Culture

Monty Python's Life of Birds

A look back on some of the greatest bird-themed skits from Britain’s most legendary gang of comics.

When John Cleese and Eric Idle announced they were doing a U.S. reunion tour this month, I did what any Monty Python fan would do—went straight to YouTube to reminisce with a few (hours) of their best skits.

One of the first clips to pop up was the dead parrot sketch, voted the top fan favorite in a poll by a U.K. comedy channel last year. (It was even once performed by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference.) But what really caught my eye was the slew of “related” videos that YouTube was suggesting: a list united by one common thread—birds.

Finding bird references in the famous British comedy troupe's repertoire isn't hard. There’s the one about penguins conquering the world:

And the one about the exploding TV-top penguin:

The one where chickens are more valuable than gold:

And the one where seabirds are hawked off as snacks at the movies:

Oh, and of course, the great scientific debate over whether a Barn Swallow can carry a coconut in its talons . . .

The group also used birds to take shots at politics, British society, and misplaced human priorities, depicting hunters as trigger-happy buffoons, mocking egg-collectors, and defending the unseen role of nature in everyday life.

And if Monty can do birds, than birds can do Monty. A deep dive into the depths of YouTube reveals several clever avians trying to pick up the troupe's beat. Perhaps the best is Ollie, an African Grey Parrot from England: His most famous clip—an acoustic version of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”—boasts more than 1.3 million views.

This Python impersonator learned his trade from his owner, Dave Preece, who picked him up (very much alive) at a pet store in 2004. It wasn’t long before Ollie was singing along with Preece, who is a guitarist and a chronic whistler. “He likes anything with a good rock base or beat—something he can move to. He’s also been known to beatbox,” Preece says. To top it all off, Ollie has added Preece’s thick, English accent to his parodies.

Though we’ll probably never know why birds were such a hit in the Monty Python universe (unless Mr. Cleese or Mr. Idle would like to chime in here), one thing's for sure: fake birds plus crazy Brits equal pure comedic genius.

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