Python-Lehrer Tourette syndrome

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!

12 thoughts on “Python-Lehrer Tourette syndrome”

  1. Dangit, Ned, there you go again with the JMike bait.

    (To those of you who don’t know me: In certain markets, where Ned is not the poster boy for PLT Syndrome, I am.)

    Luckily, through an intensive program of suppression (going to MIT where there were many extremely annoying practitioners of Grailolalia) and transference (reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” enough that it bubbles up as the source of quasi-relevant quotes about as often as Python and Lehrer) I am — not cured, but at least my wife is willing to take me to parties.

    A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.

    Oops. Damn. Sorry.

  2. One of the interesting nuances of this joyful affliction is that it not only hereditary, but also “reverse hereditary “: I gave it to my mom. The condition in her case manifests itself via frequent use of set-up lines: she been known to gesture over-dramatically out the back window and intone “Someday, all this will be yours.”

    I understand that recent genetic research has suggested a relationship between this disorder and a male-only recessive variant called Caddyshack-Animal House Obsession Syndrome

  3. Bravo, JMike. Bravo.

    PS – my brain is currently in the throes of PLT, such that I cannot focus on any one quip long enough to type it.

    Aagh, the wound!

  4. Historical footnote: I first met Mike O. (many years ago) because he was quoting the “Burying the Cat” sketch whilst in the checkout line at a hardware store. Doing this creates a burning white blip on the geekdar in the Geek Detector Van. I was able to spot a kindred spirit in a flash.

    Question: What Geek Detector Van?

    Answer: The one from the Ministry of Housinge.

  5. I notice that T. Lehrer isn’t getting the love here in the comments.

    My son is at the “sound each letter out” stage of reading and writing, and so I was just telling him about Silent E the other day. A spoonful of Lehrer helped the lesson go down:

    “Who can turn a man into a mane…”

  6. Ned,

    It was great to see you at Reunions this summer. Sorry for disappearing for a decade or two, but I’m not quite dead yet…

    I just stumbled on your blog, which I think is terrific. The Tokyo wave pool is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    All the best,
    Doug Moore

  7. OK, late non-sequitor, but I blame you all, so I’m sharing it here. I don’t remember which post prompted this, but it’s best here:

    “Hmmm. That reminds me… of a song.”
    (tuning)yum, yum, yum…
    Yar-tee-abuckety
    Rum-ting-a-too
    Nih
    Nih
    Nih
    YAOOOOOOOOW!

    Thank you, I’m here all week.

  8. Perhaps there is a genetic component to this disorder. Several years ago I purchased the complete Monty Python TV series on DVD and my elementary-school-aged daughter caught fire with it. What was mere an impulse purchase to me became a hobby for her.
    In 2004 my mother mother had to move into assisted living. The contents of a large four bedroom house had to fit into one bedroom. Left unspoken for amongst many items,due to my mother’s declining mental state, were her cds of the complete Tom Lehrer. My daughter Andrea seized these discs and listened to the songs repeatedly. On trips to visit her grandmother, who had purchased a 10″ record Songs Of Tom Lehrer almost 50 years previously, she would request cd tracks by number.
    My sister, who was also raised on TH, is raising her family on the West Bank. Her oldest daughter Batya, who speaks better Hebrew than English, one day came to her and said, “Mother you must hear this song!.” It was “An Irish Ballad” in Hebrew. My sister sang the song in English surprising her daughter.

  9. Why Andy Irving, as I live and breathe, it is a great pleasure to have you visit these pages. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the man who first set me on my way to a proper Monty Python education. Previous Record, Matching Tie and Handkerchief, I can hear them even now… “Dennis Moore Dennis Moore, galloping through the sward.” (I can hear them even now because I have them on in the background)

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