The Real Reason We Never Hear From Monty Python Anymore

When Graham Chapman ceased to be in 1989, fellow Python Terry Jones described it as "the worst case of party-pooping [he's] ever seen." It was the day before Python's 20th anniversary, and what followed was a bizarre but fitting eulogy, clearly written to pay tribute to the man who turned a dead parrot into one of the troupe's most famous sketches.

Chapman becoming an ex-person and joining the choir invisible himself seemed to put a damper on any kind of real, 100 percent authentic reunion (although he has reunited with the group in ash form, although he understandably didn't contribute much), but what about the others? Surely they could use the money, right? Surely, a reunion would be better than being forced into eating a lump of cold poison and working 29 hours a day down at the mill ... right? So what gives?

Terry Jones's dementia

When Michael Palin presented Terry Jones with the 2016 Bafta Cymru for Outstanding Contribution to Film and Television, he described Jones as the heart of the Pythons. Fans know it's totally the truth, and not just something that someone says during speeches like this. In true boy band fashion, each of the Pythons were a favorite for an entirely different reason ... but nothing ever happens or lasts without a heart and soul.

Just before the awards ceremony, it was also announced that he wouldn't be giving any interviews because of a heartbreaking diagnosis. Via a spokesman, he announced that he had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a type of dementia that impacts a person's ability to communicate. At the time of the awards ceremony, Jones's son Bill spoke for him, and in February 2017, he made another appearance at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The event was an afternoon tea organized to help both dementia and cancer patients, and at the event, it was announced that he could no longer write. Palin — Jones's closest Python friend and long-time writing partner — told The Guardian, "I saw John yesterday and there's nothing much we can do but stand there and say, 'Oh God, what has happened to our friend?' But the Pythons will rally round."

In the years leading up to his dementia diagnosis, Jones had still been busy with non-Python-related projects, including working on a series of kids' books that he started publishing in 1981. In 2011 he released Evil Machines, a crowdfunded collection of stories based on the idea that machines are actually out to get us, and in 2016 it was announced that The Truthful Phone was going to get the movie treatment. We may still never expect the Spanish Inquisition, but we never expected anything less than a movie deal for his work.

Michael Palin's travel shows, and frustration with corporate entertainment

There's a story that's told about Michael Palin, that whenever someone pops by his house (probably expecting to be served tea, crumpets, and possibly corgis), he'll pretend to be his own brother so he doesn't have to chat. Truth? Maybe (but probably not). We do know, though, that he's quite a pleasant person, and a little baffled as to why being a decent person should come as such a surprise. (He has, however, stormed out of at least one interview, which isn't entirely impressive until you know the interview was happening in his own house. Also, he felt guilty afterwards.)

Outside of Python, Palin has been busy in ways that he somehow makes equal parts epic and unassuming. His travel shows started in 1980, and in 1989 he proved himself to the world — literally — with Around the World in 80 Days. Even though changes in how tightly the BBC governs his projects means he's telling them to sod off (politely) more and more, we're not sure he has anywhere else to go, anyway. The Sahara? Check. Dubai? Check. The Himalayas? Check. Middlesbrough? There it is, no check. (And we'd totally watch it.)

He's also been writing books and spotting camels ... wait, trains. Spotting trains. But when it comes to non-Python projects he's most proud of, that would be the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children, which came about after his appearance as Ken in A Fish Called Wanda. The stammering was based on real experience with his father, who suffered from such a pronounced stutter, it impacted his life and his relationships.

He says he still has things to do too, and since he's already done Python, it's safe to say that's been checked off his list. What's still on that list? "Oh, quite ordinary things. Observing the world. Learning about trains. Discovering new music. You also find yourself bearing other people's expectation. I don't want to bear anybody's expectation. I just want to do ... what I can do. And be judged on that. All of this comes back to what Ernest Hemingway said: 'Don't talk about writing; just write.' And I sometimes tend to think: 'Don't talk about living; just live.'"

And trainspot. Can't forget that.

John Cleese's purism and marital woes

John Cleese took his own advice on how not to be seen when he bailed after the third season of Monty Python's Flying Circus – in spite of the rumors, his departure was actually slightly less explode-y. In 2015, he took a look back at just why he left and, with a rather uncharacteristic seriousness, said that it was largely because he was still a purist while, for the others, it was all about having fun.

"I was genuinely bothered that by the third series we weren't really doing original material," he told CBS. "We were doing permutations and combinations of sketches from the first two series. I don't think the other Pythons minded." He added that leaving Python when it was popular was essentially the same thing he did with Fawlty Towers, and that he believed it important to know when it was time to stop. That didn't keep him from feeling guilty about leaving, though, in spite of how he was more than happy to tell them he'd agreed to work with them on television, not marry them. (Ironically meant? Stay tuned.) He also talks about some pretty tragic behind-the-scenes drama that had developed during the third season, namely Chapman's alcoholism. Between that, the time commitment, and the lack of originality, he'd had enough. Clearly, it was all a bit too silly to continue.

He's been doing a whole bunch of things to keep busy — and keep up with his alimony payments — including speaking tours. In 2011, he kicked off his aptly-named "Alimony Tour," an apt name for sure. According to him, it was largely done to pay the £600,000 a year he owed his ex-wife — in a bizarre twist, The Telegraph also reported that his then-current girlfriend (who became his fourth wife a year later) was doing nude modelling to help him out. We're not sure if that means he had a really bad marriage guidance counselor ... or a really good one.

They won't do anything Python-esque unless everybody agrees to it

The success of Spamalot proved just how much the world still loves the Pythons, decades after they first pondered flying sheep and invented the best superhero in the land ... Bicycle Repair Man. It didn't come without its challenges, though, and when Python broke up, they agreed that anything Python-related was going to be an all-or-nothing deal. If one didn't want something to happen, it wasn't going to happen — and the idea of reunion tours have been variously ended by various members over the years.

Idle — knowing that any one of them could pull the plug on the project at any time — wrote Spamalot largely on his own, and only involved the rest of the group when he had something complete. For all his reservations, Spamalot got the unanimous thumbs-up, although Idle has said, "If it flops, they can just blame me." Sure, we all know that was never, ever a worry, but legit.

It's not the first time Idle's been out and actively performing Python material, either, touring and singing and even partnering up with Cleese in 2016 for a tour called John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again At Last ... For the Very First Time. That, however, is definitely not Python, but it is two old friends who've known each other for more than five decades. We're still hoping Life of Brian gets the Spamalot treatment, though, nudge, nudge.

Terry Gilliam's moved on

Terry Gilliam was Monty Python's outsider for a whole bunch of reasons, and there's not enough room in here to talk about just what he's been doing since. Brazil, 12 Monkeys, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus ... needless to say, it's clear that he's moved on to something completely different.

In 2014, Monty Python was gearing up for their long-awaited reunion, and Gilliam was less-than-thrilled about the whole thing. At the time, he was working on another project: the English National Opera's Benvenuto Cellini, reportedly all but unperformable because of the content. (It was basically opera porn.) Sounds like it's right up his alley? Absolutely. But when it came to the 10 shows at the O2 ... "It's good, seeing each other again, but then you realize that we're not as sharp because we like each other more," he told The London Evening Standard. "Actually, the truth is I find it depressing that we're getting back together again. It's like, we worked so hard to get careers beyond it, to get to this stage, and now we're being dragged back again." So basically, Gilliam is Michael Corleone in Godfather III, only less kill-y.

The Spamalot lawsuit

Sometimes, something happens that proves we, as a planet, can't have nice things. In 2012, Holy Grail producer Mark Forstater sued the Pythons, claiming that he believed he was the "seventh Python," and that he deserved a larger cut of the money from Spamalot than what he was getting. It was all based in a 1974 agreement that said he was entitled to a share of 50 percent of the merchandising that came from the film — since Spamalot was clearly Holy Grail material and, in a way, merchandising, then he was going to be holding out his hand and they'd better be putting money in it.

The lawsuit came on the heels of his own declaration of bankruptcy, and contested that he wasn't due only the one-fourteenth of the proceeds he had been getting, but that they had shorted him by around £200,000. Palin, Jones, and Idle all showed up in court to denounce the claims, saying that he'd had nothing to do with the production and, therefore, was already being given a huge amount of money for doing absolutely nothing. The argument over money was nothing new either — among the pieces of evidence was a bit of writing penned by Palin in 1975, where he wrote that he hoped if they might give him an extra £1,000 and some sherry glasses, that he'd stop asking them for money.

Shockingly, he won the suit, leaving the Pythons to pay him even more money while still, presumably, doing all the work themselves. If ever there was a court case that should have been stopped by the Colonel's protests that it's too silly to continue, it's this one.

They're in a sort of permanent war state with the British press

When the remaining Pythons reunited for their shows at the O2, some of the headlines that dominated the British press showed just what the nation really thinks of arguably their most popular export. Claims were made — again — that the Pythons hated each other and, according to them, it's not true. The truth never stopped the British tabloids before, though, particularly the Daily Mail.

Their hate for the Mail is almost a living, breathing thing, and we can't help but think they'd love to see it eaten by Gilliam's ravenous baby pram. When Cleese was asked about that paper in particular, he was completely honest. "I think it's because something like the Daily Mail, which is my pet hate, operates on trying to make people anxious and slightly depressed because that's how they sell more copy. They don't want people to be happy, and we made a lot of people [happy], and they made us happy."

He spoke a bit more about Python's relationship with the papers in an interview with Rolling Stone, noting that most British papers considered them no more or less than something of an outdated oddity that had never been funny in the first place. "The press in England is so negative," he said. "The general tone of the papers is, 'Well, they're not really as good as everyone said anyway.' When you've been living in that atmosphere and when the BBC themselves have not put the shows out, literally, for 20 years, you think of yourselves as, 'Well, we know there's people out there who love us still, but we're passing.'" And that's the saddest thing we've ever heard. Seriously, how can you make the Pythons sad? That's just wrong.

John Cleese says we've killed humor

Go back and watch any episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Really, we'll wait. Now try to imagine it showing up on prime-time television today, and we're betting that you can't. It's easy to forget just how edgy they were — and still are — and there's a huge number of sketches that just wouldn't fly today, for one reason or another.

Before their O2 reunion, John Cleese in particular spoke about how today's climate of political correctness had done some serious damage to the state of comedy, saying that if they took Monty Python's Flying Circus in front of the BBC in the 21st century, they never, ever would have made it to air.

Cleese says that there's a line when it comes to political correctness, and that the idea of not being mean "to people who are not able to look after themselves very well" is a completely legitimate thing. He's behind that. But as far as he's concerned, political correctness to the point that its gotten to today is something completely different ... and not in the good way Python fans have come to love. So why haven't we seen more Python? Because apparently, they know the delicate sensibilities of the world today couldn't handle it.

They want to finish on a good note

In 2015, the Pythons invaded the Tribeca Film Festival. Shows were shown, movies were watched, and John Oliver assembled them for a frank talk on life and laughs as a Python. When they talked about where they were going from there, they said that there was always a fear that they were embarrassing themselves, and looking like "a bunch of old farts trying to scrabble away to get some money."

They also talked a bit about how the world had seemed to have moved on from them, with Cleese in particular saying that he was finding himself more and more not understanding things like Facebook and why people would want to watch beautiful movies on tiny telephone screens. In the end, he doubts that he understands his audience any more, and says that the both timeless and timely comedy they were so good at is next-to-impossible when you don't understand the audience you're in front of. "[...] if you don't understand your audience, the best thing you can do is get out."

At the end of the Python's final appearance together, Cleese says that he realized something, looking out over the thousands of people that were smiling, laughing, and happy together. The idea that they did that was a powerful one, and that what they were doing was a good thing. The others agreed, with Eric Idle summing it up best. "I think the thing that I really loved most was watching it come to an end, and how it was dignified and touching and moving. And not going on and on ... I think that's right, I think it's lovely. I think you want to finish on a good moment, and it was a great moment."

Still though ... feel free to give us more wonderful spam jokes anytime, guys. We're ready.