The great comedian Terry Jones is 73 today. He is, of course, one of the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I tend to think that he doesn’t get enough credit in the group. I suspect that this is more because he has the least distinctive face of the group. But that is a big part of what he adds to the group. He is the only one other than Michael Palin who gets lost in roles. Everyone else is pretty much John Cleese doing whatever part, and so on. Jones is especially great playing an older woman, as he does especially brilliantly in Life of Brian.
The critical dynamic in Monty Python was between Jones and Cleese. The consensus seems to be that Cleese was the brains of the outfit and Jones was the heart. Without those two, the show would have been at best just mediocre sketch comedy. Cleese is a comedic genius. But it was Jones that pushed the comedy outside the confines of the studio. It’s funny that many people think of the parrot sketch as a classic Python bit. But it is entirely typical of other sketch comedy of that time. What actually makes the show Pythonesque is stuff like the Michael Palin openings of the old man running toward the camera and saying, “It’s…” Of course, without Cleese, I believe the show would have been just too bizarre to have ever taken off.
One thing that wasn’t highlighted nearly enough was Jones’ physical comedy. He was the best of the bunch. Here is a good example of it. It also shows another aspect of him, which is that he has absolutely no shame:
Another aspect of Jones is that he is a rather good director. To begin with, I assume that the other members are just about impossible to direct. But more than that, all three of the main films — Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and Meaning of Life — look great given their budgets. But directors never get much credit for doing comedies, even though they are clearly the hardest kinds of films to make work. And after about two decades, Jones is coming out with a new comedy, Absolutely Anything — co-written with Gavin Scott and starring Simon Pegg and Kate Beckinsale.
Happy birthday Terry Jones!