What I Learned from the Flying Circus

Last night I got to enjoy my husband’s Fathers’ Day gift. Knowing how much he likes comedians, our crew gave him two tickets to see Eric Idle and John Cleese’s Together Again at Last for the Very First Time Comedy Tour. It was hilarious and insightful and a little bawdy, but what can you expect from two members of Monty Python?


The evening was filled with sketches, video, music, and some reminiscing. In aging Monty Python style, Idle and Cleese sat on red oversized chairs and shared with the audience how they met and how their comedy troupe, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, began. Their story was fascinating.

When they first approached BBC with their idea, they really didn’t have much of a concrete plan, except they wanted to do comedy sketches. Even with a nebulous proposal, they were given a slot on Sunday night British television to do as they wanted. And Monty Python was born.

What intrigued me about their story is that the cast were all writers and they had no plans to hire performers. It would be a do-it-yourself production. In preparation for a show, they would break into groups to write sketches and when they reconvened, the pairs would try their material in front of the team. If everyone laughed, it would become part of the show, and if not, it was trashed. Cleese commented that the one thing they never argued about was who would play what character. If you wrote it, you played in it. In a room full of funny people, people with egos and opinions, they never fought over who would play what role. That fascinates me.

It made me think of the story each of us is living. We are individuals, and as individuals, we are also part of a group, a community, a troupe. We struggle sometimes over who should play certain roles. I know I do. But, if we are writing part of the story, why would we hand over our role to someone else? Yes, we are part of a team, but each member is valuable and there is a time for each member to take the lead.

Leading makes me uncomfortable, but from time and time I have been pushed into that place. In almost every instance, I have tried to pass off leadership to someone I thought was more confident, more qualified, more polished. One wise friend saw what I was doing, and gently reminded me, “Susan, we asked you to lead this group, not ________. You can do this. I believe in you.”

I believe in you. Those words should be edifying and encouraging, right? But all they did for me was make me feel like an imposter. I would think to myself if you only knew me and my skill level, you would change your mind in a heartbeat. Or I would think about someone who seemed infinitely more suited for the position and feel even more inadequate.

Sometimes we get to lead, with knees knocking and pulse racing. We may not feel qualified, wanting to pass our role off to someone else, but that would be a mistake. We get to be the leading character in our story. Yes, there are times we get to have a supporting role in someone else’s story – a role I’m very comfortable with –  but we can’t stay there. We would miss our own story, our own contribution to the world.

I love that the performers of Monty Python were also the writers. I love that they didn’t pass off their roles. I love that they really didn’t have a solid plan going into production except they wanted to do comedy. I love that they respected each member’s opinion and sense of humor and that was enough for them. I love that the opinion of their friends and colleagues were more important than the opinion of the critics. I love that they were creative and enjoyed what they did for years and years and years.

I went to the Comedy Tour to be entertained, but left not only entertained but also inspired. Thank you, Eric Idle and John Cleese, for sharing lessons from The Flying Circus.

31 dAYS


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