Cheese Shop sketch
The idea for the sketch came after a day of shooting in Folkestone Harbour, where John Cleese became seasick and threw up repeatedly while trying to deliver a line. During the drive back, Graham Chapman recommended that Cleese eat something and asked him what he fancied; Cleese replied that he fancied a piece of cheese. Upon seeing a chemist's shop, Cleese pondered whether the shop would sell cheese, to which Chapman responded that if they did it would be medicinal cheese and that Cleese would need a prescription to buy some. Giggling, they decided to write a sketch based on that idea. However, on starting to write it, they concluded that asking for cheese in a chemist's shop was too unrealistic. Wondering why someone would attempt to buy cheese somewhere other than a cheese shop, Cleese thought that they should instead write a sketch about someone attempting to buy cheese in a cheese shop that had no cheese whatsoever.
Chapman then wrote the sketch with Cleese, who did not initially find it humorous. When Chapman insisted that it was funny, they presented it at a reading for the other Python members. Though most of the other Pythons were also unimpressed, Michael Palin loved it and laughed hysterically, eventually falling to the floor. This amused the others and they agreed to use the sketch.
Cleese plays an erudite customer (Mousebender in the script) attempting to purchase some cheese from "Ye National Cheese Emporium, purveyor of fine cheese to the gentry (and the poverty-stricken too)". The proprietor (Palin), Mr. Arthur Wensleydale (Henry Wensleydale in the TV version), appears to have nothing in stock, not even Cheddar, "the single most popular cheese in the world". A slow crescendo of bouzouki music plays in the background played by Joe Moretti (for which Cleese initially expresses appreciation, being "one who delights in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean Muse"), but as the sketch progresses it mirrors Cleese's growing frustration until he loudly demands the music cease. (On the Matching Tie & Handkerchief version, the background music is a version of the song "Zorbas" from the film Zorba the Greek.) As Cleese lists increasingly obscure, unsavoury, and, in one instance fictional, cheeses to no avail, the proprietor offers weak excuses such as "Ohh! The cat's eaten it." Cleese remarks that it is not much of a cheese shop, but Palin insists it is the best in the district due to its cleanliness, to which Cleese replies "Well, it's certainly uncontaminated by cheese." Eventually, Cleese asks if Palin has any cheese at all, to which Palin replies "yes". Cleese then tells him that he will ask the question again, and if Palin says "no", he will shoot him through the head. Palin answers "no" the second time, and Cleese immediately shoots him, then muses, "What a senseless waste of human life!" He then puts on a Stetson, and the sketch segues into Hugh Walpole's Rogue Cheddar and a link to the Sam Peckinpah's "Salad Days" sketch.
Forty-three cheeses are mentioned in the original sketch. In the audio version on The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (MT&H) album and other live and recorded versions, Cleese also mentions Greek feta.
Table of Legends
Color coding of table entries:
- Cheese is mentioned in the Original sketch
- Cheese is not mentioned in the Original sketch
- Cheeses are mentioned together in one sentence, with only one reply
Table of Cheeses
The table that follows lists the cheeses mentioned, in order of appearance, the reason given as to why they are unavailable to be purchased, as well as the source (Original sketch, other version(s)) in which that cheese was mentioned.
|Cheese||Shop owner's reply||Source|
|Red Leicester||“I'm afraid we're fresh out of Red Leicester sir.”||Original|
|Tilsit||“Never at the end of the week, sir. Always get it fresh first thing on Monday."||Original|
|Caerphilly||"Ah well, it's been on order for two weeks, sir. I was expecting it this morning."||Original|
|Red Windsor||"Normally, sir, yes, but today the van broke down."||Original|
|Double Gloucester||<pause> “No.”||Original|
|Dorset Blue Vinney||“No.”||Original|
|Carré de l'Est||“No.”||Original|
|Perle de Champagne||“No.”||Original|
|Camembert||“Ah! We do have some Camembert, sir.... It's a bit runny, sir.... Well, as a matter of fact it's very runny, sir.... I think it's runnier than you like it, sir... Yes, sir." (bends below counter and reappears) "Oh... the cat's eaten it."||Original|
|Sage Derby||“No.” ("You do have some cheese do you?")||Original|
|Wensleydale||“Yes, sir. ... Oh, I'm sorry sir, I thought you were referring to me, Mr Wensleydale.”||Original|
|Greek Feta||“Ah, not as such.”||MT&H|
|Czechoslovakian sheep's milk cheese||“No.”||Original|
|Venezuelan Beaver Cheese||“Not today sir, no.”||Original|
|Cheddar||“Well, I'm afraid we don't get much call for it around these parts.”||Original|
|Ilchester||“I'll have a look sir.” <looks around beneath counter> “No.”||Original|
|Limburger||Customer: "Have you got...WILL YOU SHUT THAT BLOODY DANCING UP!?...have you got any Limburger?"
Shop owner: “No.”
|Stinking Bishop||Customer: "Stinking Bishop?" (Audience cheers)
Shop owner: “No.”
|Any cheese at all||Customer: “Now, I'm going to ask you that question once more. And if you say no, I'm going to shoot you through the head. Now, do you have any cheese at all?”
Shop owner: “No.” (customer shoots cheese shop owner)
"Venezuelan Beaver Cheese" is fictitious but, despite this, recipes for it have since been published. It has also been mentioned in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (PC game), Sierra's computer adventure game Leisure Suit Larry 7, and in the webcomic Triangle and Robert.
Pastiches and parodies
- The sketch was reworked for The Brand New Monty Python Bok, becoming a two-player word game in which one player must keep naming different cheeses while the other player must keep coming up with different excuses; otherwise, "the Customer wins and may punch the Shopkeeper in the teeth".
- On The Young Ones, in the series two episode "Time", Alexei Sayle rushes into a shop (while performing a silly walk), and asks if it is a cheese shop. Rik Mayall, the Palinesque proprietor, replies "No, sir." The punchline is "Well, that's that sketch knackered then, innit?"
- Goodness Gracious Me parodied the sketch with the "Asian Bride Shop" sketch, substituting descriptions of types of brides. At the end, another customer enters, complaining that his bride is dead – a reference to the Dead Parrot sketch.
- A pastiche circulated in 2004 to parody the SCO v. IBM lawsuit. The judge, taking Cleese's role, inquires of the Palinesque attorney for The SCO Group as to the evidence he will be presenting for his suit, only to discover after a similar line of questioning that SCO has no evidence at all. The script was an attack on the quality of the SCO lawsuit, implying that it was exceedingly frivolous.
- The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Albuquerque" parodies the sketch by portraying a similar situation in a doughnut shop. The scene ends when the shopkeeper reveals that all he has is a "box of one dozen starving, crazed weasels"; the main character purchases and opens it and is attacked by the creatures inside.
- The cartoon Histeria! depicts the Boston Tea Party, in which a fake tea shop is set up to distract a British guard. Each time the guard asks for a type of tea, there is a splash heard off screen, and the American says they're out, implying that each particular tea had just been thrown into the harbour.
- In the webcomic The Order of the Stick skit "It's Not a Gaming Session Until Someone Quotes Monty Python", Roy and a weapons merchant re-enact the scene with polearms of various regional design replacing cheese. One of the weapons mentioned is a Glaive-Glaive-Glaive-Guisarme-Glaive, prompting the shopkeeper to remark, "I think you're drifting into another sketch, sir," a reference to Monty Python's Spam sketch. As a secondary allusion, a cat brings in a dead parrot (and then a live snake, possibly intended to be a python) at the bottom right of the panels.
- Joe Gregorio made a parody, “Problems with HTTP Authentication Interop”, about the state of current HTTP authentication.
- A wheel of Le Brouère cheese was flown aboard the first SpaceX Dragon reusable space capsule on 8 December 2010 in reference to this sketch. The presence of the space cheese was made known the day after the successful flight.
- Launer, John (February 1, 2002). "The professor of cheese" (PDF). QJM 95 (2): 133. doi:10.1093/qjmed/95.2.133. PMID 11861965.
- Simpson, Paul (2003). On the Discourse of Satire: Towards a Stylistic Model of Satirical Humor. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. p. 36. ISBN 90-272-3333-0 – via Google Books (preview).
Perhaps the gag par excellence of the Python public service encounter archive is the so-called "cheese shop" sketch.
- Graham, Chapman (1989). The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words, Volume 2. New York: Pantheon. p. 134. ISBN 0-679-72648-9. OCLC 54794550.
- digitalretro (October 19, 2009). Monty Python reunion NYC: Q&A about who wrote which sketch (HTML5). YouTube.
- Venezuelan Beaver Cheese is fictional (Annotated Flying Circus, Luke Dempsey, 2001)
- "Dorset Blue Vinney". Ask.metafilter.com. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
- ChefsRef Encyclopedia – Cheese French
- "A bit of humor for this case...".
- "Space Cheese".
- A site dedicated to photos and tastings of the mentioned cheeses.
- Cheese Shop Sketch on the official Monty Python YouTube channel