Monty Python is Very Uneven

Having recently watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail with my eleven year old son, I was reminded of how extremely uneven Monty Python was. They had quite a few absolutely brilliant sketches. They had some mediocre sketches. They had a fair number of really bad sketches. This extends to their movies, too, which are basically just loose collections of skits with a common theme. (In the case of Holy Grail, their theme was “medievalish”.)

Despite this extraordinary unevenness, Monty Python movies and sketches are held up as some of the heights of comedy. There’s a lesson, here, for writers: overall quality is good, but when it comes to being memorable, the heights you reach are more important than the average.

There is an asterisk on that, which is that it probably matters significantly what your competition is. Mitchell and Webb, for example, had a similar number of brilliant sketches, but they had far fewer really bad sketches (their snooker commentator sketches are the only ones that come to mind) and not many bad sketches either. Overall, their quality was higher, though the peaks were no higher. Had they been competing at the same time, Monty Python probably would have fared worse.

(Of course, there are other things that make the two not directly comparable. All comedy is a product of its time, and Monty Python especially so. The 1970s, in its post-world-war-2 context was a time when people hungered for different more than they hungered for quality, and many of Monty Python’s sketches reflect that. While Monty Python wouldn’t fare nearly as well against Mitchell and Webb in the 2010s, Mitchell and Webb wouldn’t fare nearly as well against Monty Python in the 1970s—the audience just would not have been in the mood for most of it.)

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