Attila the Hun and Monty Python’s Worst Sketch

Attila the HunOn this day in 451, Attila the Hun sacked the town of Metz. This was part of an attack on the Western Roman Empire. Some day, I must set down and really get straight on all this history. But the truth is that I’m bad at it. This is why I’ve always liked math: you don’t have to remember anything. Generally, Attila the Hun is depicted today as a barbarian. But you know the definition of a barbarian: “not a Roman.” So that doesn’t actually mean that much. Regardless, I just don’t have the time to read up on the man for an anniversary post. I want to talk about something much closer to my heart: the worst Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch ever.

That sketch was, of course, “The Attila The Hun Show.” It has all the signs of being a Terry Jones and Michael Palin kind of thing. But then it quickly becomes nothing but a straight parody of old 1950s family situation comedies. The only humor in it is that there is no humor in it. It is a bunch of tired jokes that are supposed to be funny because old situation comedies weren’t funny. For example, Attila the Hun gives his children a severed human head as a present, saying, “I want you kids to get ahead.” It is filled with canned laughter that makes it all the more annoying.

In addition to this, we have Eric Idle doing a black-face servant — “Uncle Tom” — that is offensive even coming from England. I blame John Cleese for the whole thing, but they all to blame. Thankfully, it doesn’t last long and they quickly transition into what strikes me as a very Terry Jones kind of sketch where a bunch of perverts in trench-coats watch as Graham Chapman plays a doctor examining Carol Cleveland. Any sketch where “The Stripper” is played was probably written by Jones. And this transitions to Jones himself doing a striptease, something he seems to have rather enjoyed.

Eventually, the whole thing gets to the high point of the episode, which is the documentary about Village Idiots — which still makes me laugh. And it is blistering social satire, especially once it moves to the “city idiots,” where one says, “Father was Home Secretary, and mother won the derby.” And then it goes into this great bit on Masonic conspiracies. It is, in other words, a great episode. But I rarely watch it because I can’t get past “The Attila the Hun Show” and, “I want you kids to get ahead”!

11 thoughts on “Attila the Hun and Monty Python’s Worst Sketch

  1. Kind of reminds me of “Heil, Honey, I’m Home.”

    For those who don’t know, this was a real sitcom about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living in the suburbs and trying to get along with their Jewish neighbors. I think it made it to two episodes.

    • Now you see, that’s the kind of thing that really brilliant but clueless writers come up with. Maybe they were thinking that since the Mr Hilter sketch worked so well, why not a sitcom?

      “You wouldn’t have had much fun in Stalingrad!”

      But I’m going to have to check out the show, which Wikipedia says was canceled after one episode. Imagine that!

      • I posted a link to a review of it on this page, but I don’t know if you can find the full episode anywhere. But from what I could see, once you got past the shock value it was just a tedious, conventional sitcom.

    • Really? I’m not allowed to analyze Monty Python. You like it all the same? Every skit is just as good as every other skit. Each movie is just as good as any other. For a group that’s trademark was cutting-edge comedy to do such a tired piece is worth note. But had you read the whole article, you would know what I was up to. That was from the days I was working 50 hour weeks and still publishing 3 articles a day on this blog.

      And Minister of Silly Walks makes it sound like you don’t know Python very well. But “silly bitch”? Is that supposed to be funny? As for a “bit of fun,” that’s the whole point: it wasn’t a bit of fun. It was dumb. It was embarrassing.

      • That’s actually a quote from the show:

        The Visitors sketch (The Ant, an Introduction [1.09])

        Mr. L’Equator: [introducing himself to Victor] Good evening. I’m L’Equator; Mr. L’Equator. Like ’round the middle of the Earth, only with an L.
        Audrey: [laughs hysterically]
        Mr. L’Equator: And this is my wife, Audrey. She smells a bit, but she has a heart of gold.
        Victor: There must be some kind of mistake, because this isn’t —
        Mr. L’Equator: [of Iris] Who’s she? Who’s the bird?
        Victor: I —
        Mr. L’Equator: You’ve got a nice pair there, haven’t you, love? [fondles Iris by the breasts and kisses her; Iris screams her objection] Shut up, you silly bitch. It’s only a bit of fun.

        Or did you know that and I just missed the joke? If so, sorry.

  2. I respectfully disagree with you and believe you missed the point. But of course, the opinion of humor is subjective. The credits of “The Attilla the Hun Show” is a parody of the then-contemporary (1969) NBC show “The Debbie Reynolds Show”, which was a stale, reworking of the “I Love Lucy” premise with the housewife character getting herself and others into trouble. Several of the behind-the-scenes talent from “I Love Lucy”, including the writers, were involved in that show, which basically took a circa 1951 concept and reheated those leftovers for viewers two decades on. It spoofs the sugary phoniness of it all brilliantly. 1969 was right in the midst of several turbulent years, with the cruelty of War in Southeast Asia roaring, while meanwhile, this saccarhine TV show is spewing stupidity primarily to clueless viewers who can’t handle reality. “The Attilla the Hun Show” is the brilliantly absurd juxtaposition of a brutal warrior from a different era put into a stereotypical American household of the time. I don’t think for one moment that the Eric Idle role of “Uncle Tom” is or was intended to be racist. Because that is the perception, though, I noticed that end part is cut from a short youtube video of the skit to avoid offense. But the character is so over-the-top that it is a commentary on absurd black stereotypes tpresented in American media for decades up to that point. I didn’t laugh at Eric Idle because he was in blackface and playing the awful stereotype. I laughed because that caricature character showed how woefully ignorant the writers were involved in presenting minorities in many American films and TV shows. The blacks were always the servants, as were the Asians, and the Hispanics. Offhand, I think of the actor Samee Tong in the late 1950s / early 1960s John Forsyth show “Bachelor Father”. It wasn’t demeaning to Samee Tong to the degree of the over-the-top Eric Idle parody in this skit, but the role was subserviant and unimaginative. The joke where Attilla brings the gift bag home with the severed head is meant to be a groaningly stupid joke because that Cleese and Chapman who wrote the sketch were making a statement on the drivel that often was passed off as “comedy” in the US. Its so appalling dumb it is hysteical. And of course the laugh tracks and the smiling / mugging for the camera are done to show how these techniques were used to alert viewers that this was a joke and they needed to laugh. It was a skewer of the irritatingly bad points of insipid American network television comedy.

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