In honor of National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
At last! The Dead Parrot Sketch. One of Monty Python’s most beloved, and likely the most quoted, sketch.
The ideas behind for the actually sketch pre-date the existence of Monty Python itself. Before Python, John Cleese and Graham Chapman were working on a special called How to Irritate People in 1969, and one idea for the special was a sketch known as “Car Salesman,” in which an unsatisfied customer tries to convey to an salesman the trouble with his vehicle. The salesman, of course, just kept uttering things like “lovely car” despite the fact the vehicle was busted. Later, after the formation of Monty Python, Cleese took elements of the sketch, changed the garage to a pet shop and inserted one dead parrot in place of a faulty automobile.
The sketch, soon became an audience favorite. It has been done again and again, including on Saturday Night Live when Cleese and Palin did a guest appearance, and as recently as their live reunion show 2014. Participants in a reader’s poll in the British radio and television magazine Radio Times voted it the “top alternative sketch.”
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone created a tribute to this sketch, “The Dead Friend Sketch” featuring Kyle, Cartman and the the repeatedly-killed Kenny,” for Monty Python’s 30th anniversary special in 1999. This sketch ended in true South Park form, with Parker and Stone kidnapping Terry Gilliam’s mom, Beatrice, until the Gilliam comes and works for them.
Dead or not, the parrot’s legacy lives on today.
The 2014 return of the Pythons to the live stage was also marked with a 50-foot-tall fiberglass Dead Parrot statue. Created for UKTV’s Gold Channel by sculptor Iain Prendergast, the “pinin’” was placed in London’s Potters Field that year.
Most fans would probably admit, however, that the best thing about this bit is trying to remember all the ways Cleese described the poor bird’s state, without actually saying the word “dead:”
“He’s bleedin’ demised….He’s not pinin’! He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the bucket, He’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! This is an EX-PARROT!”
Where to Find It:
Unless you’re studying forensics, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get a hold of a real dead parrot. I won’t even go there. Instead, let’s look for a good make believe “dead bird.” Yes, there was an officially licensed dead parrot, as well as an inflatable dead parrot in a can, but production of these has also “ceased to be.” They can still be found in collectible shops and on eBay from time to time for upwards of $50.
There is a Dead Parrot Sketch talking keychain currently available from various novelty and gag gift shops for around $7.
Of course, since most stuffed parrots simply lay there anyway, it’s not hard of find an artificial macaw. A full-sized one of these will run about $30 to $50. To make your bird look “dead,” find an inexpensive perch from pet store and hang the bird upside down by it’s feet. The bird can be attached with string or twist ties, rather than actually having to be “nailed” to the perch.
For a “cuddlier” version, plain old stuffed birds are easy to find, too. These are much less expensive; often less than $20.
Don’t forget the t-shirts. There are plenty of Python-inspired dead parrot tees, posters, decals and other items offered on sites like Zazzle, Cafe Press, Red Bubble and Stupid Tees. One company, Meer Image, even makes actually pretty Norwegian Blue-inspired rubber stamps.
What about an actual, “Not Dead Yet” parrot? Can you actually find a Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage. I’m afraid, these birds are, in a word…extinct! There were parrot-like fossils found in the Northern hemisphere, in what is Norway and Denmark that date back 55 million years (even before the formation of the fjords in the same region). However, if you look at the different prop parrots used by Cleese, they are really closer to a Blue and Gold (or Blue and Yellow) Macaw, or a Hyacinth Macaw. These macaws won’t pine for the “fjords,” either, as they are native to South America. To purchase one of these from a respectable pet shop, they are likely to run you well into the $1,000 to $5,000.
Remember, this is a real animal, unlike the plastic corpse in the sketch, so don’t run out and purchase a “parrot” just for the novelty. If you do make a serious decision to invest in this “remarkable bird,” however, you can actually teach your live parrot to “play dead.” There are a ton of attentive bird owners who are happy to show their trick on YouTube and other social media. Of course, it wouldn’t be a worthy Python sketch unless you can also teach your parrot to jump back up and say “I got better.”
How long do these parrots stay “not dead?” A well-cared for macaw can live a over 50 years, long enough to enjoy Monty Python’s 100th Anniversary!