Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



The six comic geniuses of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969-1974) transformed television and then moved on to other careers, though they got back together to make three films: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983).

John Cleese is probably the best known. He’s had a big career as an actor in movies and on TV. He helped create one of the best situation comedies of all time: Fawlty Towers. He also made a series of video shorts “designed to teach management and trainees how to handle stress and unusual situations.” They are supposed to be very funny and I’d love to see them. (For a while, he inserted a made-up film title – “The Bonar Law Story” (1971), “Abbott & Costello Meet Sir Michael Swann” (1972), “The Young Anthony Barber” (1973) and “Confessions of a Programme Planner” (1974) – in every new edition of Who’s Who, just to see if anyone would notice. Apparently no one did.)

Terry Gilliam made a series of fantastic movies, including Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Twelve Monkeys (1995), and The Fisher King (1991), usually after great travail.

Terry Jones is probably the least visible ex-Python, but it’s mostly because he’s been behind the scenes. He’s worked a lot.

Eric Idle turned Monty Python and the Holy Grail into the Broadway smash hit Spamalot.

Graham Chapman has, of course, been kept pretty well occupied with the business of being dead.

Michael Palin has acted, as well, but his chief job since Python seems to have been … traveling around a bit. It all began in 1989 with Around the World in 80 Days, in which he attempted to duplicate the feat of Phileas Fogg. Could one circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, without flying? So far as was possible he followed Fogg’s route, and it was a close thing; he arrived back at London’s Reform Club in the middle of the night of the 79th day, only to find it closed. This was an absolutely fascinating series, I loved every crazy minute of it.

Then the BBC challenged him again, and he made Pole to Pole in 1992, again flying as little as possible, trying to stay close to one line of longitude, which took him through Eastern Europe and Africa, into some very dodgy places.

You’d think that might be enough travel for anyone, but in 1997 he did an even longer journey in Full Circle with Michael Palin, where he circumnavigated the hard way, starting at the Bering Strait and encircling the entire Pacific Ocean. I’d love to see this, but it’s not available on DVD yet. What’s the deal, BBC?

Shortly after that he did a more personal one. His favorite author was Ernest Hemingway, and thus: Hemingway Adventure (1999. I haven’t seen it (are you listening, Beeb? Where’s the DVD?), but he visits all the important places in Hemingway’s life.

Next, Sahara (2002), in which he encircled the desert of the same name. It’s coming out on 4/18/06, and it’s at the top of my Netflix queue.

So, on to Himalaya. Thought I’d never get to it, didn’t you? Well, in a sense this is a review of {{}}all the Palin series I’ve seen, and they can be summed up like this: You can’t go wrong with Michael Palin. Whether the road is easy or hard, his charm and good humor guarantee that you’ll have a good time. You may be oozing sympathy as he oozes something else during a spectacular attack of diarrhea aboard an Arabian dhow, where the only solution is to hang your butt over the side, or gasping for breath as he battles altitude sickness at 18,000 feet, at the foot of Everest, and he’ll still keep you amused. More often, he will show you the world and its wonders. He will take you into the planet’s odd corners and meet some very nice people along the way.

I mean, can you beat it? Could anyone who likes to travel not be envious? Going to Tibet and Nepal and India can be fun, and it can be full of hardships (as I found out during 4 days in Bombay), but it wouldn’t hurt to have a retinue of lackeys to carry your stuff, book all your flights and hotels (even if the hotel is a shack on the slopes of Annapurna), and set up appointments with local movie stars. His team locates wonderful guides, and there is always time to pop by and have a nice little chat and tea with folks like the Dalai Lama and the King of Nepal.

The humor is gentle. He never pokes fun at the locals, and he’s willing to try any trek and sample any food. Oh, he does little comic bits here and there, but they are never the point of the show. He doesn’t play much on having been a Python; the only time I can remember it is when he sings “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m Okay!” to a Bhutanese poet, who seems to like it. At the utterly bizarre flag-lowering ceremony on the border between Pakistan and India (and honestly, it has to be seen to be believed, you would NOT believe me if I described it) he passes up a perfectly good chance to make a reference to the Ministry of Silly Walks. No, he’s just a traveler … albeit one who trails a film crew of from six to a dozen, and who spends a certain amount of time setting up shots.

Michael Palin has a wonderful website that covers all these trips in great detail, with maps and pictures and all sorts of extra stuff. It’s called Palin’s Travels. What a lucky, lucky man, to have a job like that.