Tag Archives: monty python’s flying circus

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 Classic “Silly Walks” Bowler Hat


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.