A Breath of Fresh Air

I was well into my high school stint of delving into all things Python in 1993 when my NPR-listening stepfather helpfully taped this interview off the air for me. I had formed the practice of using a dual-tape deck to take the best clips from interviews and pull them out as sound bites. On every mix tape I made — and there were many, as this was the early nineties — one side was a carefully curated collection of twelve to thirteen songs on a theme, and the other side was forty-five minutes of spoken-word excerpts from interviews, films, EPKs, and comedy albums.

Because of this practice — and a thirty-five minute one-way commute to school each day — many lines of dialogue and conversation are as indelibly engraved in all the little bits and pieces of my brain as songs of the era are for other people. So the moment I describe six and a half minutes into our first episode of Michael Palin describing the “world’s worst job interview” with Michael Mills is a series of voice inflections I can recall as clearly as some people can recall the way a particular song was playing on the car stereo as they experienced a moment of paradise by the dashboard lights.

Palin isn’t the only one to have told this story — and this isn’t the only time he told it, as the “How did Monty Python get started?” question is well-trod territory, and he repeats a version of it in the New York Times in 1998 — and it’s always interesting to hear variations on it as it is told at various times. Upon seeing John Cleese do a tour in support of the hardcover edition of So, Anyway… at the JFK Library in 2014, he told a version of the same story, and I remember being excited that he mentioned an additional name that the troupe had considered in place of Monty Python than Palin had listed in 1993. That particular conversation in Boston with Cleese wasn’t recorded, but he tells an well-heeled, abbreviated version of the origin story to Stephen Colbert in 2015.

However, as indicated in the episode and above, when I think about the beginning of Python, I think about it through the window of Palin’s delivery to Terry Gross on Fresh Air in support of a promo tour for American Friends. When we began researching and preparing for this podcast a few months, Fresh Air was seemingly still in the process of uploading their archives — or, at least, I wasn’t able to find the correct clip through the NPR website. However, as the episode with Nathan’s and my conversation referring to it finally drops, it magically is online. Once you’re done listening to my recreation, do check out Palin’s original version here.

PS: The header image comes from an old PythOnline post, back when they were dabbling in making repost-worthy memes. Stolen with fondness and a desire to not use my screen-shot-with-yellow-circus-font template too often.

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