The Ministry of Silly Walks is one of Monty Python's most famous sketches. John Cleese's serious civil servant with ludicrous locomotion first appeared in 1970, on the troupe's television show Monty Python's Flying Circus. Today, long after the Pythons broke up, it remains enduringly popular on YouTube.
Cleese is 74 now, and he can't kick his heels as high as he once could. But his silly walks have made one final comeback — with the help of some backup dancers.
For three weeks, the five surviving members of the Pythons have been performing a series of shows in London, called Monty Python Live (Mostly). Thousands of fans have seized the opportunity to see the Pythons reunite and perform familiar routines.
Sunday night is the final performance — and the Pythons say it will be the last time they perform as a troupe. That show will reach a worldwide audience, as theaters and TV channels present the performance to viewers in more than a hundred countries.
For some, though, a screen wasn't enough. Lars Muller traveled from Denmark to London in order to catch a live showing.
"I'm from the John Cleese Society," he says. "We are here to pay a tribute to Monty Python and John Cleese, because this is an amazing situation for us."
The popular British comedy troupe first appeared on TV in the late 1960s. They went on to release movies, albums, books and much more, and the members went on to do solo work once the group officially disbanded. Now, with an average age of 71, they've decided it's time to say goodbye.
The group promises classics with a twist in this multi-million dollar series of shows. Tickets for the first reunion performance sold out in a record 43 1/2 seconds.
Python fans span decades, continents and generations. Englishman James Moore recalls welcoming Monty Python to Canada when he worked for the British Council, and he says he's not the only member of his family who's a big Python fan.
"Not only me, but my children, who copied many of the sketches," Moore says. "Especially the parrot sketch — until we were sick and tired and knew every single word backwards."
Kathleen Bahirj, who grew up watching the Pythons, has a guess for why they inspired such passion in fans like her. "I think at the time they were so unconventional, so weird — and even now they're very unconventional," she says. "There's been nothing like them, ever, ever, and I think they paved the way for the modern comedian."
This may be the last time the group will perform together, but their work will live on: The Pythons have launched their first-ever fan club and have released Monty Python's Total Rubbish, which features all nine of their albums.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
And now for something completely different. It's not dead yet, but it will be after tonight's performance. The Monty Python comedy troupe first appeared on TV in the late 1960s, then went on to release movies, albums, and books. After a break of many years, the surviving Pythons recently got back together for a series of shows in London. Rich Preston reports.
RICH PRESTON, BYLINE: The Ministry of Silly Walks is one of the Python's most famous sketches. Thousands of fans have been coming to see that and other routines. Tonight, that audience extends worldwide. Cinemas are screening the Pythons to viewers in more than a hundred countries. For some, though, a screen wasn't enough. Lars Muller came all the way from Denmark.
LARS MULLER: We are here to pay a tribute to Monty Python and John Cleese because this is an amazing situation for us.
PRESTON: John Cleese is one of the original Pythons. With an average age of 71, they've decided it's time to say goodbye. Tickets for the first reunion performance sold out in a record 43 and a half seconds. Englishman James Moore recalls an early memory of Monty Python.
JAMES MOORE: I used to work for the British Council. I had the pleasure of welcoming Monty Python to Canada some time ago.
PRESTON: You a big Python fan?
MOORE: Not only me but my children who copied many of the sketches, especially the parrot sketch, until we were sick and tired and knew every single word backwards.
(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "THE PARROT SKETCH")
JOHN CLEESE: I wish to register a complaint.
PRESTON: Sitting next to me for the show was Kathleen Bahirj, who grew up with the Pythons.
KATHLEEN BAHIRJ: I watched them when I was a child, loved them.
PRESTON: What is it about the Pythons?
BAHIRJ: I think at the time, they were so unconventional, so weird. And even now, they're very unconventional. There's been nothing like them ever. And I think they paved the way for the modern comedian.
PRESTON: The Pythons had promised classics with a twist in this multimillion dollar series of shows. Many fans even dressed up as characters from their favorite routines. Eunes Svensen (ph) and Lean Alevern (ph) traveled from Sweden.
Now, I've got to say, you are fantastically dressed. Tell us what you're wearing.
EUNES SVENSEN: I'm wearing a shiny outfit trying to look like the - (Singing) I like Chinese, they only come up to your knees. That type of person.
LEAN ALEVERN: We enjoyed this very much. I am very pleased that they did this show.
PRESTON: Londoner Peter Lawrence said the evening was perfect.
PETER LAWRENCE: What a fantastic show and a fantastic sendoff for these guys.
PRESTON: The Pythons have also launched the first-ever fan club, as well as releasing "Monty Python's Total Rubbish," featuring nine of their albums. So whilst this may be the last time they'll perform together, the legend will live on, continuing to entertain fans around the world. For NPR News, I'm Rich Preston in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.