Watch: How Monty Python Created Modern Comedy

Without the post-modern wisecracking of Monty Python, there'd likely be no modern comedy as we know it. 

The techniques of absurdity, satire, and post-modern reflexivity (i.e., the show/movie comments on what's happening within the show/movie) are indispensable to modern comedy. They can be found in such diverse places as DeadpoolSouth Park, and everyone's favorite intergalactic family saga, the almighty Rick and Morty, to name a fewThis video, from Wisecrack, argues that all these works owe their existence to Monty Python, the hugely influential British group that brought an existentialist glee to comedy and, in doing so, forever changed what makes us laugh.

It all begins, according to this argument, with the idea of postmodernism, first coined by French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard. For Lyotard, all narratives throughout history could be reduced to, at their foundation, an overarching "meta-narrative." These meta-narratives "were stories that provided a pattern and structure for people's beliefs teaching viewers a universal insight," e.g. The Wizard of Oz, stripped of the "Flying Monkeys and melting witches," teaches a broader meta-narrative, best encapsulated in Dorothy's famous words, "There's no place like home." 

What postmodernism does is subvert these meta-narratives, revealing the man behind the curtain, if you will, and reveling in the childlike delight of upending conventional narrative notions of truth, justice, and morality. In one of their greatest achievements, 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the satirized meta-narratives include, among others, Arthurian Chivalry, Christianity, logic, and the very medium of film itself. Take the treatment of Brave Sir Robin, who is followed everywhere he goes by minstrels, who sing of his brave deeds:

As the video essay notes, "In Arthurian legend, Arthur's arrival at Camelot is usually treated as an emotional high point in his story, yet Monty Python undercuts the seriousness of the moment by turning this hallmark event into a goofy musical number," and if this doesn't seem so revolutionary today, perhaps it would be wise to reflect on just how much Monty Python has changed comedy. We are living in Monty Python's world now, but when they arrived, what they did was truly revolutionary. 

Monty Python, and their first film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail gave the world a form of comedy in which jokes came not just from pratfalls or awkward social situations, but from a fundamental deconstruction of the myths and meta-narratives upon which these stories were built. By questioning everything, and declaring nothing off limits from the bounds of satire, Monty Python revolutionized the very concept of humor. Without them, we wouldn't have such postmodern comedies as South Park or Rick and Morty (though they would probably still exist in some other universe.)      

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What about The Goon Show? I am sure it has had just as much influence on Monty Python as Monty Python has had on modern comedy. Particularly its commentary on modern life, war rations, the bbc and history.

February 28, 2018 at 1:01PM, Edited February 28, 1:01PM

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