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.
via Laughing Squid
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.