Cleese and Palin performing the sketch live in 2014
|First appearance||"The Money Programme" (2 November 1972)|
"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.
After the episode's end credits have scrolled, a BBC voiceover announces that there will be "Five more minutes of Monty Python's Flying Circus." In the ensuing sketch, an unnamed man portrayed by Michael Palin approaches a receptionist (Rita Davies) and says he would like to have an argument. She directs him to a Mr. Barnard (identified as Mr. Vibrating in episode transcripts), who occupies an office down the hall. Palin initially enters the wrong office, in which a man played by Graham Chapman hurls angry insults at him before clarifying that his office is dedicated to "abuse." Even after sending Palin on his way, Chapman calls him a "stupid git."
Palin enters the next office, which contains Mr. Barnard/Vibrating, played by John Cleese. Palin asks if he is in the right office for an argument, to which Cleese responds that he has already told him he is. Palin disputes this, and the men begin an argumentative back-and-forth. Their exchange is a very shallow one, consisting mostly of petty and contradictory "is/isn't" responses, to the point that Palin feels he is not getting what he paid for. They then argue over the very definition of an argument until Cleese rings a bell and announces that Palin's paid time has concluded.
Palin is dissatisfied, and tries to argue with Cleese over whether he really got as much time as he paid for, but Cleese insists he is not allowed to argue unless Palin pays for another session. When Palin finally relents and pays more money for additional arguing time, Cleese continues to insist he has not paid, and another argument breaks out over that issue. Palin believes he has caught Cleese in a contradiction—arguing without being paid—but Cleese counters that he could be arguing in his spare time. Frustrated, Palin storms out of the room.
The original broadcast version features Palin exploring other rooms in the clinic; he enters a room marked "Complaints" hoping to lodge a complaint, only to find that it is a complaint clinic in which Eric Idle is complaining about his shoes. The next office contains Terry Jones offering "being hit on the head lessons," which a series of policemen interrupt as being too silly.
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's 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's 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 and Gilliam reprising "I've Got Two Legs".
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, 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 textbooks. 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.
- Mullany, Louise; Stockwell, Peter (2010). Introducing English Language: A Resource Book for Students. Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 9780203858110.
- Monty Python (1989). The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words, Volume 2. Pantheon Books. p. 86. ISBN 9780679726487.
- Larsen 2008, p. 376.
- Berman, Garry (2011). Best of the Britcoms: From Fawlty Towers to The Office. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 18. ISBN 9781589795662.
- Brighouse 2013, p. 50.
- McCall, Douglas (1991). Monty Python: a chronological listing of the troupe's creative output, and articles and reviews about them, 1969–1989. McFarland. p. 60. ISBN 9780899505596.
- Canby, Vincent (25 June 1982). "'Python' in Hollywood". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- McCall, Douglas (2013). Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969–2012. McFarland. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-786-47811-8.
- "The Secret Policemens Balls". Read Express. The Washington Post Company. 28 January 2009. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- Cavendish, Dominic (2 July 2014). "The (almost) definitive guide to Monty Python Live (Mostly)". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
- 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.
- Staley, Constance; Staley, Steve (2011). FOCUS on College and Career Success. Cengage Learning. pp. 109–110. ISBN 9781439083901.
- Beun, Robbert-Jan; Baker, Michael; Reiner, Miriam, eds. (1995). Dialogue and Instruction: Modelling Interaction in Intelligent Tutoring Systems. Springer. p. 22. ISBN 9783540588344.
- Falzon, Christopher (2007). Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. Routledge. p. 218. ISBN 9780415357258.
- Fontaine, Lise (2012). Analysing English Grammar: A Systemic Functional Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 115. ISBN 9780521190664.
- Brighouse 2013, p. 52.
- Brighouse, Harry (2013). Monty Python and Philosophy: Nudge Nudge, Think Think!. Open Court. ISBN 9780812696981.
- Larsen, Darl (2008). Monty Python's Flying Circus: An Utterly Complete, Thoroughly Unillustrated, Absolutely Unauthorized Guide to Possibly All the References : from Arthur "Two-Sheds" Jackson to Zambesi. Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 9780810861312.