Dead Parrot sketch
The "Dead Parrot Sketch", alternatively and originally known as the "Pet Shop Sketch" or "Parrot Sketch", is arguably the most popular sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman and initially performed in the show's first series, in the eighth episode ("Full Frontal Nudity," which first aired 7 December 1969). The sketch portrays a conflict between disgruntled customer Mr Praline (played by Cleese) and a shopkeeper (Michael Palin), who hold contradictory positions on the vital state of a "Norwegian Blue" parrot. It pokes fun at the many euphemisms for death used in British culture.
The "Dead Parrot" sketch was inspired by a "Car Salesman" sketch that Palin and Chapman had done in How to Irritate People. In it, Palin played a car salesman who repeatedly refused to admit that there was anything wrong with his customer's (Chapman) car, even as it fell apart in front of him. That sketch was based on an actual incident between Palin and a car salesman. In Monty Python Live at Aspen, Palin said that this salesman "had an excuse for everything". John Cleese said on the same show that he and Chapman "believed that there was something very funny there, if we could find the right context for it". In early drafts of what would become the Dead Parrot Sketch, the frustrated customer was trying to return a faulty toaster to a shop. Chapman realised that it needed to be "madder", and came up with the parrot idea.[dead link]
Over the years, Cleese and Palin have done many versions of the "Dead Parrot" sketch for various television shows, record albums, and live performances.
Listen to a clip from the sketch.
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Mr Praline enters the pet shop to register a complaint about the dead Norwegian Blue parrot just as the shopkeeper is preparing to close the establishment for lunch. Despite being told that the bird is deceased and that it had been nailed to its perch, the proprietor insists that it is "pining for the fjords" or simply "stunned". As the exasperated Praline attempts to wake up the parrot, the shopkeeper tries to make the bird move by hitting the cage, and Praline erupts into a rage after banging "Polly Parrot" on the counter. After listing off several metaphors for death ("is no more", "has ceased to be", "bereft of life, it rests in peace") he is told to go to the pet shop run by the shopkeeper's brother in Bolton for a refund, but he is told by the proprietor of that store (who is really the shopkeeper, save for a fake moustache) that he is in Ipswich. Upon going to the train station to complain, Praline is told by the station attendant (Terry Jones) that he is in Bolton, and he returns to the pet shop to confront the shopkeeper for deceiving him. Adding to the absurdity of it all is the fact that most parrots live in tropical climates, and none are native to Norway. Just as the dialogue is getting "too silly", Graham Chapman's no-nonsense colonel bursts in and orders the sketch to be stopped.
Variations of the sketch
In the 1971 film And Now For Something Completely Different, the sketch ends with the shopkeeper explaining that he always wanted to be a lumberjack, and ignoring Mr Praline's protests of that being irrelevant, subsequently begins singing "The Lumberjack Song".
The Monty Python Live at Drury Lane album features a live version of the sketch, which is slightly different from the TV version. Praline's rant about the deceased parrot includes "He fucking snuffed it!" Also, the sketch ends with the shopkeeper saying that he has a slug that does talk. Cleese, after a brief pause, says, "Right, I'll have that one, then!" According to Michael Palin's published diary, Palin changed his response in order to throw Cleese off. During this performance something occurs on stage that does not translate into audio, but causes the audience to break into hysterics upon Cleese's follow-up line "Now that's what I call a dead parrot"; since it occurs after the part of the sketch where Cleese bashes the dead bird on the counter, it's possible a part of the prop broke off.
On the Rhino Records' compilation Dead Parrot Society, a live performance has Palin cracking up while Cleese declares "Pining for the fjords? What kind of talk is that?" The audience cheers this bit of breaking character, but Palin quickly composes himself and Cleese declares "Now, look! This is nothing to laugh at!" before proceeding with the sketch. This version is included in the book and CD set The Best British Stand-Up and Comedy Routines, along with a transcript of the sketch and the Four Yorkshiremen sketch.
- Mr Praline: It's dead, that's what's wrong with it.
- Shopkeeper: So it is. 'Ere's your money back and a couple of holiday vouchers.
- (audience goes wild)
- Mr Praline: (looks completely flabbergasted) Well, you can't say Thatcher hasn't changed some things.
The 1976 Monty Python Live at City Centre performance ended with the slug lines, followed by:
- Shopkeeper: (long, long pause) ... Do you want to come back to my place?
- Mr Praline: I thought you'd never ask.
In a 1997 Saturday Night Live performance of the sketch, Cleese added a line to the rant: "Its metabolic processes are a matter of interest only to historians!" In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Palin attributed an almost dead audience to his seeing guests reverently mouthing the words of the sketch, rather than laughing at it. To end the sketch, Palin asked Cleese "do you want to come back to my place?" to which Cleese said "I thought you'd never ask!"
In his appearance on The Muppet Show, Cleese appears as a pirate attempting to take over a spaceship during a "Pigs In Space" sketch. At the end of the sketch, he demands of the smart-mouthed talking parrot on his shoulder, "Do you want to be an ex-parrot?"
In his published diary, Michael Palin recalls that during the filming of Monty Python's Life of Brian in Tunisia, Spike Milligan (who happened to be there on holiday) regaled the Pythons with his own version of the Dead Parrot sketch, but changed "Norwegian Blue" to "Arctic Grey".
In a 2002 interview with Michael Parkinson, John Cleese said that when he and Palin were performing the sketch on Drury Lane, Palin made him laugh by saying, when asked if his slug could talk, "It mutters a bit" instead of "Not really." When Cleese eventually stopped laughing, he couldn't remember where they were in the sketch. He turned to the audience and asked them what the next line was, and people shouted it at him, causing him to wonder, "What is the point of this?" He also says that when he and Palin were asked to do the sketch for Saturday Night Live they sat down together to try to remember the lines, and when they got stuck they considered just going out and stopping somebody on the street to ask how it went, since everybody seemed to have it memorised.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a South Park version of the sketch depicting Cartman angrily returning a dead Kenny to Kyle's shop. Most of the lines are the same in the original sketch. It ends when Terry Gilliam's animations play around with Cartman and everything is crushed by the giant foot.
Cleese and Palin acted out the sketch during the Python's reunion in The O2 in July 2014, Monty Python Live (Mostly). The sketch ended with the shopkeeper saying he has a selection of cheeses, transitioning into the Cheese Shop Sketch. The entire sketch ended like the City Centre performance, with the shopkeeper offering Mr Praline to come back to his place, and Mr Praline replying "I thought you'd never ask." In their final performance on July 20th (which was broadcast live to many theatres all over the world), whilst listing the metaphors for the parrot's death, Cleese added the line "it had expired and gone to meet Dr. Chapman" after which both Cleese and Palin did a thumbs-up to the sky.
In 1998 there was a follow up with their Live at Aspen, with the supposed ashes of Chapman. Midway through the interview, Terry Gilliam put his feet up on the table and knocked the urn off, spilling the ashes and prompting a frantic, slapstick attempt to clean him up with a dustpan and brush, and subsequently a dustbuster. In an anniversary concert Jasper Carrot had allowed his fans to pick the material. He opened the performance by announcing this then saying "I've had some funny requests somebody from Newark wanted me to do the dead parrot sketch".
A joke dated c. AD 400, recently translated from Greek, shows similarities to the Parrot sketch. It was written by Hierocles and Philagrius and was included in a compilation of 265 jokes titled Philogelos: The Laugh Addict. In the Greek version, a man complains to a slave-merchant that his new slave has died. The slave-merchant replies, "When he was with me, he never did any such thing!"
- Johnson, Kim "Howard" (1999). The First 28
0Years of Monty Python. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 96. ISBN 0-312-16933-7.
- "Python Dead Parrot is top sketch". BBC. 29 November 2004. Retrieved 31 March 2007.
- "Margaret Thatcher does the Dead Parrot Sketch". YouTube. 5 February 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
- Dead parrot sketch is 1600 years old by Stephen Adams, The Telegraph.
- E.g., Mark Twain (18 April 1873). "A Nevada Funeral". North Otago Times.
- ""Blackpool: Big Night Out" at". Bbc.co.uk. 6 January 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2013.