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Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python

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The Monty Python folks were writers who also performed, not comic actors trained a la Second City to come up with their own material, when they got their own BBC show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, in 1969. Eric Idle, for instance, had contributed sketches to The Two Ronnies, a mid-60s variety show, and to David Frost's humorously topical The Frost Report. This may explain why so many of the classic Python bits stand up so well in repeat performances--even by the army of Python nerds ready at a moment's notice to sing the Spam song or recite word for word the dead parrot routine. It certainly explains why Idle feels secure touring the country with an almost completely Python-free cast doing old Python bits. As he told me, "Our performing is good, but the Python material is what stands up." And it holds up not because it was so revolutionary--though the show's nonlinear structure was innovative at the time--but because it draws heavily on Britain's rich theatrical traditions. Remember the men-in-drag gags and the pantomime horses? Straight from the music hall. The Ministry of Silly Walks? Circus clowning at its finest. (Idle's grandfather ran a small circus.) In this stage show, Idle and an ensemble of young comic actors explore these roots, and a full chorus of dancers and singers perform some of Idle's myriad comic songs, including "Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the film Life of Brian and a medley of tunes written for the Rutles, a Beatles parody band. Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-902-1500. Tuesday, June 6, 7:30 PM. $20-$50. Note: The show is offered as part of the third annual Chicago Comedy Festival; for more information on the festival, see the comedy listings elsewhere in this issue or call 312-944-2200. --Jack Helbig

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