Monty Python invented comedy: There, I said it. Never has a troupe been so prolific, so influential and so bloody funny in the history of humor. On July 20 they perform their final live performance in a nine-show run at The O2 in London, a performance that will be simulcast worldwide. So in celebration of this momentous event, here are 17 things you didn’t know about Monty Python. Unladen swallows included.
1. The Show Was Almost Called Something Completely Different
Before the title was decided upon, Arthur Buzzard’s Flying Circus, Admiral Megapode’s Flying Circus, John Cleese’s Flying Circus, El Moists’ Flying Circus and Cynthia Fellatio’s Flying Circus were all rejected. Probably for the best.
2. The Original Parrot Sketch Was About a Car
On a pre-Python program, How to Irritate People, John Cleese and Graham Chapman wrote a sketch based on a real-life encounter with a car salesman. The subject was later transformed from dead car to dead parrot in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, with the same central issue of it being, well, dead.
3. “Spam E-mail” Was Derived from the Show
During the Internet’s early days, annoying emails had no nomenclature to identify them. A Monty Python fan remembered the “Spam” sketch in which a restaurant menu is hilariously saturated with spam dishes and made the connection, which caught on quickly.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was shot for $365,274. At the box office, it made $127,878,662—in 1975.
4. Graham Chapman’s Death Wasn’t Entirely Unfunny
Chapman passed away in 1989, and his fellow Pythons respectfully steered clear of his official funeral, but two months later they held a memorial service in which John Cleese delivered a hilarious, Parrot sketch-inspired eulogy.
5. Iron Man Sent Cheese into Space in Honor of Monty Python
OK, I’ll clarify: Billionaire Elon Musk (who at least partially inspired the movie version of Tony Stark) launched a wheel of cheese into orbit in 2010 as a tribute to ol’ MP. On second thought, I guess that didn’t clarify much of anything.
6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail Was Shot on a Shoestring…
Budgetary issues plagued the production. Which is why Chapman as King Arthur was the only one with real chainmail (the other knights had spray-painted wool overshirts). And why horses were replaced with the unforgettable clip-clopping coconut gag.
7. …But Some Very Famous Musicians Chipped In…
U.K. tax laws were so suffocating to the rich that top acts such as Pink Floyd, Elton John and Led Zeppelin were looking for ways to shelter their dough. These artists provided more than 90 percent of the production and distribution budget for Holy Grail.
8. …And It Made a Boatload of Cash
The exact budget was $365,274. Though in today’s money that would be considerably more, it’s still comparatively tiny for even modestly funded indie films. At the box office, however, it made an unbelievable $127,878,662—in 1975, no less.
9. Someone Has Figured Out the Average Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow
There are fans, there are super-fans and then there is fandom that reaches heights of absurdity that no Comic-Con attendee could ever hope to reach. This is one of those fans.
Funny old blokes: Cleese, Idle, Jones, Palin and Gilliam today.
10. Spamalot Made the Pythons Rich All Over Again
Just the first run of Eric Idle’s Spamalot musical, which is based on the Holy Grail, made over $175 million in its first Broadway run. All Python members received a cut.
11. Two of the Pythons Are in the Guinness Book of World Records
In 2007, the two Terrys (Gilliam and Jones) led the cast of Spamalot and 5,567 others in Trafalgar Square, clip-clopping coconuts together to the tune of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” setting a world record for, uh, that.
12. They Are Also Directorial Stars
Gilliam helmed The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Heath Ledger’s last film), Twelve Monkeys, Brazil and Time Bandits, among others. Jones directed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, an episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and three of the major Python films.
13. John Cleese Quit Monty Python
Cleese and Chapman shared a great deal of work-related tension, and Cleese shocked the group by leaving the show after the third season. He stayed on to assist with subsequent films but didn’t participate in the poorly rated, quickly canceled Flying Circus Season 4.
14. Only 5/6th of the Pythons Were Born British
Terry Gilliam was born and raised in Minnesota and Los Angeles and attended Occidental College before moving across the pond and becoming a British citizen in 1968.
15. They’re No Dummies
Cleese, Idle and Chapman all attended Cambridge, while Palin and Jones went to Oxford.
16. The Holy Hand Grenade Was Once Mistaken for a Bomb
In 2009 an unexploded grenade was found underneath a fire hydrant cover in east London. The street was cordoned off, the area was evacuated and a bomb disposal squad was called in, only to find that the device was a copy of the famous prop. Gotta love eBay.
17. Speaking of Which, This Is Pretty Funny…