Classic Monty Python: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw Engage in a Hilarious Battle of Wits

Have you ever won­dered what it would have been like to be present when Oscar Wilde was deliv­er­ing those daz­zling epi­grams of his? In this clas­sic sketch from Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus, we’re pre­sent­ed with one hilar­i­ous pos­si­bil­i­ty.

The sketch is from Episode 39 of the Fly­ing Cir­cus, the last episode of sea­son three, which was record­ed on May 18, 1972 but not aired until Jan­u­ary 18, 1973. The scene takes place in 1895, in the draw­ing room of Wilde’s Lon­don home. Hold­ing court amid a room­ful of syco­phants, Wilde (played by Gra­ham Chap­man) com­petes with the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw (Michael Palin) and the Amer­i­can-born painter James McNeill Whistler (John Cleese) to impress Queen Vic­to­ri­a’s son Albert Edward (Ter­ry Jones), the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII.

As for the his­tor­i­cal basis of the sketch, “There seems to be no evi­dence for the con­vivial tri­umvi­rate of Whistler, Wilde, and Shaw,” writes Darl Larsen in Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus: An Utter­ly Com­plete, Thor­ough­ly Unil­lus­trat­ed, Absolute­ly Unau­tho­rized Guide, “espe­cial­ly as late as 1895, when Whistler was car­ing for his ter­mi­nal­ly ill wife and Wilde was in the ear­ly stages of his fall from grace.” Wilde’s play The Impor­tance of Being Earnest opened in Feb­ru­ary of that year, and short­ly after­ward he became embroiled in a legal bat­tle with the Mar­quess of Queens­ber­ry that led even­tu­al­ly to his impris­on­ment for homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. Wilde was once a pro­tégé of Whistler, but their friend­ship had dete­ri­o­rat­ed by 1895. Whistler was appar­ent­ly jeal­ous of Wilde’s suc­cess, and believed he had stolen many of his famous lines. When Wilde report­ed­ly said “I wish I had said that” in response to a wit­ty remark by Whistler in about 1888, the painter famous­ly retort­ed, “You will, Oscar, you will.” Shaw worked as a Lon­don the­atre crit­ic in the 1890s, and the Prince of Wales was a patron of the arts.

In the Python sketch, Wilde kicks off a round of wit­ti­cisms with his famous line, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” But things go rapid­ly down­hill as the con­ver­sa­tion turns into an exer­cise in heap­ing abuse on the Prince of Wales and pin­ning the blame on a rival:

WILDE: Your Majesty is like a big jam dough­nut with cream on the top.

PRINCE: I beg your par­don?

WILDE: Um…It was one of Whistler’s.

WHISTLER: I nev­er said that.

WILDE: You did, James, you did.

WHISTLER: Well, Your High­ness, what I meant was that, like a dough­nut, um, your arrival gives us pleasure…and your depar­ture only makes us hun­gry for more. [The prince laughs and nods his head.] Your High­ness, you are also like a stream of bat’s piss.


WHISTLER: It was one of Wilde’s. One of Wilde’s.

WILDE: It sod­ding was not! It was Shaw!

SHAW: I…I mere­ly meant, Your Majesty, that you shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark.


WILDE: Right. Your Majesty is like a dose of clap–

WHISTLER: –Before you arrive is plea­sure, and after is a pain in the dong.

PRINCE: What??

WHISTLER AND WILDE: One of Shaw’s, one of Shaw’s.

SHAW: You bas­tards.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mon­ty Python’s Best Phi­los­o­phy Sketch­es

Watch Mon­ty Python’s “Sum­ma­rize Proust Com­pe­ti­tion” on the 100th Anniver­sary of Swann’s Way

John Cleese’s Eulo­gy for Gra­ham Chap­man: ‘Good Rid­dance, the Free-Load­ing Bas­tard, I Hope He Fries’

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