LONDON — Celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Monty Python comedy classic “Life of Brian” are being somewhat overshadowed by the health news of member Terry Jones.
Jones is “very robust” although “on the downhill slope” due to dementia, according to his friend and colleague Michael Palin. Jones was diagnosed in 2015 with a form of dementia that impairs the ability to speak.
“I go and see him and the great satisfaction is just to get a reaction; sadly, he doesn’t speak much. But I read him some stuff that we’d written together a long, long time ago and Terry actually started to laugh at it, and he laughed only at the bits that he’d written,” Palin recalled in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
“Life of Brian,” which Jones directed, is being feted with a worldwide re-release on Thursday. It is among the group’s revered 45 TV comedy episodes, five films and a blockbuster Broadway musical.
When “Life of Brian” came out four decades ago, it was a huge hit, but also stirred controversy because of its plotline: It was about a man named Brian Cohen who was born in the stables next to Jesus and mistaken for the Messiah. Palin played Pontius Pilate with a speech impediment.
“We didn’t get death threats, we just got people who were deeply, deeply offended by what we’d done,” said Palin.
“Yes, the right-wing militias weren’t as strong in those days,” added troupe member Terry Gilliam.
Palin recalls the film was actually banned from a town called Aberystwyth in Wales until 2008.
“Then Aberystwyth elected a new mayor, and the mayor they elected was Sue Jones-Davies, who played Brian’s girlfriend, romping around in the nude. She was mayor of Aberystwyth and the first thing she said was, ‘We’re going to release this film in Aberystwyth,’” he recalled. “It was only shown for one night.”
Besides the anniversary of “Life of Brian,” Gilliam, 78, and Palin, 75, are also relishing the continued cultural relevance of sketches they wrote in their youth.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently likened British Prime Minister Theresa May, mired in Brexit, to the Black Knight (played by John Cleese in the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) who refuses to admit defeat despite losing all his limbs in a fight with King Arthur.
“I mean Python’s had quite a resurgence owing to politics recently,” said Palin, who added that “a Python situation” now is a synonym for “ridiculous.”
Gilliam welcomed the attention, adding it was much needed now.
“People seem to be frightened of laughing at things, or especially to laugh at themselves, and that’s what really worries me,” he said. “If we can’t appreciate the utter absurdity of us as a species, we’re dead.”