Modern comedy is absurdist in nature.
From Rick and Morty to Tim and Eric–and even meme culture as a whole–almost all of the most popular humor that appeals to millennials and younger generations feels bizarrely surreal. But if one were to trace the trajectory of absurdist comedy back to its most prominent cultural progenitor, they might be surprised to find themselves all the way back in England in 1969 with Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Sadly, on January 21st, 2020, Terry Jones, one of the original members of Monty Python, passed away at 77 years old. Best known as the group's director––co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Gilliam and then solo-directing their subsequent films, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, Jones' astute sensibilities were a major contributor to the comedy troupe's lasting impact.
When Monty Python's Flying Circus first aired on BBC1, the sketch comedy series was unlike anything else that had ever been on TV. The structure was surreal, moving from sketch to sketch without the use of traditional punchlines. Bizarre, oftentimes nightmarish animation blended realistic imagery with abstract art. The show was off-putting, intellectually challenging, and way before its time. It was also hilarious.
Then, in 1975, Monty Python created a movie using their distinct comedic style to parody the legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. If Monty Python's Flying Circus was surrealist humor in tiny, digestible chunks, then, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was an unfiltered dose of surreal humor injected straight into the eyeball.
While Monty Python and the Holy Grail received mixed reviews from critics upon its release, the movie struck a chord with audiences, breaking out of British theaters to become an international hit. Many of the film's most bizarre scenes, including the killer bunny and the limbless black knight, became so ingrained in the public consciousness that they're still referenced over 40 years later. But more importantly, Monty Python and the Holy Grail planted a seed for comedy moving forward––the notion that comedy could be strange, obtuse, and really, really, really out there, while still connecting with audiences.
On top of being an incredibly talented writer, comedian, and director, Terry Jones was also an acclaimed medieval historian. And as any historian would likely agree, the impact of a great artist is rarely fully realized during their lifetime. Hopefully Jones can rest easy knowing that in his case, this is most certainly true––Monty Python's influence will continue to reverberate throughout comedy for decades to come, and he is, in large part, to thank for that.
So raise your grail to Terry Jones. Thanks for the laughs.