Bob McCabe (assembler), with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin,
The Pythons' Autobiography of The Pythons (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2003)

Mr. Bun: Morning.

Waitress: Morning.

Mr. Bun: Well, what you got?

Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; spam, sausage, spam, spam, spam, bacon, spam, tomato and spam; spam, spam, spam, egg and spam; (Vikings start singing in background) spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam.

*****

Cliff Furnald of Rootsworld, in his review of a Norwegian group called Tigerlily, noted, 'One of the greatest strengths of the Monty Python comedy troupe was an openness to experimentation so extreme as to breed as much failure as success; a lot of their stuff simply wasn't funny, but fans took this in stride as a modest price for moments of genius.' To a certain extent, what you think of this volume is related to how much you can accept massive amounts of weirdness. Now, I admit that the last time I watched The Pythons in any meaningful manner was while I was very much in a purple haze, but let's see if I can give you an appreciation thirty years later of what The Pythons' Autobiography of The Pythons is all about without handing around interesting drugs....

First thing you should know is that I think it is, by far, the most massive book ever sent for review. It's even bigger than the Sandman companion book that came into our mailroom a few weeks back. It measures thirteen inches high by ten inches, and seems about ten pounds in weight. The price matches its size — at sixty dollars American I can safely say it won't be be an impulse buy for most readers! Monty Python fans, particularly those who have every line memorized, every scene etched on their brains, will want it. (But you don't get the wonderful CD that came with the publicity kit, containing the audio from such skits as 'Spam', 'The Lumberjack Song', and The [Very dead] 'Parrot Sketch'. Not to mention Eric Idle on being crucified.)

O.K., why is someone muttering who the fuck are The Pythons? Sigh.... O.K., here's one version of this British comedy group. In 1969, being broke and in need of jobs, four Englishmen, one Welshman and an American who should have known better came together to create a BBC programme about — or so they now claim in the book and the press release — 'an unscrupulous, untrustworthy, and frankly slimy theatrical agent named Monty Python.'

(Now, be quiet — just because it sounds like of a load of bullocks doesn't mean it is. Nor does it mean it isn't.)

To make matters worse, they followed with an idea that Jim Henson would use with The Muppets programme later — it was set within a show: a Flying Circus. (What the fuck, you ask? Where are the circus animals? The clowns? The high wire acts? There were none. Obviously our blokes were being, err, postmodernists in their language. If you've followed the later career of Penn & Teller — yes, the blokes who appear in 'The Day of The dead' episode on Babylon 5 — you more or less grasp the idea. If not, bugger off!) It was weird — gay lumberjacks, dead parrots, shitloads of spam for breakfast, and truly political incorrectness in an era when the Beeb (or Mother, as the BCC is often called) wasn't given to allowing edges to be pushed. Yes, much of the humour looks dated now, but it was edgy, it was smart, and it was ever so weird. And keep in mind that even non-Python products such as the Time Bandits film that Terry Gilliam, our American in The Pythons, did after leaving the group has, to me thinking, a Pythonish feel to it. And Fawlty Towers, which John Cleese created, certainly reminds me of an extended Python skit complete with gross humour and pratfalls galore!

Bob McCabe got together the surviving members (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) to talk about the experience of being Pythons. (Graham Chapman died on October 4, 1989, just one day before Monty Python's 20th anniversary, of cancer.) And they certainly did that! McCabe edited their what must have been rambling answers chronologically to tell the story of how they came to create the work that is considered to be the Python canon. McCabe made use of other sources as well — Gilliam's Web site says, 'Graham Chapman, the Python member who died in 1989, is represented through interviews with his partner and family — together with some of his own writings. The book also draws from Michael Palin's diaries, Terry Gilliam's artwork and hundreds of personal photographs.'

How this project came to be is explained by McCabe in an interview on the Gilliam Site: 'My publisher, Trevor Dolby at Orion, had worked on The Beatles Anthology and wanted to do something similar on another group. Having discounted the rock path, he felt that the Pythons were legitimately the only group of people to have had a similar social impact. So over a slightly drunken lunch with Terry Gilliam, in which we were plied with margaritas and copies of The Beatles book, he floated the idea. I instantly chimed in with the phrase 'Sounds like you need a good editor' and by the end of the afternoon, Gilliam had agreed to it in principle if I would take on the job. It then took another six months before we could get Gilliam, Jones and Palin round a table for lunch where we managed to convince them that their careers were worthy of so prestigious a treatment.'

Setting aside the amazing photographs, animation sketches, and other visual weirdness, the most interesting thing about The Pythons' Autobiography of The Pythons is that it truly is autobiographical in nature, something not really attempted before with this group, to me knowledge. Remember The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, which contained all the knowledge that a traveller needed to know? If you are a serious fan of The Pythons, you'll learn damn near everything there is to know about them. Why was the totty always Carol, girlfriend of John? Was it for her great tits, or was there another reason? They claim, with no sign of a smirk, that it was for her acting ability. (Sure it was. See page 153 for a nice shot of her knockers.) Was it the cost of real horses that precluded their use in Monty Python and The Holy Grail? How well did that oh-so-English humour translate into French and German? (They say surprisingly well.) Why were Gilliam's animations so fucking weird?

O.K., here's the bottom line. If you have a seriously warped sense of reality as regards what tickles your fancy, you should own this book regardless of whether or not you like The Pythons. If you are seriously into The Pythons, what the %$#@! are you waiting for? Go buy it now, as you'll have hours upon hours of piss-your-pants fun. Now if you think Tony Blair and New Labour are intelligent, well-meaning politicians, this book is not for you at all. I, on the other hand, am headed down, with The Pythons' Autobiography of The Pythons, to the Green Man Pub for a Newcastle Pale Ale, a handful of crisps, and some more fun reading. Now, where was I? Ahhh, The Pythons are discussing what happened when the BBC released the programme in America....

[Jack Merry]