CLOSE
YouTube
YouTube

15 Fun Facts About Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

YouTube
YouTube

In what would be their final movie together, in 1983 the classic comedy troupe Monty Python gave the world a collection of funny sketches meant to document every stage of a person's life, from “The Miracle of Birth” to “Death” (give or take a Terry Gilliam free-for-all short film). Here are some facts about Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life before we start wondering where that fish could be.

1. INITIAL CONCEPTS FOR THE MOVIE INCLUDED MONTY PYTHON’S WORLD WAR III.

The Pythons—John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman—produced a lot of material while writing in Jamaica, but couldn’t figure out how to link it all together into one general theme. Eventually, Jones—who ended up directing the film with Gilliam—said during a breakfast that “it’s somebody’s life story.” Eric Idle responded with the title of the movie.

2. THEY SENT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS A POEM INSTEAD OF A SCRIPT.

The Pythons got around getting notes from the studio by submitting a budget and a poem, which was a summary of the movie.

3. MICHAEL CAINE MADE A CAMEO IN THE ZULU WAR SCENE.

He played a dead soldier as a nod to his first major role in the 1964 movie Zulu. The Pythons asked Clint Eastwood, Julie Andrews, and Paul Newman to appear in the movie to talk about “heating arrangements in cinemas.” They all declined, though Jones said that, "Paul Newman thought about it. We got a very nice letter from him saying that he would really like to, but he thought that after all he wouldn't. Clint, I'm afraid, turned us down cold. I don't think he even replied to our letter."

4. DOUGLAS ADAMS CONTACTED THEM OVER USING A VERY SIMILAR TITLE.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, who was one of only two non-Pythons to get a writing credit on a sketch on the troupe’s television show, contacted Terry Jones while he was in Jamaica to inform him that he was writing a book titled The Meaning of Liff with John Lloyd. This led to Gilliam having the tombstone in the opening credits initially read “The Meaning of Liff” before a bolt of lightning turned the last letter into an E. Lloyd remembered Adams saying he purposely titled their book Meaning of Liff to confuse people into thinking it was related to the Python movie.

5. THE "CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE" SHORT WAS INITIALLY SUPPOSED TO BE AN ANIMATED PIECE.

Gilliam wanted to get out of animation, and convinced the other Pythons to let him try something out on his own sound stage. He eventually had to cut it down to 15 minutes after his colleagues kept insisting it was too long.

6. MAX HEADROOM IS IN IT.

Matt Frewer was one day out of drama school when he excitedly took on the role of “Cornered Executive Who Jumps” in the “Crimson Permanent Assurance” short, which marked his first feature film appearance. The film was also the feature debut of Jane Leeves, Frasier's Daphne; she played a dancer in the “Christmas in Heaven” number.

7. TERRY JONES CAME UP WITH THE MR. CREOSOTE SKETCH WHILE MICHAEL PALIN WAS COMING BACK FROM THE BATHROOM.

Jones had the image of a huge man walking through a park with his stomach on a wheelbarrow, but nothing more. Palin told Jones that he had better have a punch line to the joke by the time he returned from the restroom. When Jones heard Palin’s footsteps returning from the toilet, he quickly jotted down the concept of the corpulent man’s stomach exploding after dining in a restaurant. Palin laughed.

8. MR. CREOSOTE’S VOMIT WAS COMPRESSED SOUP.

Nine hundred gallons of pre-mixed vomit containing vegetable soup, sweet corn, a bit of tomato, diced carrots, and Russian salad dressing were prepared for the infamous sketch. A catapult that could handle 20 to 30 gallons of the mix, and launch it 30 yards, was used to fling vomit at the extras with the cheapest costumes. Quentin Tarantino once claimed watching that scene was the only time he ever was grossed out by any scene in any movie.

9. GRAHAM CHAPMAN ONCE ACTUALLY HELD A DISMEMBERED LEG.

It was while he was in medical school, where a nurse eventually "took it away to the leg bin." Though Chapman never ended up practicing medicine, he wrote the strange incident into the movie.

10. THE KIDS WERE SPARED FROM HEARING THE DIRTY WORDS.

When singing “Every Sperm is Sacred,” Jones said to the children, “A little rubber thing on the end of his sock,” forcing him to change the word in editing later. Also, Cleese’s sex tutorial was filmed without the children on set.

11. THERE WAS ONE CLASSIC AD LIB.

Palin protesting, “Hey, I didn’t even eat the mousse!” wasn’t in the script.

12. THEY USED THE SAME CHOREOGRAPHER AS THE MOVIE ANNIE.

Arlene Phillips choreographed music videos for Aretha Franklin, Elton John, the Bee Gees, and Queen, and worked with the Pythons on their movements. She continued to do so for their live performances over the years.

13. GILLIAM RECYCLED A COSTUME FOR THE "FISH" SCENE.

The elephant costume was made for Gilliam’s movie Time Bandits. It was cut from that movie, but he had always wanted to use it somewhere.

14. A BUNCH OF HIGH SCHOOLERS WERE SOME OF THE FIRST PEOPLE TO SEE THE MOVIE.

At a test screening held in Yonkers, New York, Jones recalled that, "we had an audience of 75 percent high school kids, 15- to 18-year-olds. Out of 400, 18 (or 80, depending on how you understand Jones' accent) of them walked out in disgust. I think it got the strongest negative response of any film on which they've actually carried out one of these surveys. Disgraceful film!"

15. A "SCATHING ATTACK" ON MARTIN LUTHER WAS CUT.

Idle claimed that test audiences didn’t know who Luther was, causing them to lose faith in the scene and drop it.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Shout! Factory
arrow
entertainment
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Troma Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios