Tag Archives: monty python

Now for Something Completely Different: My Teen Babysits??


Meeting two of Monty Python’s founding fathers had been a dream of mine since I was a kid, but it wouldn’t have happened if I let my worries about allowing my teen to babysit get in the way.

 Post originally ran in GeekMom on Dec. 9, 2016.

I’ve been a mom for 14 years now.

I’ve comforted nightmares, patched bruises, and wiped noses. I’ve held hands during first steps, calmed fears of darkness and scary movies, and celebrated victories like riding a bike or swimming across a pool. There have been road trips, school pageants, and baptisms. We’ve faced funerals, playground politics, and family crises. I’ve even spent two horrifying sleepless nights in the hospital watching one child conquer pneumonia and bronchitis.

In the process, I’ve watched my oldest daughter, Molly, turn into a young, independent teen, and my youngest, Erin, become an active second grader.

One would think that, by this point, I would be pretty well versed in this whole “parenting” thing. I did too–until it was time to let one of them babysit the other.

The idea of leaving my “babies” home alone was a completely new concept to me. I grew up in a house with a live-in grandparent who watched us on the rare occasion my parents went out. My brother was seven years older than me—the same age difference between my own two children—but I don’t remember him being “in charge” without other adults around.

I had friends and classmates whose parents both worked long jobs, were divorced, or, in one case, were neglectfully absent due to substance abuse problems. To me being “home alone” without adult supervision seemed unfathomable.

As for my own kids, my parents watched my oldest until my mother passed away. My oldest was six then, and our youngest wasn’t born until a year later. Then, when we went out, one of my husband’s former students, whom we knew well, would watch then, as well as my father from time to time.

However, my husband reminded me when Molly turned 14 it was time to let her watch her little sister… on her own. Gulp!

When it was announced in May (the same month my daughter turned that fateful age) tickets were on sale to see two of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese and Eric Idle, I immediately went online and purchased two of the best seats in the house. Then I crumbled slowly into a panic over the next seven months.

What had I done? How will my kids cope on their own? They argue constantly. The world is filled with creepy people in vans, rabid wolves, tornadoes, and earthquakes… and sharp corners.

One thing they never tell you when you become a mom is how violent your unnecessary premonitions become. What if she falls on scissors? What if they stand on the bathtub and fall? What if they see YouTube video on making Molotov cocktails… and try it in the kitchen near that gas stove?

My husband, Rick, who had “taken care of his little brother on his own” since he was ten, said I was being ridiculous. He had to “cook,” “clean,” “get him to bed,” “re-wire the house,” “build their own beds,” and blah, blah, blah.

Okay, okay, I get it. I’m over-reacting. I had to keep reminding myself that being able to see these two men is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me. The Pythons were like The Beatles to me. I’ve memorized their skits and movies and even made a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to celebrate the anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

They are both in their 70s, and there likely would be no more “live” Monty Python tours after this–definitely not with the whole crew. Graham Chapman is long passed on, and it was recently announced fellow Python Terry Jones was diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia. There are very few “celebrities” I would fangirl for, but the Pythons are at the top of that weird list.

However, every loving parent knows that “first times” are always terrifying. Whether it’s sending them off to pre-K, dropping them off for an overnight visit with family, handing them over the keys to the family car, or (gasp) leaving home for college.

As a result, an event I would otherwise have been talking about enthusiastically I hardly


It took two of my favorite comics, a patient spouse, and a “security watch,” of all things, to make my first night leaving my teen in charge less nerve-wracking. Image: Rick Tate

mentioned the entire summer and following autumn. I didn’t help that I kept seeing Cleese’s constant lamenting about sluggish ticket sales in El Paso on his Twitter feed. This couldn’t be a good sign. Was it an omen? Maybe I should cancel.

When the day arrived, my father (our only local relative) was out-of-town, and I felt a bubble of eerie isolation surrounding the home. We ordered the girls a pizza, and my husband gave Molly my cheap flip phone so she could text him in an emergency.

This meant I was left without a phone, or more specifically, without a lifeline to the kids. What if I needed to call them? He assured me it would be fine. He didn’t want me constantly checking my phone, but I needed some sort of “date night” security blanket. In a rush, I grabbed an old fob watch and carried it with me. My only logic to this move was I could check to see how long we’d been away–as if there some statute of limitations to them being good. If we were gone longer than two hours, then all hell would break loose.

My perpetual trepidation was constantly in the foreground of my mind. When the ushers opened the main theatre, Rick sent a quick text to say the show is going to start soon and he was putting the phone on quiet mode. Molly texted back that everything was fine.

“For now,” I thought.

I kept running a little prayer in my head over and over, “please let them be okay,” although who was I kidding? It should have been “please let me be okay.” I wondered if there was a way I could hijack Rick’s phone on the way to the bathroom and zip a quick note to the girls.

No dice. It was firmly in his pocket, but at least I had my watch, and I knew the show was about to start at 8 p.m. When the little stage lights went on, and Cleese and Idle wandered on stage, I got a moment of giddiness… then checked the time. It was 8:04 p.m. Somehow this was comforting. Throughout the first half, where they talked about their histories, showed film clips, and read hilarious skits, I kept checking the watch as if it was somehow going to give me a magical glimpse of home.

Seriously, what was my problem? I had wanted to see these guys (even if it was just two of them) in person for more than 30 years. I needed to let go of my worries and enjoy myself. Yet, my mind kept wandering from the show to how my girls were doing at home, and by intermission I made Rick send a text. Actually, he was already doing it when I asked.

All calm back at the ranch, apparently. My husband asked if I was enjoying the show.

Of course I was, except for that part of my brain releasing that little medley of disaster scenarios.

I glanced at the watch, which had made a nice indention in the palm of my hand. Nine o’clock and the second half was about to start.

“They could easily go another hour,” my husband said happily.

I inhaled deeply. A lot could happen in one hour.

By the time the second half of the show began, something very strange started happening. I slowly “forgot” to worry and begin really enjoying myself. I laughed more genuinely at these men’s re-enacting of favorite sketches and film clips of iconic scenes from The Holy Grail and Life of Brian.

 “We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!!!

Even through my worries were easing, the girls were still floating around in my head, although not so much near the front. I had remembered I wanted to show Molly Holy Grail but not Brian quite yet. Wait a few years on that one.

By now I was having such a good time, I had even neglected to grip the fob watch, and the mark on my hand had disappeared. The show ended with Idle leading an enthusiastic audience in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” and we all stood up and sang along:

“You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!”

After the show, we waited a few moments for the crowd to thin out, then headed quickly out of the theatre. I couldn’t wait to get home to my children. Parked in front of the entrance was a large, white limo with a few hopeful fans lingering around it. We ignored it. Had to get home to the girls. Probably a “decoy,” anyway.

We were parked on the other side of the building, and I found myself speedily walking around the back to get to the car. As we passed the “backstage” door, we saw a small gathering of people.

Not massive but big enough to be suspect. Then I noticed Cleese’s head looming over the rest of the crowd. At that moment, I did something “awful.” I forgot who I was, for a bit… at least in terms of being a parent. I grabbed my nice little leaflet with the caricature of the two Pythons and made my way into the crowd. Idle was also hidden in the midst of them. I managed to meet him first and thanked him for being such a big part of my growing up (at least that’s what I hope I said; no telling what actually came out of my mouth). He signed my leaflet, and I managed to make my way to Cleese and tell him similarly as he added his signature to the paper. I had just met two of my comedy heroes, and I was practically skipping back to the car.

I was coming down from my middle-aged fangirling when a sudden wave of panic hit me: I had let my guard down and not thought of my children for a few moments. What kind of parent was I?

Then my husband sent one last text to Molly before driving home and got that familiar “bleep” back with a note saying all was well and “see you soon.” My nerves suddenly calmed. Yes, all was well.

It is right for parents to worry about their children’s well-being, but I had been clinging so desperately to the torturous visions of my own over-protective mind that I never realized part of their “well-being” was to learn self-reliance and independence.

Molly needed to take on the responsibility of caring for her little sister. As a result, she began looking at little sister as less of an “annoyance” and more as an actual person. This was, like her, a very special, precious thing to her parents. She was going to do the best job she could to keep her safe.

Erin also needed to realize, even when her parents were away, they still love her. She needed to know she could rely on her big sister and to not be afraid to have us out of her sight.

My lesson was the hardest.

I needed to know I could trust them. I had to trust my teen to do what’s best in the case of emergency and to know we now see her as a responsible, smart, and resourceful young woman. I had to trust my youngest to follow instructions, get herself ready for bed, and to take on more small chores of her own.

I had to trust they would be okay and that being away from Mom and Dad for an evening wasn’t going to cause any permanent trauma… to me.

When we got home, Erin was already in her pajamas, but she had waited up for us so she could hug us goodnight. The house was clean, the pets were alive, there were no signs of flooding, smoke damage, or any of the other Biblical-level plagues I had concocted happening in my mind.

They were happy. They were unhurt. They were… just fine.

“Mom, I missed you,” Erin announced, running up to hug us as we entered the house. “We had a fun time.”

At that point, my guilt for “abandoning” my kids had vanished, and it was replaced with relief we all made it through the night… but even more with pride in my children.

Then, before heading to bed, she asked, “When can Molly watch me again?”

The next day, we bought tickets to a show the following month.


Find That Prop!: This is a Dead Parrot!!


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.

maindeadparrotThe Prop: The Dead Parrot:

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” tributes-300x255despite 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:

licensedparrots-300x236Unless 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 deadparrotshirts-290x300expensive; 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!


Find That Prop!: Terry Gilliam’s Outré Animation


In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

tgartmainTerry Gilliam’s Oddball Animation:

Even the boys of Python should appreciate the irony the weirdest member of the troupe that defines British-style comedy is American. Terry Gilliam was born in Minnesota, but became an ex-pat in the 1960s like many of the counter-culture teens and young adults.

Once there, he fell into a rather silly crowd, worked as a strip cartoonist for magazines (including one photo strip featuring John Cleese), and did some animation for a children’s program called “Do Not Adjust Your Set” featuring his soon-to-be Python pals Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

Gilliam is often known today by many film buffs as the director of several cult classic films including what he called his 1990s “Trilogy of Americana” that included “The Fisher King,” “12 Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” but his eye for the surreal and the off-beat that was so prevalent in his animation, remains true to his work today.

He liked to mix his own original art (the giant foot, and 16-ton-weight, for example) with movable cutouts, often taking advantage of the seriousness of Victorian era antique photos and illustrations, or even well-known fine art images, to create the unexpected, madcap and sometimes just freaky weird style that Monty Python’s Flying Circus just wouldn’t be the same without.

Where to Find It:

The bottom line on finding original artwork, especially work signed by Gilliam himself is, well “Good Luck.” His work is not easy to find.

Any “cels” or images used in the Monty Python movies or series are even more elusive. There are atgbooks few signed pieces from time to time on sites like Comic Art Fans, and even eBay, but these will fetch well over $500 for a simple line drawing. Not unreasonable for original work, but out of range for the standard Python fan.

Don’t let this be discouraging, because it isn’t hard for find concentrated examples of Gilliam’s work. A&E has released a series of “Personal Best” DVDs for each member of the Python clan, and the Terry Gilliam version features 45 of his best ‘toons. These retail for $19.95, but can be found on Amazon for $10.95, and Barnes & Noble for $14.86.

Gilliam also wrote sort of how-to book called Animations of Mortality in 1978, later turned in to a CD-Rom edition in 1996. The book features words and sketches that give a glimpse of what goes on inside the head of an animator. The hardcover edition isn’t cheap (about $97 on Amazon), but paperback versions will run around $31.

In 1999, author Bob McCabe released Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam: from Before Python to Beyond Fear and Loathing. If you can get past the overwhelmingly long title, the book is a good look at the evolution of Gilliam’s work. This book ranges in price from around $3 to $6 for used hardback and paperback versions, to about $17.99 for new paperback versions and $73.99 for new hardbacks.

Later this year, Gilliam will have his own say with a new autobiography Gilliamesque, a Pre-posthumous Memoir. Pre-orders are currently being taken on Amazon and other book sites.

A great online source for Gilliam’s animation and other work has been compiled by someone who knows the man best, his daughter, Holly.

The site, Discovering Dad, hasn’t been updated since 2013, but still has plenty of Gilliam facts, art and wonderful personal memories from Holly Gilliam. She also maintains a Twitter feed that is more current.

Now for something, completely different…Make Your Own Art:

dancingbeibThe beauty of Gilliam’s work lies in its simplicity. He manages to take a simple, portrait or drawing and turn it into a crazy storyline, just by adding a few extreme movements or features.

There are plenty of vintage images and illustrations to play with on the Internet. The easiest method is to take a portrait and make it “talk.” Cut out the image along the mouth and down both sides of the chin, like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

processAttach the cutout “mouth” to a thin piece of paper, and tape it slightly at the top (see image above).  This will make a nice little handle for a picture puppet. Add a couple of googly eyes or other painted or glued on features to make them even sillier. This is the type of animation popular sites like the eCard business, JibJab have mimicked.

Gilliam and the Pythons also did their share of poking fun at current events and celebrities. Go through old catalogs or magazines for full-body images of over-publicized persons — singers, politicians, actors, reality stars, over-memed cats — who you feel might be in need of some humbling.

manly-menNow you have our permission to cut them up….NO! not the actual people, that’s horrible, but go crazy on their images. Cut them off at the neck, shoulder, groin, knee and elbow, ankles and wrists.

Now they can be assembled on paper like your your own personal marionettes. Take a series of pictures of them in different poses for a photo animated strip like Gilliam liked to do in his early years.



“The whole point of animation to me is to tell a story, make a joke, express an idea,” he said. “The technique itself doesn’t really matter. Whatever works is the thing to use. That’s why I use cut-out. It’s the easiest form of animation I know.”grumpydragon


Find That Prop!: The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch


Find That Prop!: Gumby Couture


In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

gumbymainThe Prop, well Costume Really…The Gumbys:

The Gumby, the not-too-bright, but exceedingly loud Python recurring character, who utters choppy and sometimes monosyllabic phrases, is one of the best-known Python characters. The name Gumby comes from their footwear, Wellingtons, or “gumboots.”

One of their signature sketches, “Gumby Brain Specialist,” inspired the catch phrase..”MY. BRAIN.gumcosplay-300x268 HURTS!”

The very first Gumby to appear on screen was played by the late Graham Chapman, although the most frequent Gumby portrayor was Michael Palin. Every Python has played a Gumby at least once, and when the Pythons reunited in 2014, veteran comic actor Eddie Izzard stood in for Chapman to don the white hanky hat.

It seems there was a Gumby in almost every Python episode. They helped bridge the segments together, were often part of the Man on the Street segments, and Palin’s Gumby was the voice that announced the show title in Series 3. There were even animated Gumbys…courtesy of Terry Gilliam.

These characters all pretty much referred to each other as Mr. Gumby, but there were instances when their name was listed in subtitles…often with the title “Prof.” before it. Of course!

These lovable morons have a favorite place in fans’ hearts, and Python audience members were often not shy of dressing full Gumby to attend their live shows, including their recent reunion show in 2014.

tumblr_nch8q2Nm7b1rugg8io1_500How to Cosplay It:

If there’s one thing about thing about The Gumby, he is easy to find clothes for.  Any or all of these items can be found in a second-hand store, discount retail store or even in an old attic box.

The key isn’t what to get…it’s how to wear it. Pretty much everything in Mr. Gumby’s world looks like he’s ready to wade into the steam and hunt for tadpoles..or lost change.

Here are The Gumby basics:

• White long-sleeved button down shirt, sleeves rolled up haphazardly.
• Sweater Vest: tucked into pants.
• One pair or suspenders, any color
• One pair of polyester slacks or khakis, rolled up above the knee
• One white hanky, tied at all four corners and worn on the head
• One set of round wire glasses
• One Charlie Chaplin or “Hitler” mustache (the official term is “toothbrush” mustache, but nobody knows that. Well, now they do). This can be painted on, if you can’t find one.
• One pair of Wellingtons (rubber rain gumboots, preferably black)

Most importantly. The stance. Stoop your shoulders. Bend your knees. Toes out, heels together. Clench your fists like and angry gorilla in front of you. Congrats! You’re a Gumby!

For a little extra prop…carry two foam bricks around to bash together.

For all those fashionistas, we’ve even put together some modified Gumby Couture for men and women, using popular fashion-builder sites like Polyvore:

gumbycouturePlus, it’s not to hard to piece together doll-size clothes for Build-A-Bears, Barbie or fashion dolls, American Girl-sized dolls or even sock monkeys.

For those who want to show their Python pride, but don’t want to go all out, “My Brian Hurts” t-shirts can be found on several sites like Cafe Press and TV Store Online, although Zazzle has a design in Latin that’s the perfect inside joke.  Planet Minecraft even has a Gumby-inspired skin design for digital cosplay.

There was once an officially-licensed plush version available, but that is long out of production. Keep an eye out on eBay or collectible shops for this rare find.So, Gumby-up! It’s so easy to do…it will make your brain hurt!