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OMG. I know there are folks out there who somehow don’t get Monty Python, and don’t, like me, laugh themselves stupid at something like the Fish Slapping Dance, or even the exquisite slow burn of the Cheese Shop sketch – it’s baffling, but there you have it – but buddy, if this bit from the deliciously satirical Life of Brian doesn’t get you going, you’ve got some sort of problem. Reasonable people will differ, of course, but for my dough the agonizing struggle of these Roman Centurions to stifle fits of giggles, while Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate won’t let them off the hook about the apparently “wisible” name of his “vewwy good fwiend from Wome”, is pretty much the funniest thing they ever did.

Given the material, the performances here are actually amazingly subtle and understated. Palin, weaving among the poor slobs of the rank and file, deciding to which of them he’s next going to administer the acid test, is masterful, and Cleese is simply perfect as the stalwart commander who can’t make out a frigging thing that Pilate, with his inability to pronounce the letter “r”, is trying to tell him. The dialogue when they drag presumed terrorist Brian in to the great hall so that Pilate can have a look at him just puts me in stitches. I found the script on line:

Scene 13: What’s So Funny About Biggus Dickus?


PONTIUS PILATE: …Make one large living awea… Ahh.

CENTURION: Hail Caesar.


CENTURION: Only one survivor, sir.

PILATE: Ah. Thwow him to the floor.

CENTURION: What, sir?

PILATE: Thwow him to the floor.



BRIAN: Aagh!

PILATE: Hmm. Now, what is your name, Jew?

BRIAN: ‘Brian’, sir.

PILATE: ‘Bwian’, eh?

BRIAN: No, no. ‘Brian’.



PILATE: Hoo hoo hoo ho. The little wascal has spiwit.

CENTURION: Has what, sir?

PILATE: Spiwit.

CENTURION: Yes, he did sir.

PILATE: No, no. Spiwit. Um, bwavado. A touch of dewwing-do.

CENTURION: Oh. Ahh, about eleven, sir.

PILATE: [Sideways glance at Centurion][Turning to Brian] So, you dare to waid us.

BRIAN: To what, sir?

PILATE: Stwike him, Centuwion, vewy woughly!


BRIAN: Aaah!

CENTURION: Oh, and, uh, throw him to the floor, sir?


CENTURION: Thwow him to the floor again, sir?

PILATE: Oh, yes. Thwow him to the floor, please.



PILATE: Now, Jewish wapscallion.

BRIAN: I’m not Jewish. I’m a Roman.

PILATE: A Woman?

BRIAN: No, no. Roman.


If the pitiable distress of the centurion who’s puckering his lips and sweating bullets, doing everything he can to keep silent, seems genuine, that’s because it is. There was a picture in one of the Python books I remember seeing back when, taken on set while the scene was being filmed, and off camera, the poor fellow’s being tickled with a stick to his nether regions (I tried to find it on line, but no luck). I don’t think I would have needed the extra encouragement. Every time I rewatch Palin as he continues on about his good buddy Biggus, then tells the centurions that “He has a wife, you know…”, deliberately, slyly, and almost maliciously setting them up for the involuntary outburst that’s going to have them all condemned to the Colosseum, where they’ll be “fighting wabid animals within the week”, I laugh harder than they’re all about to.

Of course, the almost terminally frustrated Pilate can’t have them all carted off to gladiator school, because who’s going to do it? The entire cohort is bent double, howling, and fully incapacitated, which is how Brian has an opportunity to scupper off.

Michael Palin just celebrated his 80th birthday. Unbelievably, Life of Brian was released going on 45 years ago, way back in 1979. Seems like only a decade, maybe. Maybe some time in the Nineties. Is that more than a decade?

Just for fun, here’s the Fish Slapping Dance. Easily the best 20 seconds in television history. Enjoy!

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