The untold truth of Monty Python

So, you're a Monty Python fan. Good, that means you have an awesome sense of humor, and we like that. A huge number of people have had their sense of humor shaped by the Pythons, and even after decades, we all know there's still only one thing that coconuts are good for. There's a lot most fans don't know, though, and we're not talking about the words to the Bruce's Philosopher's Song. We know that by heart, and in fact, it's our only party trick. We're a hoot.

The most Python-esque of pre-Python shows was thought destroyed

What if we were to tell you that there's some some awesome, Python-esque footage out there so good it's absolutely going to fill your not-at-all creepy desire for new stuff? There is, and until recently, the Pythons had thought the tapes had ceased to be.

The Complete and Utter History of Britain was the last of the pre-Python projects that any of them worked on, and the ambitiously titled program was the brainchild of Michael Palin and Terry Jones. They shot it the year before the Pythons were assembled, and it's what would have happened if contemporary news programs had been around to cover the major events of Britain's history. There's no contributions by the Batley Townswomen's Guild, but there were some pretty epic depictions of figures like Henry V, Robin Hood, and a pajama-wearing Ethelred the Unready. They filmed six episodes in total, and when they released the show in 2013, it included only four of those episodes, along with extra bits included to pad out the DVD. The rest of the material had learned how not to be seen.

In 2017, Michael Palin—along with some television archivists—tracked down their original director. He was in Australia, and it was just dumb luck (and a bit of foresight) that he kept copies. At the time, the BBC was operating under the premise that tapes were expensive and had to be reused, so an unthinkable number of their shows were simply recorded over like your brother's wedding video. The pre-Python's producer copied the episodes on a reel-to-reel recorder and stashed them in his garage … you know, just in case they were something that someone wanted to see again. It's a good thing, too, because we wouldn't want to have to send Doug and Dinsdale to break some legs.

How Monty Python got its name

We've known and loved Monty Python for so long, we've come to accept them as Monty Python. The Flying Circus? What the heck is that, though?

According to Michael Palin, the name was a sort of 11th-hour Hail Mary. They were being pressured by the BBC to, seriously guys, come up with a name already, and they were tossing around all kinds of options. While the BBC is a fan of names that describe what the show is about—like The Great British Bake Off—the as-yet untitled Pythons didn't want a name that described what the show was going to be at all … because they didn't know what it was going to be.

They tossed around suggestions like The Toad Elevating Moment, but BBC suggested John Cleese's Flying Circus. Cleese didn't want his name attached to something that may or may not become an ex-show very quickly. They did like the Flying Circus bit, though, and Python was first. Ken Python? Leonard Python? Thank Eric Idle for Monty, and Palin has said that when they all found it quite silly, they knew that was the win. The BBC was less than thrilled, but compromised, as it's better than a pointed stick in the eye.

Chapman claimed the Queen Mother told him to choose entertainment over doctoring

While Jones and Palin were what they described as proper writers, John Cleese had his roots in law, and Graham Chapman had been going to university for an even more proper job: he was going to be a doctor. Even after he and Cleese met in Cambridge, he was still very, very much set on following through with his medical degree, and probably envisioning a career where he could help all sorts of people escape all sorts of folk songs. When he and Cleese were offered the chance to break from the real world to go on tour with the Cambridge Circus comedy revue, it wasn't an easy decision.

According to Cleese, Chapman got some advice from the most unlikely of places: the Queen Mother. Apparently, she had come around for tea—as she does, this is England, so keep the kettle on—and he asked her if she thought he could continue on the path to medicine, or if she thought he should run off to be a lion tamer. Wait, entertainer. She reportedly told him, "Oh, you must travel," and the rest is, as they say, complete and utter history.

Of course, Chapman released the tale in his semi-fictional A Liar's Autobiography, so we're not entirely sure how true it is.

Gilliam's animations were created for something else

Monty Python wouldn't be the Monty Python we all know and love without Terry Gilliam's bizarre animations. Seriously, we're not sure if we want to know what's going on in that head (we totally do). He didn't start those animations as a part of Python, though. He was working on another show called We Have Ways of Making You Laugh.

Originally hired to draw caricatures of the show's guests, he was sort of shoved into animation when they found themselves with a bit of material that didn't really fit in anywhere. Gilliam volunteered to make an animated film, and they gave him two weeks and a budget of £400. The only thing that he could pull of in that time and with that little money was a cutout animation film, and we doubt he suspected he'd change comedy history while he was cursing budgets and time constraints.

The Holy Grail animations were based on real medieval drawings

As impossible as it seems, 2015 was the 40th anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the run-up to the momentous occasion, old footage was revisited, and a pretty shocking amount of material was found where it had been dropped on the cutting room floor. Around 14 minutes of Gilliam's cutout animations were re-released as a part of the Limited Edition Castle Catapult Gift Set Blu-ray, along with some commentary on where the animations come from.

Remember how the animations for The Holy Grail had an appropriately medieval look? There's a good reason for that: most of them were taken from actual medieval manuscripts. Gilliam's narration of the clips gives some insight into how he used medieval marginalia from a book called Illustrations in the Margins of Medieval Manuscripts as the basis for his own animations, and if anything, the real thing is even more NSFW than Gilliam's. (Spoiler alert: there's lots of bodily functions and naughty bits.) Gilliam had two assistants who did the actual drawing and coloring, while he was responsible for moving the bits around and shooting the massively time-intensive animations that we're pretty sure the olde-timey monks would have loved. It just goes to show that just because something features some angels blowing trumpets with their butts, that doesn't mean it's not educational. (It also goes to show that as a species, we haven't changed all that much.)

No, they don't actually hate each other

You've heard it again and again, and then a couple more times: the Pythons hate each other. Even Entertainment Weekly ran a spread where they asked each one of the remaining Pythons who irritated them the most, and the responses seemed to speak for themselves. According to John Cleese, it's Terry Gilliam that he'd really like to send off on an expedition to Kilimanjaro, saying, "I don't think I've ever agreed with anything that Terry has ever said in the 40 years I've known him."

It's just not true, though. When they got together for a reunion at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and were asked just how true the rumors are that they don't get along, they unanimously wrote it off as just being the press trying to start trouble and being about as subtle as a 16-ton weight. They clarified that while sure, there were disagreements about material and (presumably) things like who was going to have to suck it up and eat some mud for the sake of political commentary, that they did quite like each other at the end of the day. Oh, you're no fun anymore.

They once sued ABC for airing the show

Ask any creative person, and they'll argue that what they created is exactly what they want people to see, thank you very much. It's something that the Pythons all take incredibly seriously, and they're not content with just going on about things like integrity and whatnot—they just took ABC to court.

The lawsuit was Gilliam v. American Broadcasting Co., and it started in 1975, when the Pythons found out that ABC had aired three of their half-hour episodes but cut a whopping 23 minutes out to make them more acceptable to the delicate sensibilities of their American audiences. The Pythons had a deal with the BBC that limited just how much of their shows could be altered or cut, and even though the deal was supposed to extend to anyone else who paid to show the programs, ABC had farted in their general direction and did whatever they wanted.

In the end, a whole lot of confusing legalese needed to be spouted before they could rule that the Pythons were correct, and they had every right to complain about how their show—and, by extension the performers—were being represented to the American public. If you ask us, messing with Python is a matter for the Spanish Inquisition.

Yes, they're why we call it spam… eggs, sausage and spam

If you can look at a can of spam without thinking about eggs, sausage, and spam, you're not of this planet. Spam email, though, that's such a common thing that you might never even think about it aside from deleting with it, but yes, Monty Python is precisely why we call it spam.

In the early days of computers, the only people using them were those of a certain mindset. You know the ones, who know what MMORPG stands for, and also probably appreciate the sort of multi-layered humor that Monty Python's famous for. Because people are awesome at the same time they're kind of obnoxious, one of the first things they did was find a way to annoy other people who were using computers and the forerunners of the Internet. Once someone invented copy-paste, dumping the words to the spam sketch into chat rooms became the thing that all the cool kids were doing.

From there, that sort of barrage of input spread to USENET. We do kind of feel like the technological world has missed the boat in not creating a sort of group of rampaging Vikings who chase the spam. (You can have that idea for free, guys.)

The foot is from a very real painting

Now, we're going to give you a reason to visit London's National Gallery. No, really.

The gallery is the home of a painting called An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, and if you know anything about mythology, you know that Cupid was Venus's son. Does that make the painting more uncomfortable? Yes … yes, it does. In fact, the whole painting is full of insanely dark stuff, and it's thought that not only is there the scandal of the whole mother-and-son thing, but that it's a pretty graphic warning about the dangers of syphilis. (Doubt us? Check out the guy on the left. Clearly, there's something up with him … and yeah, it's syphilis.) Somehow, that bit of art history makes it all the more appropriate for Python.

Now, check out Cupid's foot, and you'll find it's a familiar one. The story goes that Gilliam was wandering through the National Gallery looking for some inspiration and found it when he came across the 16th-century painting. If time travel ever becomes a thing, we're showing Angolo Bronzino just what his foot is being used for.

The first suggested title for Life of Brian was a bit more controversial

Monty Python's Life of Brian was hugely controversial when it as released, and the outrage that hit the fan makes some of today's most delicate and easily offended people look positively tolerant by comparison. It did sort of bring people together, though, as Christians, Muslims, and Jews could now finally agree on something: the film was blasphemous and needed to be banned, in spite of Idle's official statement: "We have no quarrel with Mr. Christ."

The script was mostly written by the Pythons when they were hanging out in the Caribbean with The Rolling Stones (and we do feel it necessary to add that, in most cases, this is not normal writer life). They knew they were going to be doing some sort of biblical-era piece, and one of the original ideas had Brian as a 13th apostle who kept showing up late and missing all the miracle-working. They said they actively decided to stay as far away from depicting Christ as they could, because He just wasn't funny. That's legit, and so is the idea that the funny stuff was everything that was going on at the outskirts. Still, outrage was so fierce that some of the Pythons went on television to explain that they weren't ridiculing religion at all—they were ridiculing people. Some people were determined not to listen, though, and it wasn't until 2015 (that's not a typo) that the town of Bournemouth finally lifted the ban and allowed the movie to be shown in a cinema. (Only slightly better were the entire countries of Norway and Ireland, who lifted the ban in 1987.)

It's next to impossible to imagine what the response would have been if they'd gone with the original title. According to the story, they were tossing around ideas for the movie that would come after the Holy Grail (and yes, there was talk of a sequel), when Idle suggested something called Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory! The crucifixion scene at the end? It may have been real.

Some of the sketches were from personal experiences

Monty Python's humor is absolutely timeless. It's bizarre and it's absurd, but there's something else about it, too. It's a bit insane that Cleese might be trying to get a license for his pet fish, Eric, but we've all experienced his exact frustration. It's part of being human, and there's a good reason for feeling that connection even decades later. In some cases, they were writing about things that had happened to them, or people they knew.

The Dead Parrot Sketch? That absolutely happened, and it happened to Michael Palin. It was a car instead of a parrot, though, and the entire thing was based on a very real conversation Palin tried to have with a car salesman who just wouldn't believe that there was anything wrong with the "lovely car." Palin was the source for another iconic sketch, too, as he really did know someone who had a tendency to say, "Ni!" He was a librarian at Palin's school, and when he was looking for books, he'd say "Ni!" when he found it. Remember the Trim-Jeans Theater, the bizarre sketch performed by actors wearing a weird, inflatable sort of weight-loss device? Trim-Jeans were 100-percent a real thing.

And even though Idle was usually the one making the music and writing the songs, Graham Chapman did chip in on one—the Medical Love Song—where his experience as a doctor came in handy. If you're curious just what they're singing about (we recommended that you don't, in fact, be curious), the BBC did a nice summation of all the STDs the song features, and we're really hoping none of those were firsthand experience. For anyone. Ever.