by Michael Schultz on January 21, 2013
In my book HECKLE: NOTES FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY, I discuss the idea of taboo and its relationship to culture and speaking out.
For performers, breaking free of taboos has often been the genesis of new discovery on the entertainment playground. Lenny Bruce did it with comedy. So did Mort Sahl. They broke all the rules.That irreverence meant that virtually everything was game for parody, satire and pokes.
In the January/February 2013 edition of The Atlantic, I came across a great article about Monty Python, the British comedy troupe. It is called “The Beatles of Comedy – Monty Python’s Genius was to Respect Nothing.” Pushing the comedy envelope was nothing new for the brilliant Pythons. In fact, in 1968 they produced a TV special called “How to Irritate People.” Here’s a sample from that show – you can see John Cleese morphing into Basil on Fawlty Towers. ( Am I Fussing You Too Much?)
The article makes a good observation of the difference between classics like Monty Python and today’s comedy. Author David Free suggests that “It’s poor form these days, to know more than your audience.” Free also suggests that people were less uptight in the days of Monty Python which explains how they got away with many of their taboo-breaking sketches in the days before political correctness.
I like Free’s idea that ‘comedy walks the tightrope between what we can and cannot say.’