appearances, including the British Whoops, Apocalypse! which also starred Sayle from the Young Ones, Peter Cook from Beyond the Fringe, and Michael Richards of Kramer fame from Seinfeld. His most visible appearance in the States was in Drop Dead Fred, a film that should have been as good as Beetlejuice if it had been better written and directed. While the film had imagination and Mayall was excellent (as usual,) he wasn't enough to overcome a cast that looked like they'd really rather have been in another picture. This is available in the US, as is the Dangerous Brothers video. I don't think Bottom has made it over. Young Ones regular Sayle had his own show on British television and published a book or two, he is probably most notable for American audiences in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the sultan...where he is seen for about thirty seconds. Nigel Planer released Neil's Heavy Concept Album in the UK, from which a video for the Traffic cover "Hole in my Shoe" made it to the US. I've never seen or heard anything else from this one song, which I only saw once on MTV nearly ten years ago... when the big M was still cool and aired this stuff.


Red Dwarf

From the minds of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor comes one of the most original sci-fi sitcoms of all time. More laughs than Star Trek! Funnier characters than Battlestar Galactica! A damned good show! Ok, the premise of the show is akin to Lost in Space - a mining vessel, was allowed to continue off course for three million years after the entire crew was killed in a freak accident... all of the crew save one. Lister, the lowest ranking member of the crew, was placed in stasis (and therefore not able to age for the duration of the journey) as punishment for not surrendering his pet cat (as a germological threat to the ship and crew) to the captain. As a result, Lister is the last surviving human being in the Universe. But he's not alone. During his time in stasis, the cat had children (it was preggers,) which proceeded to reproduce and evolve into a species of cats remarkably similar to humans... but with more style. One cat is left (named Cat, ironically,) for reasons that you'll have to watch the show to understand. Also on board is the ship's computer, which had, in the three million years it took for the radiation to decompose to a safe level for Lister to be released, gone a little bit bonkers. It was this computer that brought back the arch-nemesis of our hero...ironically the second lowest ranking member on the ship... as a hologram. Things do not go swimmingly, being that the two are complete opposites. Where Lister is a total and utter slob who doesn't really care about his position or about authority for that matter, Rimmer is a by-the-book, paranoid, obsessive compulsive, megalomaniac. Plenty to go on there. The group proceeds to travel through the Universe, confronting everything the creative duo of Grant/Naylor can dream up, in an effort to return back to where Earth is thought to be.

The show is still in production. It went through six uninterrupted seasons of six shows each. Then there was an absence for a year. Craig Charles (Lister) had been brought up on charges of statutory rape (having sex w/ a minor to the uninformed,) charges for which he was cleared, by the way. The time off was stressful for several obvious reasons, however, and the team of Grant and Naylor has since split up and only one of them is writing the show now (not sure which one...) But Red Dwarf is back.

Grant and Naylor had previously worked together on the now cancelled British show Spitting Image, which ran two specials in the United States and whose characters are featured in the well-known Genesis video "Land of Confusion." That's right... the puppets. As for the cast, I have no idea what else they've done before or since. As a bit of trivia, an American pilot for this show was produced several years ago... and it's horrible. Either the writers had no idea of what American audiences found funny or American audiences have no idea what is funny. I think it's a combination of the two. It is available only as a bootleg as far as I know. The British series itself, however, is released and available from CBS-FOX/BBC home video. There are also two Red Dwarf novels available in this country...Red Dwarf and Better Than Life.

Not Ready For Prime Time Players (SNLs first season)

Oh, sure, the show has had a lot of really great cast members over the years, including Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, David Spade.... the list goes on. And hows about that season with Robert Downey, Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall, huh? But do you really think they ever beat that first one? John Belushi? Chevy Chase? Dan Aykroyd? Jane Curtain? Gilda Radner? Lorraine Newman? Garrett Morris? Damn, they were smooth. They made the show. They defined the copies. Yes, this was quite possibly the coolest live show that ever was. Dig it. They defined the way TV should make fun of politics. They picked on all the stereotypes and did it well. They were dashing, They were daring. Most of them went on to make really bad movies later on... but Chevy Chase made Caddyshack and Fletch! Aykroyd and Belushi made the Blues Brothers and Neighbors! Yes, this was the cast that made it all happen. They have an album out with cuts from that first season that I recommend. You can also catch re-runs on Comedy Central... well worth your time.

Black Adder

Through four different time periods in four different series tied together with characters all descended from the last, this series rewrote a proud British history into... well, let's just say it's not pretty. George Washington would have been close to Nixon and Noxon would the same rules apply here. The brainchild of Ben Elton (also of Young Ones fame) and Richard Curtis, and all starring the versatile Rowan Atkinson, this show is staggeringly popular on both sides of the Atlantic and has sadly seen its end over its four incarnations.

I realize this description is cryptic, but the show must be seen to be understood properly. But let me explain further anyway. The key character in every series is one Edmund Blackadder. In the first series, he is snivelling, coniving, greedy bastard plotting to take control of the throne of England by hook or crook from his father, King Richard IV. (This should be a dead give-away in the case that you know a slight bit about English history.) In the next series, he is a rather upright, conniving, greedy bastard trying to get out of sticky situations during Elizabethan times. The third places him as a (yes...) conniving, greedy bastard/domestic servant to the Prince of Wales during the reign of King George trying to make as much social progress (and money) as possible. They fourth places him in the trenches of France during the First World Was as a conniving, greedy bastard who just happens to be a captain in Her Majesty's Army...trying to get out of sticky situations as they present themselves. Confused? Don't be. Watch the show. There are incredible casts and guest appearances throughout the show. Rik Mayll of the Young Ones appears in one episode each of the first two seasons. Peter Cook of Beyond the Fringe appears in the first episode of the first series. Miranda Richardson of Crying Game fame is the Queen Elizabeth herself. Hugh Laurie appears in the second half of the series as well as the final episode of the second. Brian Blessed of Flash Gordon and Cats fame is King Richard IV in the first series. Also on the show are such individuals as Robbie Coltrane and Nigel Planer of Young Ones fame.

Rowan Atkinson has since come over to the United States to try to break into films and hasn't done the greatest job in landing parts that befit his talents. He was Valeria Golino's father in Hot Shots: Part Deux. He also appeared as the priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral. I don't think he's done much else here.

Flash Speaks! - from Black Adder II (Rowan Atkinson & Rik Mayall)

Mr. Bean

The first time I saw Mr. Bean was when the amazing Mr. Hobba and I went to see Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey in the theater. After the trailers had run, a film was put on the screen. What in the name of piss is Mr. Bean? Then we saw the name.... ROWAN ATKINSON! We both looked at each other and went nuts. What followed was a character in the vein of Charlie Chaplin. A clutz, not terribly lucky, but in a situation to meet the Queen of England. That was the first thing I saw of Mr. Bean. While attending school in the UK, I saw several more episodes and was completely impressed with his ability to perform a character without his usual witty dialogue. Great stuff.

Mr. Bean is a rather simple man whose dialogue usually consists only of him saying his last name in a terribly deep voice. I may just have to put a soundbite up at some point to give you a clue. Now, Mr. Bean has a terribly strange way of going about things, but he's wonderfully clever in the ways he does so. He frequently gets himself into trouble, whatever he does. I'll expand this a bit later... once I find the words.

Mr. Bean was run on HBO for a time and can still be seen on PBS occasionally in some markets. There are at least six tapes available on the US market. For some, this may be the only way to see Bean... do it.

EXTRAS just for the hell of it...
Dennis Miller
Andy Kaufman
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast