May 28th, 2009


The Day The Flying Circus Came To Town

One of the birthday presents Sarah gave me this past April was a copy of the Playbill for Monty Python Live! at the City Center. I cherish it, even though there's nothing really to read in the Playbill, other than old news about old plays, closed restaurants and 70's NYC semi-upscale nightlife (actually, it was kind of interesting, Joey Heatherton's playing the Waldorf-Astoria! Jerry Orbach's in Chicago! Nathan's opened a "posh" restaurant on 5th Ave with Tiffany lights and live entertainment! (?)) and it's not in the best shape. But it was a sweet and thoughtful gift, because Sarah knew that I had seen this show when I was young, and I had lost the Playbill. A while back, I read the first volume of Michael Palin's Python Diaries, in which he writes about the stage show. It jogged my memory, or what stands for a memory in my head, and I know I talked to Sarah about the show, and the Lost Playbill of My Youth. 

I saw a performances of this show one night in April, 1976 when I was just twelve years old. My memory being what it is, I had spent the past thirty three years believing I was thirteen years old when they played. This isn't that much of a big deal, but for some reason I felt really strange after realizing I was off a year. I didn't even know I was watching Python on our local PBS station (Channel 13) that early, because by the time of the stage show I'd been watching for at least a year. I don't remember how I came across the show, orwhat exactly I made of it at an early age (I do know it afforded me my first look at female breasts, and that the Peckinpah parody scared the shit out of me with its cartoony but excessive bloodletting), but I do know that I was a fan. A huge fan. I was probably also watching The Goodies and whatever seemed similar on PBS at the time.

Looking back on it, I'm pretty surprised my mother took me to see a show with such adult material. Not to mention, she wasn't a fan. I remember she and a girlfriend  of hers complaining about Monty Python and the Holy Grail, about how dumb it was, and I remember hearing them talk about the monks hitting themselves with books and men following other men making horse trotting sounds with coconuts. Of course, I wanted to see that movie like sex, and everything they said just made me want to see it that much more, but it would be a number of years until I caught it, edited, on the local CBS affiliate (Channel 2). Anyway, whatever, not that I'm complaining, I am just so goddamned glad she did take me, because this was one of the best, most memorable evenings of my life. Even with the memory dimmed by age and bad brain cells.

We never really went anywhere fancy, or to the theater. I remember my mom took my sister and I to see Grease. Otherwise, that's about it, I guess. We didn't have much money, so this was probably a big deal, because we also ate at a restaurant in the Times Square area, and those joints have always been a rip-off. The whole thing was exciting for me, dressing up (slightly), eating out, going to the theater to see the show. Clearly this was my best-ever kidhood birthday present, even before I got to see the show.

We didn't have very good seats, we were up in the cheapster rows in the second balcony, I believe, but it didn't matter, it wasn't a huge place so we weren't miles away, and you could see everyone  on stage very clearly, it wasn't a squint spectacle by any means. And they had films in-between set changes and whatnot, and it was just overwhelmingly awesome. These guys were my heroes at the time, I couldn't believe I was there, and I'm amazed I didn't flush my bladder all over myself.

What I remember (more or less): the giant Gilliam-designed Hand of God coming out of the sky, the guy lowered from the top of the stage who interrupts a sketch and gets shot (and his guts fly everywhere, holy crap --!), the end of the albatross bit where one Python member chased the other throughout the audience, running through both balconies and surprising the audience both times, and running not far from where we sat.  The interweb says Cleese played the Albatross salesman/lady, but I just remember the sketch and the stupid kid excitement of seeing the actors fairly close-up. Of course, I can't remember who they were. They did the Lumberjack Song (which, I dunno, I never loved. I like it, but, not my favorite, although at the time they could have played solitaire and I would have been happy), they did the Argument Sketch (one of my favorites, still), the Pet Shop/Dead Parrot sketch, Blackmail (with the blackmail footage on the screen), they ran filmed segments such as Twit of the Year and some (then) obscure stuff that I think was from their first film, they showed some of the longer cartoons including a longer one I wasn't familiar with (maybe also from the film?), Neil Innes performed a few songs, and Carol Cleveland looked like a pretty girl. What else could you want? The only thing that would have made the night even better would have been if we went to that Hawaii Kai restaurant advertised on the cast page.

So, yeah, I was in idiot heaven. I never laughed so hard in my life. And the funny thing was, I clearly remember my mother laughing so much her mascara kept running. She's still not a fan, she never watched the show after that, or saw their later films, but I spoke to her recently and she remembers she laughed her ass off. I'm glad she had a good time, too.  

Anyway, some nice memories, thanks to my mom, thanks to Python, thanks to my wife. Thanks.