The Argument Sketch
A scene from the original television broadcast
|First appearance||"The Money Programme" (2 November 1972)|
The Argument Sketch (officially titled Argument Clinic) is a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman. The sketch was originally broadcast as part of the television series and has subsequently been performed live by the group. It relies heavily on wordplay and dialogue, and has been used as an example of how language works.
Michael Palin pays a receptionist (played by Rita Davies) to have a five-minute argument. The receptionist directs him to Chapman's room, but when he walks in, Chapman hurls abuse at him. Palin interrupts, saying he wants an argument, not abuse, and Chapman apologises, directing him to another room. As Palin leaves, Chapman calls him a "stupid git".
Palin then enters Cleese's room, where Cleese immediately starts an argument, claiming that Palin has already been told that it is the right room. The argument is petty, and consists primarily of the two men contradicting each other. Eventually, Cleese rings a bell signifying the end of the argument, and after Palin pays for another five minutes, Cleese claims that he hasn't. Palin leaves in frustration.
The sketch parodies modern consumer culture, implying that anything can be purchased, even absurd things such as arguing, abuse, or being hit over the head. The sketch was typical for Cleese and Chapman's writing at the time, as it relied on verbal comedy. Python author Darl Larsen believes the sketch was influenced by music hall and radio comedy, particularly that of the Goons, and notes that there is little camera movement during the original television recording.
The sketch originally appeared in the 29th episode of the original television series, entitled "The Money Programme", and was released (in audio only) on the LP Monty Python's Previous Record, on Charisma Records in 1972.
The sketch was subsequently performed live at the Hollywood Bowl in September 1980, which was filmed and released as Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The sketch features the discussion with the receptionist (played here by Carol Cleveland), the abuse from Chapman, and most of the argument between Cleese and Palin. It is then ended abruptly by the entrance of Terry Gilliam, on wires, singing "I've Got Two Legs". A further live performance occurred in 1989 at the Secret Policeman's Ball, where Cleveland and Chapman's roles were replaced by Dawn French and Chris Langham. This performance was subsequently released on DVD. The sketch was performed again in July 2014 during Monty Python Live (Mostly), with Terry Jones filling in for Chapman's role.
The sketch has been frequently used as an example of how not to argue, because, as Palin's character notes, it contains little more than ad hominem attacks, contradiction, and does not contribute to critical thinking. It has also been described as a "classical case in point" of dialogue where two parties are unwilling to co-operate, and as an example of flawed logic, since Palin is attempting to argue that Cleese is not arguing with him.
The text of the argument has been presented as a good example of the workings of English grammar, where sentences can be reduced to simple subject/verb pairs. It has been included as an example of analysing English in school text books. The sketch has become popular with philosophy students, who note that arguing is "all we are good at", and wonder about the intellectual exercise one could get from paying for a professional quality debate.
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- Video of the original sketch (from the official Monty Python YouTube channel)
- Live performance at the Secret Policeman's Ball (from the official channel)
- Transcription of the script