October 17, 2017
In the late 1960s, Monty Python became one of the first comedy troupes to become popular world-wide. The troupe, including members like Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, was influential in creating the style of comedy that is well-known today.
“We have the term Python-esque,” said Robert Weiner, a popular-culture librarian who also teaches a class in the Honors College. “It’s in our vernacular. What does that tell you? That means that comedy in the vein of Monty Python. It’s a big deal that the word exists. Monty Python did for comedy what The Beatles did for popular music. They are the single most influential comedy troupe in the history of the world.”
Weiner collaborated with Lynn Whitfield, an associate archivist in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, and Paul N. Reinsch, a professor of practice in film in the School of Theatre and Dance, on co-editing “Python Beyond Python: Critical Engagements With Culture,” a scholarly work about the members of Monty Python and the side projects they participated in before, during and after their work in the troupe.
Paul N. Reinsch
Weiner said the idea for the book came to him 10 years ago. He wanted to have a collection that discussed Monty Python in a different context, but on a topic that had not been covered in an academic point of view before.
Weiner reached out to Whitfield about helping him co-edit the work, he said. They had worked together on other projects, including “James Bond in World and Popular Culture.”
After the initial idea, Whitfield and Weiner put the book on hold while working on other projects. But Whitfield said the timing was perfect to begin working on the Monty Python book again when Weiner brought in Reinsch to help with the co-editing.
“Paul, with his strong cinema background and love of Python, took helm of the project,” Whitfield said. “He made sure it got accomplished and that there was real substance to the essays.”
Weiner said once Reinsch and Whitfield were on board, the book turned out really well.
“Collections tend to be uneven, that’s just the nature of it,” Weiner said. “But, because there are only 12 or 13 pieces in the book, we were really able to improve the quality so the whole thing is a solid piece of work. I am immensely proud of it.”
Whitfield said the inspiration for the book came from the success of the members of Monty Python outside of the troupe.
“You have six well-educated guys whose early creative careers overlap several times before they ever form Monty Python,” Whitfield said. “And after Python, they each go on to have successful solo careers in their own right. There has been a lot written about the Python years, but not as much on the other years.”
Whitfield said she hopes readers of the book will learn about the other things members of Monty Python have accomplished outside of the troupe.
“I think people will be surprised to learn how diverse the lives of Python members have been, and how influential they have been in the other areas of entertainment, social commentary and scholarship,” Whitfield said. “Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin were able to channel their talents into a variety of creative outlets. They didn’t shy away from their past achievements, but they also didn’t let those achievements hold them back from doing other things. You have to admire someone who can transform themselves and live their lives on their own terms.”
Reinsch said this collection covers a range of topics, including video games, musical theatre, the study of history and even business training videos. People who watch the troupe and people who are not familiar with the troupe can learn many things from the collection.
“The work of Monty Python continues to speak to a desire to understand the world, to understand how power works, to see history clearly, and the urge to take the pompous down a notch,” Reinsch said.
Even Whitfield learned things about the members of Monty Python while working on co-editing the book. She said editing the chapter about heritage and Palin’s “Diaries” reminded her of some of the work she does with the Lubbock Heritage Society.
In Palin’s work, he writes about the changing landscape of the British community and the demolition of historical pieces of architecture. Whitfield said she can relate to the challenge of wanting to improve a local community while making sure improvements are not doing away with older buildings that have a historical significance.
“Lubbock is still a relatively young city,” Whitfield said. “At any given time, there’s always a few of our historic buildings in danger of being torn down to pave the way for progress to happen.”
Reinsch said looking at the solo works of the members of Monty Python in a scholarly sense gives the readers a chance to increase their understanding of the purpose of the troupe’s work.
“The popularity of Monty Python, we argue, has in fact served to obscure the work of members before and after coming together as Monty Python,” Reinsch said. “At the same time, the reputation of Python has, at times, caused audiences to actively misinterpret work produced by individual members. The contributors work to balance an awareness of the meanings of Monty Python with a desire to understand members’ works on their own terms.”
Monty Python introduced the style of absurdist humor. While it is a silly kind of humor, Weiner said that style of humor points out troubles in culture. The style of absurdist humor is one reason people still enjoy Monty Python today.
“That is why it is timeless,” Weiner said. “A lot of the topics Monty Python covers are still so relevant, including the way we act and how we have a culture that gets offended if you cough the wrong way. These are the kinds of things that Monty Python was doing a long time ago.”
Weiner thinks it is important for people to learn about Monty Python because of how it influenced other works. Without Monty Python, he said, there would not be shows like “Saturday Night Live,” “Rick & Morty” or “South Park.”
Weiner said Monty Python can teach society how to laugh in the toughest of situations.
“Laughing is something that makes your life and my life and the world’s life better,” Weiner said. “Python changed the world completely by making us laugh in a way we haven’t laughed before. In that way, Python and its six members have made the world a much better place to be in.”
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The Board of Regents of then-Texas Technological College formally established the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library in 1955, but the librarys collection dates to the early years of Texas Tech.
The largest rare-book library in 130,000 square miles, the major historical repository and research center spans a 78,000-square-foot facility with climate-controlled stacks and pulls tens of thousands of individual items to answer research requests from all over the world. In total, the SWC/SCL houses 22 million historical items, including the master Coronelli globe, constructed in 1688 and once owned by William Randolph Hearst.
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The university is one of two in Texas to offer all traditional degrees in theatre, and one of only three in the southwest to offer a Ph.D. in Fine Arts.
Students in the School of Theatre and Dance pursue a core curriculum that includes training in the areas of design, acting, directing, dance, stage management, history and playwriting.Twitter
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