Well-liked comic and world traveler Palin (Himalaya, 2005, etc.) turns in affable notes toward a memoir of a whirlwind decade.
Equating keeping a diary to giving up smoking—painful and no fun at first, then patently the right thing to do—Palin chronicles a time when he and his fellow Monty Pythons were setting to work making comedy history. The beginnings of the BBC series that no one quite knew what to call (The Toad Elevating Moment? Owl-Stretching Time?) were, he allows, “very bizarre,” with sketches devoted to “the death of Genghis Khan, and two men carrying a donkey past a Butlins redcoat, who later gets hit on the head with a raw chicken by a man from the previous sketch, who borrowed the chicken from a man in a suit of armor.” There are epoch-making moments: we may never know whether the pet shop of November 12, 1970, was the epicenter of the dead parrot sketch, but we now can be sure that March 29, 1971, a Monday, marks the birth of the “Grimsby Fish-Slapping dance—which ends up with my being knocked about eight feet into the cold, green, insalubrious waters of the Thames.” Python completists will be fascinated to learn that relations between the troupe members were occasionally strained, as were personal budgets; Palin reveals that they often took on ad-writing jobs for Guinness beer and such to have a few extra pence to spend. Less madcap than some of his fellows, comfortably married with children and on the quiet and bookish side to begin with, Palin still gets into misadventures and scrapes, among them with the censors who objected to the line “We make castanets of your testicles” from Holy Grail. Nonetheless, he is mostly gentle toward his foils, some of whom, such as an Indian-food-scarfing, Lumberjack-Song-quoting George Harrison, emerge as even more lovely than before.
Essential for Python fans, who for once will not know all the punch lines.