Monty Python - a Brief History | Graham Chapman - Comedy Writer and Actor | John Cleese - Comedy Writer and Actor | Terry Gilliam - Writer, Animator and Director | Eric Idle - Comedian, Writer and Actor | Terry Jones - Writer, Director and Actor | Michael Palin - Writer, Actor and Traveller | 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' - the Television Series | Monty Python's 'Dead Parrot Sketch' | 'And Now For Something Completely Different' - the Film | 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' - the Film | 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' - the Film | 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life' - the Film | Monty Python - The Books | Monty Python - The Records | Monty Python - The Stage Shows | Monty Python - The Best Bits | Almost Pythons - Important 'Monty Python' Contributors
The 'Dead Parrot Sketch' is probably the most well-known, and well-quoted, of any Monty Python sketch. But where did it come from, and why is it so successful, and what exactly does happen after the shop-keeper reveals that he has no parrots left..?
'I Wish to Register a Complaint'
The story started when Michael Palin told John Cleese about the experience he had trying to get his car repaired - the mechanic refused to accept that there was anything wrong with the car. John took this idea, and he and Graham Chapman wrote a sketch for a one-off comedy special called How to Irritate People in 1968. Next year, when John and Graham were looking for material for the first series of Monty Python's Flying Circus, they decided to rework the old sketch. As was typical in their writing partnership, John sat down and wrote the basic sketch - in this case about a man who buys a faulty toaster. He showed the finished product to Graham, who decided that it was too boring and that the faulty toaster should be a dead parrot.
A good script is not worth much without good performances, and John Cleese and Michael Palin play their parts to perfection. John is the decidedly odd 'Mr Praline', wearing a plastic raincoat buttoned up to the top and speaking in strange, rather flowery English:
...this parrot, what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.
Michael's shopkeeper, on the other hand, is very much the used-car salesman, denying any fault and constantly pointing out the parrot's single redeeming feature:
Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue. Beautiful plumage.
Quite Agree. Silly, silly...
So does Mr Praline get a replacement for his parrot in the end? Of course not. After being offered a slug, which he declines as it doesn't talk, he is advised by the pet-shop owner to go to his brother's shop in Bolton. A quick cut and a caption later, and Mr Praline is back in exactly the same shop, only now the owner has a moustache. On being informed that he is in Ipswich, not Bolton, Praline makes a complaint to Terry Jones' bored British Rail employee, who confirms that he is, in fact, in Bolton. Another caption and Praline returns once more to the pet-shop, to be informed that the owner was attempting a palindrome. Praline observes that a palindrome of 'Bolton' would be 'Notlob'1 and refuses to continue the sketch. Cue Graham Chapman's Colonel interrupting the sketch to declare it 'silly' and the show moves on...
It's Scarcely a Replacement
The 'Dead Parrot sketch' cropped up in several places after its original performance, firstly on the BBC Monty Python's Flying Circus album, and then in the film And Now For Something Completely Different, in which the ending was changed to have the pet-shop owner reveal that what he really wanted to be was a lumberjack...
The sketch became an important part of the Python stage shows, featuring on the Live at Drury Lane album in the UK and the Live at the City Center album in the USA. During the many incarnations of the sketch, John and Michael never hesitated to try to make each other laugh by ad-libbing or over-acting wildly, Michael generally getting the upper hand. They also took the opportunity to extend the sketch, John adding ever more ways of stating that the parrot is deceased.
Viz-a-viz the metabolic processes, he's had his lot. All statements to the effect that this parrot is still a going concern are from now on inoperative.
So why is the 'Dead Parrot sketch' so famous? Perhaps because it is one of the most mainstream sketches that the Pythons did. Indeed, many die-hard Python fans find the sketch a little... well... ordinary for their tastes. Importantly, it has a nice, simple premise that can be easily explained: 'A man buys a dead parrot, so he takes it back to complain. The shop-keeper refuses to admit that there's anything wrong with the parrot.' OK, so that doesn't quite do it justice, but try explaining a Python sketch such as 'Find the Fish' to a non-believer and see how far you get...
Of course, you could argue that the 'Dead Parrot sketch' is successful simply because it was written by two of the finest comedy writers and performed by two of the finest comedy actors ever to grace a television screen. Whether you consider it the Pythons' greatest moment or just another silly sketch, you can guarantee it won't be long before you hear somebody quoting it. All together now:
This is an ex-parrot!