Back in the 70’s, my siblings and I started hearing some buzz in our schools about a new show that ran at 10:30 on Sunday nights on the Public TV station. Some of my friends said it was hilarious. So I told my Dad about it and though the show came on after my typical bedtime, we stayed up to watch it together. It was zany, outrageous and wild. The humor was manic and anarchist. Monty Python and the Flying Circus.
It used animation, and short skits and sketches that only barely had a connection to each other. I think it was only a half-hour long, but it packed a punch of humor and at that first viewing, my Father and I laughed together so hard at all the craziness. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen before.
As for me, I couldn’t wait to talk to my friends about it and replay some of the best lines from the show. This was the comedy troupe that, over time, would give us things like the Ministry of Silly Walks, a group of Vikings singing the wonders of Spam, and the Cheese Shoppe that refused to sell any cheese. Oh, and also the Lumberjack song, the dead parrot, and the clinic where one would go to engage in a heated, nearly violent argument. After seeing that show with my Dad, I talked endlessly about it the following week, and couldn’t wait for the next Sunday night to consume another half-hour of riotous British humor, of which I now was a complete fan.
We settled in our comfy chairs, this time with the whole family watching because we had talked it up so much. Turns out the show didn’t mind using vulgar humor too, with very questionable language at times! Oops, I shrugged at my Dad as he turned red in the face. British TV wasn’t quite as chaste as American TV in the 70’s, at least. They didn’t mind showing a lot more skin, shall we say, than our American censors would ever allow on television. Suddenly on the screen right in front of our loving, happy, North Dakota family, there was a naked fellow playing piano, filmed from the back and at a little distance! We were shocked, and horrified. My Dad jumped to his feet and shut the TV off! I thought I was about to get in trouble as if I had written this zany stuff myself. But still, I was also trying to hold back my laughter over what we had just seen. It turned out that Dad wasn’t so mad at me for suggesting the show to the family.
No, he was personally and mightily embarrassed because he had enjoyed the first episode so much that he talked it up to his Church Council – he was the pastor there. He insisted they should all tune in on that next Sunday night because he was sure they’d all get a good laugh too. In my memory, the phone rang a few minutes later, and it was the Council President calling up to have a little talk about decency and moral values with my father!
I certainly laugh at that memory because as time has passed, there’s sure a lot more violence and worse that gets presented to our eyes on the TV screens today. Acceptable standards do change over time. I would pass along my own love for zany, silly humor to my children, and for a time, we would watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail every year, typically during Spring Break. And we’d laugh at the Black Knight, and the vicious rabbit, and the strange man at the bridge who said, “Answer me these rrrrriddles three!” All of this came to mind this week because one of the founders of the Monty Python comedy troupe – Terry Jones – passed away. But I do think his humor lives on, and so this is a Pondering in praise of those who help us take ourselves a little less seriously. Who help us laugh at life and it’s surprising twists. Who help us find relief from some of the stresses and burdens we all carry. Laughter sure leads to a release of emotions, and so can bring healing to those who benefit from a regular dose.
“Those who are of merry hearts have a continual feast,” so says Proverbs 15:15. There is quite a lot in Scripture, in fact, about seeking, receiving, and giving joy in our lives. Even Psalm 2:4 says “God, who sits in the heavens, laughs!” I like to think at least a few of those divine chuckles are given over the antics of his hilarious Monty Python fellows.
See you at church where we discover together the joy of the Lord!