It was 42 years ago today that the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut on the BBC. In its 45 episodes, the rule-breaking sketch comedy series set the bar for a new generation of shows that would follow — and pushed the boundaries of what kind of humor people were expecting to find on TV. The Pythons weren’t afraid of mixing references to high and low culture in their absurd sketches, or coming off as overly intellectual.
“Their real importance was that they broke all the rules,” George Perry, the author of The Life of Python, explained to The New York Times on the show’s 25th anniversary. “They did skits without punch lines, letting one comic sketch flow into another without a segue. They interrupted themselves. They created a sense of the unexpected. Combined with the brilliant, sometimes grotesque graphics by Terry Gilliam, it was anarchic and completely innovative.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the Pythons’ timeless work, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite sketches after the jump for you to check out now; longtime fans, leave your own favorites in the comments.
Killer Joke (Episode 1)
The brilliance of this sketch about a joke that’s so funny that anyone who hears it dies from laughter is that we never find out what the joke actually is — at least not in English.
Nudge Nudge (Episode 3)
In this sketch — which is responsible for the popularity of the phrase “nudge nudge, wink wink” — two strangers meet in a pub, and one of them happens to be a total pervert who can’t stop asking the other inappropriate questions.
Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit (Episode 4)
This sketch teaches the invaluable lesson that the best way to disarm an assailant who is attacking you with a banana is to eat said banana. The money quote is from John Cleese, as the maniacal self defense instructor: “Well let me tell you something my lad! When you’re walking home tonight and some great homicidal maniac comes after YOU with a bunch of loganberries, don’t come cryin’ to me!”
The Dead Parrot Sketch (Episode 8)
There are many euphemisms for death in the UK, and Cleese uses almost all of them to describe the “Norwegian Blue” parrot that he’s struggling to return to a pet shop in this completely absurd sketch.
Spam (Episode 8)
Just try watching this sketch and not having “Spam, lovely Spam, wonderful Spam” stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
The Fish-Slapping Dance (Episode 9)
Watching Cleese clobber Michael Palin with an enormous halibut after the two have pranced around for a bit shouldn’t be that funny. But it is.
The Lumberjack Song (Episode 9)
Palin revealed to NPR back in 2007 that this now-classic song about an everyman’s angst was written in about 15 minutes because the Pythons were struggling to come up with an ending to the barbershop sketch that preceded it.
I Wish to Report a Burglary (Episode 12)
We’re curious as to how the Pythons were able to get through this one without breaking character. “Can you say it just a little less loud than that?… Er, could you try it in a higher register?… Now a little bit louder.”
The Ministry of Silly Walks (Episode 14)
While many consider this delightfully silly sketch about a civil servant in the government ministry responsible for developing Silly Walks to be the troupe’s best work, Cleese reportedly does not agree. In fact, he eventually refused to perform it when they’d go out on tour.
Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre (Episode 27)
Yes, it’s always a treat seeing the Pythons as their drag alter egos, the Pepperpots. But the insane dialogue is what makes this sketch one of our favorites: “I’ve just spent four hours burying the cat.” “Four hours to bury a cat?” “Yes! It wouldn’t keep still, wriggling about howling its head off.”