…Walking into the men’s room during a class break and running into Lorne Michaels…
What’s better than teaching a PythonProv workshop at the iO Chicago for 16 students from around the world?
Remembering to take photos of the class so that I could have posted them here…
I can see where the party will be after class today!
Here’s an article on how Monty Python nearly ended before it began:
Although there isn’t much longtime fans didn’t know, it never hurts to point out how precarious history can be, and how important it is to save, document, and archive as much as possible.
Just a few things to point out. Terry Jones usually told me that it was Flying Circus editor Ray Millichope who gave him the warning that the Python shows were going to be taped over, but there were a couple of times that he credited someone in the archive department. Terry usually sat in with Millichope and series director Ian MacNaughton when the Flying Circus shows were being edited, which drove MacNaughton crazy at first, but Terry and Millichope became much friendlier. I suspect–and this is only a guess–that Millichope found out about the planned videotape wiping from someone in the archive department, and he passed the news along to Terry. Or, Terry became such a familiar face in that area of the BBC while he sitting in on the editing, that someone felt comfortable enough to pass the news on to him. While Terry doesn’t remember anymore, his presence at the BBC is almost certainly the reason he got the phone call.
For a short time, Terry was convinced that the videotaped copies he had at his house would be the only evidence that Monty Python ever existed, and he wanted the tapes to show to his children some day.
But it was right around this time that PBS made their first overture to the BBC about Python. It did not end well, but it gave the BBC the idea that these programs just might be worth keeping after all. And sure enough, a short time later, Ron DeVillier successfully convinced the Dallas PBS station to try the show in America. And the rest is comedy history.
And by the way, the videotape reels were not small back then, and they took up enormous shelf space, which was another reason the BBC didn’t want to keep anything they didn’t have to.
But Monty Python was almost forgotten for another reason. If they had launched Flying Circus a year or two earlier, it would have probably been in black and white instead of color. By the late 1960s, black and white shows were much less marketable than color programs, both in Britain and abroad, and there would have been much less reason for keeping them around. That’s why so few BBC comedy shows from the 60s survive–to the BBC, they looked old-fashioned and much less interesting than anything in color. And that seems to be a huge reason why Python pre-cursors Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show were thought lost–and why it has taken so many years to reconstruct both series. John says that except for the faces, the final 1948 show was not very different from the first Python shows–except, of course, the latter were in color.
It’s amazing how much that could have been easily saved, was instead wiped and thrown out. I know that several of the scenes cut from Life of Brian were saved on videotape by Terry Jones when the film was being edited. Those are apparently the only copies that still exist. One time when I was visiting Terry at his house in the ’80s, he showed me the deleted scenes on his VCR; it’s hard to believe that those were the videotaped versions used for DVD extras when the deluxe version of the film was released. The film copies were apparently thrown out, possibly as a cost-saving measure.
Less than five years ago, one of my students mentioned that he had seen some rare outtakes and rehearsal scenes from Meaning of Life, thanks to a professor friend in the Southwest U.S. I was skeptical, but discovered that he had, in fact, a large box of videocassettes from the film. It turns out that a friend of a friend knew Terry J, and when they were having dinner, Terry mentioned that he had all sorts of tapes left over from editing the film, and he was about to throw them out (he had recently finished the film). The professor recognized their value, and offered to take them. As a result, I was able to contact him, and today the Meaning of Life outtakes, rehearsal scenes, and alternate takes are all in the Python archives in London. Don’t be surprised to see them turn up on DVD when the time is right.
So, there are success stories, and we can only hope that in the future, even more Python material will turn up.
The Pythons always give credit to the BBC for giving them almost unprecedented creative freedom, but the penny-pinchers there almost wiped out the results of that freedom. Let’s be grateful that they didn’t succeed.
Visit Kim “Howard” Johnson’s author’s page at amazon.com
We had a great crowd and a great show last Sunday when we presented “Pythons in a Van” at the iO Chicago as the student show for my Python Process class.
If you missed it, you have a chance to see its silly cousin, “Sunday Night Live,” at the Farley Cabaret in the iO at 7 pm this Sunday night, June 19th. Different show, a few familiar faces, and an awful lot of laughs. This is a great group of students and some terrific writing, and it’s absolutely free.
If you missed Colin Jost in town this week at Zanies, we have our own Colin Jost, sort of. And our own version of Michael Che. And pretty much doppelgangers for the whole cast (at least the ones we need, anyway). You don’t have to travel to New York, or stay up until 10:30 (and the older you get, the more appealing this will be. Trust me.). It’s the best deal in town!
A couple of cheap laughs–actually, they’re free!–are coming up if you’re in the Chicago area in June.
You may already know that I teach at the iO Chicago. Well, this session, I’ve been teaching two writing classes.
The first, for the great Michael McCarthy’s Comedy Lab, is an SNL Sketch Packet class, designed so that at the end of our eight week session, the students will have a packet of sketches ready to send out to seek representation.
The second class is my Python Process class, in which I teach my students how to use the methods used by Monty Python to write sketches more efficiently and more creatively.
At the end of our eight week sessions, each class will be casting and directing a staged reading in the Chris Farley Cabaret at the iO Theatre. And those days are almost here!
This Sunday night, June 12, we will be presenting “Pythons in a Van” at 7 pm. We auditioned and cast our actors for this show yesterday and, honestly, I’ve never heard this much laughter from a group of jaded actors reading student sketches. This is going to be very funny.
And next Sunday at 7 pm, June 19, we will be presenting “Sunday Night Live,” featuring our talented writers and an amazing cast doing some equally funny sketches in the style of SNL.It’s a wonderful mixture of writers and performers that range from a very talented high school student writer to my old pal and fellow Baron’s Barracudas member Bill Russell, who keeps getting funnier and funnier as he gets older and older, and is sidesplittingly hilarious in these shows.
And the best part is, you’re all invited. It is absolutely free.
Come and laugh.
And by the way, if you like what you see, I’ll be teaching two more classes starting Sunday June 19. The first is Talk Show Packet for Michael McCarthy, and if you show up and do the work, at the end of the eight weeks, you will have a packet of material and know how and where to submit it.
The second, for improvisers, is a session of PythonProv, in which we used Monty Python to affect our longform improv. My last group did a series of four shows at the iO, doing some pretty amazing work. If you’d like to be a part of it–for either class–be sure to contact the iO at email@example.com. End of commercial.
Honored to join the ranks of The Simpsons pop culture references last night!
Thanks for the shout-out, Homer (and the whole Simpsons gang)!
It was on May 5, 1943 that the youngest of the Pythons was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Today, he’s still the youngest Python, and no one is able to keep up with him. So all I can say is happiest of birthdays to my pal, Michael Palin, and many, many, many more!
Busy, busy, busy… Friday night will see the last PythonProv performance (for now) of Spiny Norman, the team I’ve been exploring improvised Monty Python with at the iO Chicago.
And Sunday, I’ll be starting two more classes: my Python Process class, which will teach students the Pythons wrote, and how to use their methods to improve your own sketch writing.
But that’s not all. Also on Sunday, I’ll be teaching the SNL Sketch Writing class developed by my dear pal Michael McCarthy as part of the iO’s terrific writing program!
I always tell my students that, unlike many other writing programs, when you finish one of Michael’s writing classes, if you do the work, you’ll walk away with a complete portfolio package that you can start sending off to agents. Not bad, eh?
And in eight weeks, I’ll even have a crop of graduates ready to put on shows!
But both classes are filling up rapidly, so if you’re interested, call or email the iO Chicago now.
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@ioimprov #improv #montypython
…You may recall that I’ve been teaching PythonProv–where Monty Python and Improv come together–at the iO Chicago theatre recently. My Level 2 class is wrapping things up in a big way–with a free show this Friday night at 7 pm in the Jason Chin Cabaret at the iO.
This one is going to be fun, folks, and a great way for the class to go out in a blaze of glory. You’re all invited. End of commercial.