Soon after I began teaching sketch comedy writing classes a few years ago, I purchased the complete DVD box-set of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. As far as I knew, I’d never seen the show before, but it had a reputation as a groundbreaking and important show in the history of sketch comedy.
In my obsessive way, over the next few weeks I watched every one of the 45 episodes and catalogued every sketch and the “running order” of each episode.
What an experience that was. I felt like a modern-day teenager “discovering” the Beatles, in chronological order, one album at a time.
But there was also something a little strange about the experience: Throughout the process I felt a vague sense of déjà vu. But I couldn’t remember ever actually having watched this show before.
When I was growing up in Ohio, we never had cable and, as far as I can remember, our 12 channels never showed Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Also, for most of my adult life I’ve chosen not to own a television, so watching TV is something I do only on rare occasions.
I could not figure out where (or whether) I’d seen this show before.
* * * * *
My dad has been often perplexed and sometimes exasperated by my choices of vocation.
My education was business-heavy and expensive. I studied accounting at Case Western Reserve University, then did my MBA at Columbia University, and my parents paid for all of it. Thus, incredibly, I graduated with no debt and with real freedom to pursue whatever I wanted.
And I took full advantage of that freedom. Here are some of the jobs I’ve held after college: social services caseworker, GMAT test prep teacher and curriculum writer, musician, package handler for a worldwide shipping company, pre-school teacher, and general manager of a theatre school.
My dad, on the other hand, has stuck with one career (physician) for his whole working life.
His feelings about my job choices were understandable. Some of those choices seemed foolish and irresponsible, and some of them probably were.
Neither he nor I could have ever known that eventually I would find success writing, performing, and teaching sketch comedy for the stage.
* * * * *
One day as I was watching my Monty Python’s Flying Circus DVDs, I happened to glance at the copyright dates: 1969-1974. And my mind made a connection.
I was born in Great Britain in 1968 and lived there until we moved to America in 1971.
So I called my dad and asked him, and sure enough, he said that yes, when we had lived in Great Britain, he had been a huge fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he used to come home and watch it after work.
This information fascinates me.
I like to imagine that I vaguely remember this show from my earliest years. Perhaps I played on the carpet in our tiny Yorkshire flat while my dad watched the show. Sometimes I might have sat on his lap. Maybe he fed me while he watched it.
In truth, even if this really did happen, I doubt that I remember it—even vaguely. But the possibility is so intriguing that I entertain it anyway.
And now the show has an added significance for me. Whenever I watch it, I think of my dad watching the episodes as they premiered so many years ago. And I imagine myself as an infant, there with him.
And sometimes I take the reverie a bit further and remember other images (real ones) of my dad from my early years.
I remember Dad feeding me a soft-boiled egg each morning, in a blue ceramic egg-cup that had my name emblazoned on it in white in all caps. I remember the sandpaperish feel of his stubble-blanketed face whenever he kissed me. I remember the thrilling sound of crunching gravel in the driveway, signaling his arrival home from work.
And I like to imagine that, in those early days, when my dad turned on Monty Python’s Flying Circus while he spent time with me, he was planting the seeds of the work I would not discover until 30 years later.
Ranjit Souri ([email protected]) has co-written and performed in numerous sketch comedy shows with Cupid Players and Stir-Friday Night! in Chicago and across the country. He teaches improvisation and sketch comedy writing classes at The Second City Training Center in Chicago.