The British comedian Graham Chapman delighted in offending people. As a writer and actor with the legendary Monty Python troupe, he pushed against the boundaries of propriety and good taste. When his writing partner John Cleese proposed doing a sketch on a disgruntled man returning a defective toaster to a shop, Chapman thought: Broken toaster? Why not a dead parrot? And in one particularly outrageous sketch written by Chapman and Cleese in 1970, Chapman plays an undertaker and Cleese plays a customer who has just rung a bell at the front desk:
“What can I do for you, squire?” says Chapman.
“Um, well, I wonder if you can help me,” says Cleese. “You see, my mother has just died.”
“Ah, well, we can ‘elp you. We deal with stiffs,” says Chapman. “There are three things we can do with your mother. We can burn her, bury her, or dump her.”
“Dump her in the Thames.”
“Oh, did you like her?”
“Oh well, we won’t dump her, then,” says Chapman. “Well, what do you think? We can bury her or burn her.”
“Which would you recommend?”
“Well, they’re both nasty.”
From there, Chapman goes on to explain in the most graphic detail the unpleasant aspects of either choice before offering another option: cannibalism. At that point (in keeping with the script) outraged members of the studio audience rush onto the stage and put a stop to the sketch.
Chapman and Cleese had been close friends since their student days at Cambridge University, and when Chapman died of cancer at the age of 48 on October 4, 1989, Cleese was at his bedside. Out of respect for Chapman’s family, the members of Monty Python decided to stay away from his private funeral and avoid a media circus. Instead, they gathered for a memorial service on October 6, 1989 in the Great Hall at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. When Cleese delivered his eulogy for Chapman, he recalled his friend’s irreverence: “Anything for him, but mindless good taste.” So Cleese did his best to make his old friend proud. His off-color but heartfelt eulogy that evening has become a part of Monty Python lore, and you can watch it above. To see a longer clip, with moving words from Michael Palin and a sing-along of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” led by Eric Idle, watch below:
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in February 2013.