John Cleese, 81, tweeted on Sunday: “Today I finished the first draft of the script for the stage version of Life of Brian. Not a musical, as songs slow the pace down too much. Depending on Covid, we might be able to do it in the second half of next year.” He concluded: “No Pythons in the cast. We’ve had enough die already.”
Talk of a stage version of Life of Brian, probably one of the 10 funniest movies of all times, began in 2014, after the initial Broadway remake of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, now Spamalot, made more than $175 million.
In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, which depicts the events of the life of a man named Brian who is mistakenly thought to be the Messiah in ancient Judea, an argument breaks out among a revolutionary group, the People’s Front of Judea (or is that the Judaean People’s Front?) along the lines of “What have the Romans done for us?” The conclusion is that, aside from roads, aqueducts, sanitation, and sundry other benefits that improved the quality of life dramatically, the question remains, “What have the Romans done for us?”
The above exchange might as well have been copied from tractate Shabbat 33b:
Rabbi Yehuda opened and said: How pleasant are the actions of this nation, the Romans, as they established marketplaces, established bridges, and established bathhouses. Rabbi Yosei was silent. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai responded and said: Everything that they established, they established only for their own purposes. They established marketplaces, to place prostitutes in them; bathhouses, to pamper themselves; and bridges, to collect taxes from all who pass over them. Yehuda, son of converts, went and related their statements to his household, and those statements continued to spread until they were heard by the monarchy. They ruled and said: Yehuda, who elevated the Roman regime, shall be elevated and appointed as head of the Sages, the head of the speakers in every place. Yosei, who remained silent, shall be exiled from his home in Judea as punishment and sent to the city of Tzippori in Galilee. And Shimon, who denounced the government, shall be killed.
The same skit could be redone as an argument among members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Picture a college campus in which a BDS group says Israel is the pits, it is the worst country on Earth, and aside from life-saving drugs and medical procedures, the technology that powers PCs, handheld devices, and the internet itself, cutting edge security and even a life-saving mask for a sick rhinoceros, “What has Israel done for us?”
Back in 1979, three Jewish organizations condemned Monty Python’s Life of Brian as “blasphemous,” “grievously insulting,” and “a crime against religion.”
“The ‘Life of Brian’ is a vicious attack upon Judaism and the Bible and a cruel mockery of the religious feelings of Christians as well,” said Rabbi Abraham Hecht from the Rabbinical Alliance of America, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, and the Rabbinical Council of Syrian and Near Eastern Sephardic Communities of America, representing 1,000 rabbis.
“This film is so grievously insulting that we are genuinely concerned that its continued showing could result in serious violence,” Rabbi Hecht said. He explained that he felt people might be “moved to violence because it’s such a bad movie.”
No violence has been recorded so far, although the film offers a hysterically funny scene in which a man is stoned for uttering the 4-letter name of God.
The New York Times’ film critic Vincent Canby wrote in 1979: “Just when you thought that the uproarious English comedy troupe had taken bad taste as far as it could go in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ along comes ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ to demonstrate that it’s possible to go even further in delirious offensiveness. It is the foulest spoken biblical epic ever made, as well as the best humored — a nonstop orgy of assaults, not on anyone’s virtue, but on the funnybone.”
A good friend of this reporter once suggested that the Monty Python troupe is alone responsible for the sharp decline in religious worship in the United Kingdom, as the Anglican Church has been unable to fight back the hilarious assaults on the very foundations of its teaching.
In 2007, the late Python Terry Jones told the Telegraph about a scene he cut from the Life of Brian script that would have enraged 10 thousand rabbis. It was the “Otto” scene, featuring a first-century Jew who has the same dreams as Adolf Hitler, wears a Hitler mustache, and his followers wear a symbol combining the Star of David with a swastika.
Jones said, “It was a very funny scene, but it wasn’t relevant; it wasn’t part of the story. When I took it out, the film just flowed so much better.”
Jones added that in retrospect he regretted cutting the scene, because “I think what it addressed is extremely relevant today, with what’s going on in Israel. Eric [Idle, who wrote the scene] put his finger on something; it was quite prophetic.”
Rumor has it that the American Python, Terry Gilliam, once said to his fellow creators, “Listen, we’ve alienated the Christians, let’s get the Jews now,” but Michael Palin was uncomfortable about it, as was Eric Idle.