My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"I manage to write some more of the 'Twibune'. Helen suggests he should have a friend, so I write in Biggus Dickus, who thpeaks with a lithp."
Michael Palin's Monty Python at Work (2014) is an essential read for Monty Python fans and a must-have book for Python completists. I also hope that the readers who do not know the British comedy masters from late 1960s and early 1970s - if there are any such people on the planet - and even people who know them but do not think they are the funniest item in the history of human entertainment, which should be an even rarer category, will find the book interesting. This work is an edited selection of material from the diaries of Michael Palin, one of the Magnificent Six, often called the "nicest Python", and an author of several popular travel books which still await their turn on my shelves.
Mr. Palin kept his diary since April of 1969 and we witness the entire history of the Pythons: I believe the author recorded every single important event that happened to the group between 1969 and 1983. We read about the pivotal Monty Python Flying Circus TV show, from its first "test" run in front of a small audience in August of 1969 to the fourth and last series aired in the UK in 1974. Next Mr. Palin provides a lively chronology of the troupe's work on their big-screen movies: And Now For Something Completely Different, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Life of Brian (which was extremely successful in the US), and my personal favorite, Monty Python's Meaning Of Life. The following fragment of the diary entry refers to the famous Mr. Creosote sketch from the last movie, the sketch that contains the unforgettable "wafer-thin mint" line:
Evidently 9,000 gallons of vomit were made for the sketch, which took four days to film [...]It is totally fascinating to learn how the Pythons created their sketches: some worked in pairs, some alone, and then they ran the drafts in front of the whole group, which provided the most severe and thorough vetting of humor potential. I find the stories about the group's struggles against censorship most interesting. Over the years many individuals and organizations tried to censor the Pythons' work on obscenity, offensiveness or religious grounds and often the attempts proved funnier than the humor itself. There is a priceless passage dated December 19, 1975 that describes the Pythons' New York courtroom argument to defend their sketch about a courtroom argument.
On slightly more serious note, Mr. Palin's modesty is commendable and quite rare in the genre of (quasi-)autobiographies. In most cases he praises the other Pythons' material higher than his own. And on even more fundamental level: I find it quite illuminating to witness the change of the artists' priorities and goals between the times when they were just a relatively unknown group on their way up and the late 1970s when they were enjoying a huge financial success. Even the funniest people on the face of this Earth change their outlook when they come into money.
A hugely informative diary, an interesting read, and an essential source for all Monty Python fans.
Three and a half stars.
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