Earlier this summer I attended my twentieth college reunion. I had a good time. I always have a good time at reunions. Earlier in my reunion-attending career, I had some misgivings, but over time it’s gotten much easier to simply visit with friends and remember the good times. The people I remember as jerks, they keep coming to reunions too, but they get fatter and fainter and more forgettable with each year. Eventually I expect them to disappear altogether.
With age comes perspective. One thing I finally came to terms with at this reunion was my longtime affliction with a social disease. The disease, Python-Lehrer Tourette syndrome, is common among a certain male-dominated geek population. It involves having quasi-appropriate phrases from various Monty Python skits and movies spring to mind throughout the day. During quiescent phases, these phrases can be suppressed. But when surrounded by those sharing the diagnosis (as at my recent reunion), the urge to utter all manner of Pythonesque non sequiturs can be overwhelming. Python-Lehrer sufferers, incidentally, are differentiated from their Python Tourette cousins by their interstitial allusions to the Tom Lehrer musical canon. There is also a notable subset of this malady (as yet without official diagnostic designation) known as Grailolalia, in which the victim specializes only in phrases from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Grailians are fine people, but not terribly nuanced.
I don’t worry much about this problem, and I’ve long since given up apologizing for it. But it is impressive to consider the degree to which this particular comedy troupe dominates the brain space of people like me. I’ve known a few people with Firesign Theater disease, but it’s nothing like the vast spawn of Python-quoters. Why is that? I believe there is a Shakespearean completeness to the Python repertoire. All the comical-tragical-historical varieties of silliness are there. They were around for so long, and they brought such disciplined seriousness to their absurdity, that there truly is something quotable for almost every situation. Furthermore, their absurdity sometimes touches on the profound. To my mind, King Arthur’s argument with a peasant about the origins of Excalibur is the last word on confusing mythology with journalism and the sacred with the profane: “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” Petty literalism contending with religious mania. That, in a nutshell, is the drama of our age.
Of course, none of this stops Python-Lehrer Tourette syndrome from being intensely irritating to friends and family.
To which I say: Nih!