A Michigan Family Makes Everyone Passing Their House Do Monty Python Silly Walks, and Then Puts Recordings on Instagram

Even if you don't know the Beatles, you know "Love Me Do." Even if you don't know the Rolling Stones, you know "Satisfaction." Even if you don't know Monty Python, you know "The Ministry of Silly Walks." Like an AM radio hit, the sketch works on several different aesthetic and intellectual levels while captivating audiences of disparate ages and cultures, all within the span of a few minutes. As a satire of British government bureaucracy it compares, in its way, to Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn's series Yes Minister, which would debut on the BBC a decade later. As sheer physical comedy, it draws its power, as all those old songs do, from the innate characteristics of its performers. Or rather, from John Cleese, who not only looks the part of a born establishment figure, but stands nearly six and a half feet tall.

Though few of us can sing like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, it doesn't stop us from joining in when their songs come on the radio. By the same token, though few of us possess the sheer leg length to walk as silly as Cleese does, we can all generate our own kind of levity by giving our best. And much of the United States, locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, levity is just what's needed. Hence the establishment of Yorkshire Silly Walks, which announces itself in no uncertain terms: "YOU HAVE ENTERED THE JURISDICTION OF THE MINISTRY OF SILLY WALKS," reads its signs. "COMMENCE SILLY WALKING IMMEDIATELY." All who pass through this territory are captured by a video camera, and some will later find themselves posted to Yorkshire Silly Walks' Instagram page — as long as they've walked with sufficient silliness.

They don't have to do it for long: the jurisdiction of this Ministry of Silly Walks extends only across the sidewalk in front of a single house in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. The home's Yorkshire Road address will conjure up memories of another beloved sketch in the minds of serious Python fans — a group to which Liz Koto and her family, the house's occupants, must belong. They've posted to Instagram well over 100 videos, each capturing a different silly walk executed by the people of their suburban neighborhood out for a stroll — just about the only thing many Americans can do to get out of the house these days. And they do it more joyfully than Cleese himself, who has spoken of how, like a rock star condemned to play the same hit over and over again, he grew deeply weary of playing the Minister of Silly Walks on stage for Monty Python's live shows over the decades. After having undergone two hip replacements, he's surely happy to leave silly-walking to the fans.

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Woodstock called, they want their dancers back.

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via Laughing Squid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Art Gallery for Gerbils: Two Quarantined Londoners Create a Mini Museum Complete with Gerbil-Themed Art

London-based couple Filippo and Marianna's self-isolation project calls to mind artist (and museum curator) Bill Scanga's At the Met, exhibited nearly 20 years ago as part of the group show Almost Warm and Fuzzy: Childhood and Contemporary Art at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (now known as MoMA PS1).

Scanga's installation involved hanging mini-replicas of works from the Metropolitan Museum's American collection on extremely long wires that traveled from under-ceiling picture rail to the baseboard, where a collection of art-loving taxidermied mice waited expectantly. One rested on a familiar-looking, black vinyl upholstered bench, a tiny blue shopping bag from the Met’s gift store parked near its dainty, shoeless feet.

Filippo and Marianna’s art-loving rodents are gerbils, and unlike Scanga’s artfully stuffed models, theirs—9-month-old brothers Pandoro and Tiramisù—are very much alive, as Tiramisù proved when he gnawed the unseen gallery assistant’s painstakingly assembled cardboard stool to bits under the watchful eye of the tiny Girl with a Pearl Earring facsimile Marianna crafted for his cultural enrichment.

A video the couple published on Reddit, above, shows the furry museum goers scampering under the benches to the tune of "The Blue Danube" and placing their paws on the artwork, including an expert, gerbil-themed forgery of Gustav Klimt’s gold-flecked Symbolist masterpiece, The Kiss.

Not to be vulgar, but if this museum has a restroom, Pandoro and Tiramisù seem to have given it a miss, an impropriety surpassing any waged by the titular characters of Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Two Bad Mice.

Filippo and Marianna accepted the destruction of their exquisitely staged set with a cheer that suggests they’re not shut up for the duration with a small child… just gerbils, who can be deposited back into their Habitrail when the fun’s over.

The attention to detail—the gallery tags! The laminated cards in multiple languages in a wall-mounted holder!—captured the imagination of Reddit. Users jumped Marianna’s original post—(Quarantine, day 14. Me and my boyfriend spent the whole day setting up an art gallery for our gerbil)—with suggestions of other famous works to recreate in miniature and add to the collection. Rest assured no groan-worthy, pun-based, gerbil-centric title was left unexpressed.

With cultural institutions temporarily shuttered for the good of public health, many viewers also shared their yearning to get back inside favorite museums. (Marianna reports that Filippo is a museum worker.)

For now, we must be patient, and live vicariously through gerbils ’til the long wait is over.

Via Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Like Choir! Choir! Choir!, she has been crowdsourcing art in isolation, most recently a hastily assembled tribute to the classic 60s social line dance, The Madison. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Peanuts Rock: Watch the Peanuts Gang Play Classic Rock Songs by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey & More

In a very crowded field, Garren Lazar's comical take on Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a stand-out.

Comical in the literal sense. Lazar, aka Super G, struck a rich vein when he thought to mash the Rolling Stones’ "Sympathy for the Devil" with footage culled from Charles Schulz’s animated Peanuts specials.

And over the last six years, he’s mined a lot of gold, using Final Cut Pro to pair familiar clips of a drumming Pigpen, Snoopy slapping a double bass, and the iconic “Linus And Lucy” scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas with rock and pop classics.

Schulz, an ardent music lover, frequently pictured his characters singing, dancing, and playing instruments, so Lazar, who has an uncanny knack for matching animated mouths to recorded lyrics, has plenty to choose from.

Charlie Brown’s anxieties fuel the introduction to a 15 minute remix of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s "Free Bird," until he gets hold of the Christmas special’s megaphone…

The megaphone serves Charlie equally well on "Stayin' Alive," the Bee Gees’ disco chart topper, though depending on your vintage, the vision of Snoopy in leg warmers and sweatband may come as a shock. Those clips come courtesy of It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, Schulz’s 1984 goofy spin on FlashdanceFootlooseSaturday Night Fever and other dance-based pop cultural phenomenons of the era. Although that special—Schulz’s 27th—features a rotoscoped Snoopy busting moves originated by Flashdance’s stunt dancer Marine Jahan, that old holiday chestnut still manages to steal the show.

And whenever you need a lift, you can't do better than to spend a few minutes with Lazar’s heady reboot of Chicago’s quintessential 1970s single, "Saturday In the Park," wherein the normally reserved Schroeder reveals a more exuberant side.

Begin your explorations of Garren Lazar’s musical Peanuts remixes on his YouTube channel, warm in the knowledge that he entertains requests in the comments.

via Ultimate Classic Rock

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Monty Python Pays Tribute to Terry Jones: Watch Their Montage of Jones’ Beloved Characters in Action

The actor, comedian, director, and medieval historian Terry Jones passed away last week, but Mr. Creosote will never die. Nor will any of the other characters portrayed by Jones in his work with Monty Python, the culture-changing comedy troupe he co-founded with Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, and Terry Gilliam. You can get a sense of Jones' range as a comedic performer in the three-minute compilation above, which features a range of Jones' characters including the crunchy frog-dealing candy-shop owner, the aviator-helmeted Spanish Inquisitor, one of the four Yorkshiremen, and of course, the Bishop.

My own introduction to Jones' work came through the Spam waitress, a Monty Python character beloved of many children not yet born when Monty Python's Flying Circus, the troupe's BBC series, first ran in the late 1960s and early 70s.

Set in a diner where nearly every dish involves Spam as at least one ingredient, the sketch pokes fun at the cheap tinned meat's persistence on British tables well after the austerity of the Second World War, and more subtly at the even deeper and longer-lasting persistence of the British wartime mindset. I naturally knew little of all this when first I saw the Spam sketch, and had never once tasted Spam itself, but Jones' commitment to his character — and that character's blithe seriousness about the word "Spam" — got me laughing.

Generations of children and adults alike will continue to enjoy the Spam waitress, as well as all of Jones' other characters and their often absurd interactions with those played by the rest of the Pythons. And the more they learn about the troupe and its work, the more they'll appreciate Jones' special contributions to its legacy. After co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Gilliam, he singlehandedly directed the next two Python features, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. It was in that last film that Jones managed to balance his directorial duties with those of playing the colossally obese, frequently vomiting Mr. Creosote, whose sheer gluttony results in his explosion. So yes, technically, Mr. Creosote did die — but every time we watch The Meaning of Life he lives, and we laugh, once again.

via Laughing Squid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Monty Python’s Terry Jones (RIP) Was a Comedian, But Also a Medieval Historian: Get to Know His Other Side

Monty Python’s surreal, slapstick parodies of history, religion, medicine, philosophy, and law depended on a competent grasp of these subjects, and most of the troupe’s members, four of whom met at Oxford and Cambridge, went on to demonstrate their scholarly acumen outside of comedy, with books, guest lectures, professorships, and serious television shows.

Michael Palin even became president of the Royal Geographical Society for a few years. And Palin’s onetime Oxford pal and early writing partner Terry Jones—who passed away at 77 on January 21 after a long struggle with degenerative aphasia—didn’t do so badly for himself either, becoming a respected scholar of Medieval history and an authoritative popular writer on dozens of other subjects.

Indeed, as the Pythons did throughout their academic and comedic careers, Jones combined his interests as often as he could, either bringing historical knowledge to absurdist comedy or bringing humor to the study of history. Jones wrote and directed the pseudo-historical spoofs Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian, and in 2004 he won an Emmy for his television program Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, an entertaining, informative series that incorporates sketch comedy-style reenactments and Terry Gilliam-like animations.

In the program, Jones debunks popular ideas about several stock medieval European characters familiar to us all, while he visits historical sites and sits down to chat with experts. These characters include The Peasant, The Damsel, The Minstrel, The Monk, and The Knights. The series became a popular book in 2007, itself a culmination of decades of work. Jones first book, Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary came out in 1980. There, notes Matthew Rozsa at Salon:

[Jones] argued that the concept of Geoffrey Chaucer’s knight as the epitome of Christian chivalry ignored an uglier truth: That the Knight was a mercenary who worked for authoritarians that brutally oppressed ordinary people (an argument not dissimilar to the scene in which a peasant argues for democracy in The Holy Grail).

In 2003, Jones collaborated with several historians on Who Murdered Chaucer? A speculative study of the period in which many of the figures he later surveyed in his show and book emerged as distinctive types. As in his work with Monty Python, he didn’t only apply his contrarianism to medieval history. He also called the Renaissance “overrated” and “conservative,” and in his 2006 BBC One series Terry Jones’ Barbarians, he described the period we think of as the fall of Rome in positive terms, calling the city’s so-called “Sack” in 410 an invention of propaganda.

Jones’ work as a popular historian, political writer, and comedian “is not the full extent of [his] oeuvre,” writes Rozsa, “but it is enough to help us fathom the magnitude of the loss suffered on Tuesday night.” His legacy “was to try to make us more intelligent, more well-educated, more thoughtful. He also strove, of course, to make us have fun.” Python fans know this side of Jones well. Get to know him as a passionate interpreter of history in Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, which you can watch on YouTube here.

For an academic study of Jones' medieval work, see the collection: The Medieval Python The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Drunk History Takes on the Father of Prohibition: The Ban on Alcohol in the U.S. Started 100 Years Ago This Month

There may be plenty of good reasons to restrict sales and limit promotion of alcohol. You can search the stats on traffic fatalities, liver disease, alcohol-related violence, etc. and you’ll find the term “epidemic” come up more than once. Yet even with all the dangers alcohol poses to public health and safety, its total prohibition has seemed “so hostile to Americans’ contemporary sensibilities of personal freedom,” writes Mark Lawrence Schrad at The New York Times, “that we struggle to comprehend how our ancestors could have possibly supported it.” Prohibition in the United States began 1oo years ago--on January 17, 1920--and lasted through 1933.

How did this happen? Demand, of course, persisted, but public support seemed widespread. Despite stories of thousands rushing bars and liquor stores on the evening of January 16, 1920 before the 18th Amendment banning alcohol nationwide went into effect, “the final triumph of prohibition was met with shrugs…. The United States had already been ‘dry’ for the previous half-year thanks to the Wartime Prohibition Act. And even before that, 32 of the 48 states had already enacted their own statewide prohibitions.”

We tend to think of prohibition now as a wild overreaction and a political miscalculation, and frankly, it’s no wonder, given how bonkers some of its most prominent advocates were. Who better to profile one of the most fanatical than the irresponsibly drunk comedians of Comedy Central’s Drunk History? See John Levenstein and friends take on the leader of the Anti-Saloon League, Wayne Wheeler, above,

Wheeler indirectly killed tens of thousands of people when his ASL pushed to have poison added to industrial alcohol to deter bootlegging in the 20s. His pre-prohibition tactics (he coined the term “pressure group”) recall those of the Moral Majority campaigns that took over local and state legislatures nationwide in the U.S. in recent decades, and it is largely due to the ASL that prohibition gained such significant political ground.

They allied with progressives in the North and racists in the South; with suffragists and with the Klan, whom Wheeler secretly employed to smash up bars. As Daniel Okrent writes at Smithsonian:

Wheeler’s devotion to the dream of a dry America accommodated any number of unlikely allies. Billy Sunday, meet pioneering social worker Jane Addams: you’re working together now. The evangelical clergy of the age were motivated to support Prohibition because of their faith; reformers like Addams signed on because of the devastating effect that drunkenness had on the urban poor. Ku Klux Klan, shake hands with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW): you’re on the same team. The Klan’s anti-liquor sentiment was rooted in its hatred of the immigrant masses in liquor-soaked cities; the IWW believed that liquor was a capitalist weapon used to keep the working classes in a stupor.

Dogged, uncompromising, shrewd, and seemingly amoral, Wheeler was once described by the Cincinnati Enquirer as a crusader who “made great men his puppets.” Prohibition may be impossible to imagine one hundred years later, but we surely recognize Wayne Wheeler as a perennial figure in American politics. Don’t trust a drunk comedian to give you the straight story? Get a sober history above in the excerpt from the Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

38 Major Pop Songs Played with the Exact Same Four Chords: Watch a Captivating Medley Performed by the Axis of Awesome

When we call music a universal language, it’s usually understood to be a metaphor. In its purest theoretical form, music may be more like math—a truly universal language—but in its manifestations in the real world, it resembles more the great diversity of tongues around the globe. Each regional, national, and global music has its grammar of scales, rhythms, and chords, each its syntax of melodies and harmonies, though these share some important commonalities.

The syntax of pop music, like its blues predecessor, consists of standard chord progressions, easily swapped from song to song: repeatable units that form a range of available emotional expression. Want to see that range on full display, in a bravado performance by an Australian comedy rock band? Look no further: just above, the Axis of Awesome perform their live rendition of “4 Chord Song,” a stunning medley of pop hits from Journey to Missy Higgins that all use the same four-chord sequence.

With the exception of an original composition, “Birdplane,” the ensemble’s selection of 38 songs includes some of the biggest hits of the past few decades. The tonal breadth is surprising, as we leap from “Don’t Stop Believing” to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to “With or Without You” to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Imagine Natalie Imbruglia, Green Day, and Toto trading licks, or Pink, the Beatles, and A-Ha. Maybe these artists have more in common, linguistically speaking, than we thought. Or, as one of the Axis of Awesome bandmember asks, mock-incredulously, “You can take those four chords, repeat them, and pop out every pop song ever?”

Well, maybe not every pop song. One could choose other progressions and make similar compilations. These particular four chords have something of a melancholy sound, and tend to come up music with an undercurrent of sadness (yes, even “Barbie Girl”). One can quibble with some of the particulars here. “Don’t Stop Believing,” for example, throws a different chord into the second phrase of its progression. But the ubiquity of this melody in pop is quite revealing, and amusing in this musical mashup. See the Axis of Awesome in a polished video version of “4 Chord Song,” above, and consider all the other ways pop music recycles and reuses the same elements over and over to convey its range of feelings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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