Argument Clinic

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Argument Clinic
A scene from the sketch
A scene from the original television broadcast
WritersJohn Cleese
Graham Chapman
ActorsMichael Palin
John Cleese
Graham Chapman
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Rita Davies
Carol Cleveland
Dawn French
Chris Langham
First appearance"The Money Programme" (2 November 1972)[1]

"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, and Chapman says the room he is in is for abuse, apologises and directs him to another room. As Palin leaves, Chapman calls him a "stupid git".[2]

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.[2]

In the version as originally broadcast, Palin leaves for Eric Idle's room to complain, only to have to listen to him ranting about his shoes; he moves on to Terry Jones' room, where Jones hits him on the head with a large wooden mallet, and instructs him on how to properly receive the blow. Jones clarifies the room that Palin just entered does not house the complaints department, but "being-hit-on-the-head" lessons. Soon enough, Inspector Fox (Chapman) enters to arrest both of them for participating in a strange sketch. A second policeman, Inspector Thomson's-Gazelle (Idle) then arrives to arrest the entire show on three counts: being overly self-referential, saying "[name] of the Yard?!" every time a policeman enters, and repeatedly getting out of sketches without a punchline by having a member of the forces arrest everybody. Inspector Thomson's-Gazelle himself is arrested by a third policeman (Cleese) for the latter crime, who is then arrested in turn by a hand (presumably belonging to Terry Gilliam).[2]


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.[3] The sketch was typical for Cleese's and Chapman's writing at the time, as it relied on verbal comedy.[4] 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.[3]

One line in the middle of the sketch, "An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition" was taken almost verbatim from the Oxford English Dictionary.[3]


"Argument Clinic" sketch with Michael Palin and John Cleese at Monty Python Live (Mostly), in 2014.

The sketch originally appeared in the 29th episode of the original television series, entitled "The Money Programme",[5] and was released (in audio only) on the LP Monty Python's Previous Record, on Charisma Records in 1972.[6]

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.[7] 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".[8] A further live performance occurred in 1989 at the Secret Policeman's Ball, where Cleveland's and Chapman's roles were replaced by Dawn French and Chris Langham. This performance was subsequently released on DVD.[9] The sketch was performed again in July 2014 during Monty Python Live (Mostly), with Terry Jones filling in for Chapman's role and Gilliam reprising "I've Got Two Legs".[10]

Cultural references[edit]

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 and contradiction,[11] and does not contribute to critical thinking.[12] It has also been described as a "classical case in point" of dialogue where two parties are unwilling to co-operate,[13] and as an example of flawed logic, since Palin is attempting to argue that Cleese is not arguing with him.[14]

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.[15] It has been included as an example of analysing English in school textbooks.[1] 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.[16]

The Python programming language has an internal-only module called "Argument Clinic" to pre-process Python files.[17][18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Mullany, Louise; Stockwell, Peter (2010). Introducing English Language: A Resource Book for Students. Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 9780203858110.
  2. ^ a b c Monty Python (1989). The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words, Volume 2. Pantheon Books. p. 86. ISBN 9780679726487.
  3. ^ a b c Larsen 2008, p. 376.
  4. ^ Berman, Garry (2011). Best of the Britcoms: From Fawlty Towers to The Office. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 18. ISBN 9781589795662.
  5. ^ Brighouse 2013, p. 50.
  6. ^ McCall, Douglas. Monty Python: a chronological listing of the troupe's creative output, and articles and reviews about them, 1969–1989. McFarland. p. 60. ISBN 9780899505596.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (25 June 1982). "'Python' in Hollywood". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  8. ^ McCall, Douglas (2013). Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969–2012. McFarland. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-786-47811-8.
  9. ^ "The Secret Policemens Balls". Read Express. The Washington Post Company. 28 January 2009. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  10. ^ Cavendish, Dominic (2 July 2014). "The (almost) definitive guide to Monty Python Live (Mostly)". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  11. ^ Polski, Margaret (2008). Wired for Survival: The Rational (and Irrational) Choices We Make, from the Gas Pump to Terrorism. FT Press. p. 50. ISBN 9780138140595.
  12. ^ Staley, Constance; Staley, Steve (2011). FOCUS on College and Career Success. Cengage Learning. pp. 109–110. ISBN 9781439083901.
  13. ^ Beun, Robbert-Jan; Baker, Michael; Reiner, Miriam, eds. (1995). Dialogue and Instruction: Modelling Interaction in Intelligent Tutoring Systems. Springer. p. 22. ISBN 9783540588344.
  14. ^ Falzon, Christopher (2007). Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. Routledge. p. 218. ISBN 9780415357258.
  15. ^ Fontaine, Lise (2012). Analysing English Grammar: A Systemic Functional Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 115. ISBN 9780521190664.
  16. ^ Brighouse 2013, p. 52.
  17. ^
  18. ^


External links[edit]