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Welcome to “It’s the Arts,” with Monty Python

by Jillian Steinhauer on May 23, 2014

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It’s the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day Weekend, which means, if you’re anything like me, your brain is somewhere out the window. Why not indulge its wandering weirdness with some Monty Python?

This video, which I found thanks to @alexteplitzky, is from the British comedy troupe’s long-running sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–74). The Flying Circus was pioneering in its silliness and surrealism; the Pythons delivered jokes without punchlines, sketches without endings, and complete non sequiturs (spot the random Viking in this sketch), mixed with satire and a healthy dose of cross-dressing.

This sketch, which actually comes from the very first episode of the very first season of the Flying Circus, lampoons 1960s British TV arts programming for being impossibly frivolous and more host- than guest-centric: the interviews here go off the rails as the presenters harp on about their subjects’ names and never get around to talking about any creative work, and at one point the presenter played by Python John Cleese throws a guest off the stage with the words, “We interviewers are more than a match for the likes of you!”

“It’s the Arts” then proceeds to bring viewers “a unique event in the world of modern art: Pablo Picasso will be doing a special painting for us, on this program, live … on a bicycle.” You won’t believe what happens next. It’s not the Pythons at their absolute finest (try “Dead Parrot Sketch” or “Spanish Inquisition), but it does capture something absurdly right about the nature of artistic celebrity.

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