Like many, I've casually watched some Monty Python over the years. It's always
good to run into it on cable when you're getting high. I was actually hearing them as audio on Dr Demento's radio show for several years in the late 1970s before I ever actually saw the TV show. Thus, I've been known to carry on about how "Spam, eggs, sausage and Spam doesn't have much Spam in it" for most of my life.
But I'm realizing a little of how much I didn't understand the significance of the show only now in 2008. I've got the most excellent 16-DVD A&E set of The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus. It has all 45 original episodes of the English TV series (1969-1974), including a Hollywood Bowl live show among two discs of bonus material. This right here is the very cornerstone of modern comedy. Monty Python's Flying Circus is pretty much the comedy equivalent of Elvis Presley's Sun sessions, where the old suddenly became the new.
Younger folks coming up on The Simpsons and SNL might not obviously get that, because the Python sensibilities are so embedded in what has come since. When Lorne Michaels was creating Saturday Night Live in 1975, they wanted to be the opposite of what they understood to be the bland establishment corporate comedy of Carol Burnett. No, they wanted to be bitingly satirical, intellectual — avant garde like Monty Python — who were only marginally well known in America at the time. But even SNL was never quite as radical and unique in its sensibility.
I find myself trying to parse out the idea of "absurdism" as that word is frequently used to describe Python. Looking up "absurdism" however, I don't quite see that. "Absurdism is a philosophy stating that the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe will ultimately fail (and, hence, are absurd) because no such meaning exists." That seems only in the most abstract way to describe Python. On the other hand, that might reasonably describe the underlying point of their movie The Meaning of Life.
"Absurdism is related to existentialism and nihilism, though should not be confused with either. Absurdism as a concept has its roots in the 19th century Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. Absurdism as a belief system was born of the Existentialist movement when the French philosopher and writer Albert Camus broke from that philosophical line of thought and published his manuscript The Myth of Sisyphus."