There is an element of comedy that the Zen Comedian recognizes as completely indispensable, though it is also frustratingly indefinable. This element of comedy is called silliness, and nowhere was silliness pushed harder than in the brilliant sketch comedy of Monty Python. Though this is not standup comedy, the lessons it can teach about the way to effectively subvert reality in a joke could prove invaluable to any proprietors of hilarity.
Monty Python recognized the hilarious power that silliness has when it’s taken to its extreme. In one particular segue between sketches in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, ostensible news footage of a meeting of freemasons is being shown. In this footage, a large group of around ten proper english gentlemen, with hats and coattails, are all hopping down the street with their pants around their ankles. When the show jumps to this footage, the laughter it sparks in the live audience is loud and sharp. It is simply hilarious to see a bunch of men with their pants at their ankles hopping down a sidewalk.
Silliness is not only useful in individual moments, but with silliness alone, brilliant comic conceits can lead to hilarious sketches. My personal favorite Monty Python sketch, “The Argument Sketch” begins with a moment of pure absurdity, and just gets weirder from there. The sketch begins with Zen Master (Michael) Palin in a business suit walking up to a receptionist at her desk and saying “I’d like to have an argument please.” From there, the sketch goes from one hilarious conceit to the next, until Zen Master Palin is clobbered by Zen Master (Terry) Jones offering “Being hit on the head lessons.”
When this sketch finally ends one officer of Scotland Yard arrests another for violations of the “Ending sketches without using a proper punchline” act. I’m a huge Monty Python fan, and this was neither the first nor the last time they wrote themselves into a corner only to cheat their way out. They could do this because their devotion to silliness was so complete that they could do anything they wanted. The Zen Comedian explains how this knowledge can be useful to the standup comedian in four simple words: “There are no rules.” So if you are having trouble with a bit, and every logical route open to completing the routine seems boring, just remember Monty Python, and that there is no proper way to construct joke.