I was recently re-watching some Monty Python sketches, specifically, “Cheese Shop” and “Dead Parrot” plus the film, “Life of Brian”. I was struck by how much philosophy is in Python humor.
Socrates believed in examining your life by constant question and answer sessions. He did a lot of “thinking about thinking”, which is sort of a definition of philosophy. Thinking about thinking is what happens in the Python sketches, in which ordinary people try to overcome barriers by using common sense and reason.
In the “Dead Parrot”, a customer is trying to convince the pet shop owner that the parrot he purchased is dead. The shopkeeper wouldn’t agree.
In the “Cheese Shop” sketch a customer is trying to buy some cheese in a cheeseless cheese shop! It’s the “theatre of the absurd’, where these confrontations between a rational person and an indifferent world, happen.
In the “Life of Brian”, Brian says, to his disciples:
“Look, you’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.”
This is what Sartre was talking about when he declared that our “existence precedes our essence”. We have to think for ourselves and provide our own meaning and purpose in life. We are NOT born with essence (meaning, purpose and goals). We exist first and then we determine our own essence.
Monty Python’s humor makes us re-think our lives by satirizing and parodying the way people fail to get independence of thought and thus don’t use their freedom to choose. Sartre called this “bad faith”, the denial of personal freedom to choose, so these people feel they are not free to change their actions.
We haven’t said anything about Nietzsche, which “Life of Brian” also brought to mind. He declared “God is Dead”, which meant that the scientific world made belief in God no longer acceptable to modern man, and so our meaning and purpose would have to come from us alone, the new “ubermensch” (the superior man, who determines his own meaning and values). Python comedy brought out to us the illogic and stupidity that sometimes underlies our social institutions.
So, there is plenty of philosophy in Python, in fact some sketches and films are understood better by philosophical analysis.
To end, I leave you with a comic line:
PHILOSOPHY IS A STUDY WHICH ENABLES MEN TO BE UNHAPPY MORE INTELLIGENTLY!
Also published on Medium.