The Ministry of Silly Walks
"The Ministry of Silly Walks" is a sketch from the Monty Python comedy troupe's television show Monty Python's Flying Circus, episode 14, which is entitled "Face the Press". The episode first aired in 1970. A shortened version of the sketch was performed for Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. This sketch involves John Cleese as a bowler hatted civil servant in a fictitious British government ministry responsible for developing Silly Walks through grants. Cleese, throughout the sketch, walks in a variety of silly ways. It is these various silly walks, more than the dialogue, that has earned the sketch its popularity. Cleese has cited the physical comedy of Max Wall, probably in character as Professor Wallofski, as important to its conception.
The sketch as originally depicted in the series begins with John Cleese playing a nameless civil servant who, after purchasing The Times from the general store/newsagent in the previous sketch, walks through the streets of London (at the crossing of Thorpebank Road and Dunraven Road) in a very peculiar manner. He eventually arrives at his place of business: The Ministry of Silly Walks (on the northern end of Whitehall). In the hallway he passes other employees all exhibiting their own silly walks before arriving at his office (the Hollywood Bowl performance omits this preamble). Once there, he finds a man waiting for him—one Mr Putey (Michael Palin)—and apologizes for the delay, explaining that his walk has become particularly silly of late and it takes longer for him to reach his destination.
Putey, explaining that he has a silly walk he wishes to develop with grant money, demonstrates his walk which, to Cleese, is not particularly silly ("The right leg isn't silly at all, and the left leg merely does a forward aerial half-turn every alternate step."). He tells Putey that he does not believe the ministry can help him, as his walk is not silly enough and funding is short. The government, he explains, is supposed to give equally to Defence, Social Security, Health, Housing, Education, and Silly Walks, but recently spent less on Silly Walks than on national defence. After a visit by Mrs Twolumps (see below), Cleese shows Mr Putey a film with silly walks. (The segment is a parody of early 20th-century cinema, complete with Michael Palin dressed up as Little Tich; this film is also shown as part of the Hollywood Bowl performance of the sketch). After he tosses the projector off stage, Cleese offers Mr Putey a grant that will allow him to work on the Anglo-French Silly Walk, La Marche Futile (an obvious parody of the Concorde's Anglo-French development), which is then demonstrated by a man (Terry Jones) dressed in a mixture of stereotypical English and French outfits, with a sped-up version of La Marseillaise played over the top.
There is a brief appearance during the sketch by Mrs Twolumps, presumably the minister's secretary, bringing in coffee with full silly walk (played by Carol Cleveland in the Hollywood Bowl version). As she enters, the cups fall all over the tray, completely spilling their contents. The minister looks at the tray, says "Thank you, lovely" and she exits again, taking the tray with her, complete with upended cups. In the Hollywood Bowl version, Carol Cleveland accidentally (or possibly intentionally) hops next to Cleese and spills some of the coffee on him during the sketch.
As the years went by amid repeated requests to do the sketch, Cleese found it increasingly difficult to perform these walks. He would say, when told about a new Python tour, "I'm not doing silly walks."
In the book The Pythons, members of the troupe indicated that they considered the whole scene nothing more than pure silliness. Cleese in particular seems disheartened that so many fans consider it the troupe's "best" sketch.
References in popular culture
- In 2000, an episode of Mission Hill, "Andy and Kevin Make a Friend (or One Bang for Two Brothers)", referenced the sketch when one of the characters attempts to impress a girl by showing how he does a 'great silly walk' from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
- A reference is made to the Silly Walk in an episode of the WB's Gilmore Girls when Rory says "Please, don't walk away like that", and Dean responds with "Sorry, I'd do a silly walk, but I'm not feeling very John Cleese right now."
- In the video game Goldeneye 007, an image of a man doing John Cleese's silly walk can be seen on several computer monitors.
- In an issue of The Simpsons Bongo comic when the British invade Springfield it shows John Cleese doing the goosestep and labels him as "the Minister of Silly Walks".
- On an episode of The Chaser's War On Everything, Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor do a sketch called "The Chaser's British Comedy Sketch", filled with various Monty Python cliches, which climaxes with Andrew screaming "I'm going to do something so totally bizarre it will be imitated verbatim by comedy nerds for decades to come!" He then does a silly walk, doing imitations of Pepperpots, until a 16-ton weight falls on his head.
- In November 2007, as the Eurostar duration between Brussels and London was reduced to 1 hour and 51 minutes, the "Ministry of Silly Walks" appeared in an ad campaign in Belgium. The adverts were all on building corners, showing two workers carrying a large glass pane walking towards the corner on one side, and walking towards them on the other side a John Cleese look-alike doing his famous Silly Walk. The tagline read "Warning! London is just around the corner!".
- In the twenty-fifth-anniversary reunion episode of I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, John Cleese consents to appear on the show on condition that he be allowed to do the Silly Walk; the other cast members are dubious about the comedic impact of doing the Walk on radio, but they ultimately give in after Cleese puts on a show of hurt feelings. Near the end of the show, Cleese presents the Silly Walk, rendered on radio as a series of loud, slow footsteps.
- In the video game Destroy All Humans! 2, in the Albion level, (a city based on London), if you read a hippie's mind one of the thoughts is, " I hope I can get a job at the Ministry of Silly Walks" (This video game is known for spoofing popular culture of the decade in which it is set).
- In a standup comedy routine in Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One For the Road, Larry the Cable Guy, referring to strange people who go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night, says that it "turns into Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks."
- In Improv Everywhere's 2010 Mp3 experiment, participants were asked to walk in a silly manner. After the silly walk session was finished, 'Mark (the omnipotent voice from above)' stated: "Excellent silly walks. Those belong in the Ministry hall of fame".
- Early textless panels for the next of Alan Moore's graphic novels, Century: 1969, include Cleese's character, as well as Steptoe and Son.
- A segment in a Beano Book featured Minnie the Minx as the "Minnie-ster of Silly Walks"
- In episode 6 of Fawlty Towers, "The Germans," Basil (John Cleese) is impersonating Hitler and says, "I'll do the funny walk," goose-stepping in a similar way to his Python routine. The live audience reacts with laughter and applause.
- Video of the sketch (from the official Monty Python YouTube channel)
- Monty Python in Britain's Top 50 Comedy Sketches
- Montreux Festival - Silly Walks Special