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Choke jokes

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on November 13, 2020 Published on November 13, 2020

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

What with all the gloom of the recently-maybe-almost-concluded US elections, I turn to Netflix to drown my fears. To my amazement, in amongst the usual selection of gore ‘n’ drama, I discover all four glorious, madcap seasons of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Thirteen episodes apiece, except for the final season.

Watching the series now is surreal: The humour has not merely improved with time, but leapfrogged over itself to become a form of future-fiction. The characters in the weirdly truncated skits, which start and stop with no preamble, might belong to today’s media stories — except that in our world such news would be treated as deadly serious. Politicians, policemen, journalists, bankers and housewives on the little screen sound eerily like their counterparts on modern news media.

On Monty Python, policemen are called in to investigate a fatal joke: It’s so hilarious that anyone reading it falls dead. When the police are called in, their precautions include three constables groaning moodily while their senior officer strides into the house where the inventor of the joke and his wife have died of terminal hilarity. The officer walks in looking normal but — oh no! Delayed reaction! He falls over dead, laughing hysterically.

On the radio, however, I hear seemingly sane people claiming that Democrats are demon-worshippers and paedophiles. That Democrats are forcing Republican “observers” at polling stations to stand OUTSIDE the building while votes are being counted. If Joe Biden becomes the President, they believe that climate terrorists will abolish windows on buildings, old people will be euthanised by healthcare fanatics and abortionists will run around tearing babies out of women at full-term!

On Monty Python, groups of renegade grannies rove the streets clad all in black, shoving people off the pavement, creeping up on defenceless young men and roaring around on motorbikes. Meanwhile in Michigan? There was a plot by armed militants calling themselves the Wolverine Watchmen. They plotted to kidnap the governor, in part because of her insistence on mask-wearing during the pandemic. That is: Masked and heavily armed gangsters were willing to start a civil war to protest the wearing of masks. Their plans included snatching the governor from her vacation home, then leaving her stranded in the middle of a lake in a disabled boat.

Would a Wolverine Watchman find a Monty Python skit funny, I wonder? Each crazy-brilliant playlet starts with something familiar — Sheep Farmer Watching His Flock — then immediately goes berserk: The sheep are perched in trees, because they think they’re birds. “There goes another one!” says the farmer, as we hear a loud thud.

But for people who believe that Demo-n-crats literally murder babies as part of their agenda, maybe a skit about flying sheep is just another abomination dreamed up by evil Liberal maniacs. Anything’s possible. Jokes turn into terminal weapons, clowns turn into Presidents. Still. I love the Pythons. If I could choose my end game, I’d read that fatal joke! What a great way to go.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on November 13, 2020
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