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PAUL BOUTIN — Hey, Mister Marketing Whiz: The office techies don't get your Seinfeld references. They didn't see that Bud Light ad with that one guy. If you seek the Holy Grail of nerdery, toss your copy of The Da Vinci Code and watch some Monty Python instead. No need to sit through all 46 episodes — after the jump, we've got instant instructions on how to make Python jokes at work. Our chief weapon is surprise!

Monty Python's Flying Circus, a sketch comedy show which premiered on the BBC in 1969, is quoted more times per day in the average IT office than Star Trek and all subsequent space operas combined. The Python programming language is named after it. It's the source of the term "spam" for unwanted mass email. If you're in a meeting with two engineers and one wisecracks to the other in a phony English accent ... bingo, it's Python.

Monty Python appeals to programmers because the six-man troupe broke all the rules while maintaining an exceptionally consistent sense of logic. As the Beeb puts it, "their understanding of continuity and symmetry ... meant that their seemingly aimless, stream-of-consciousness ideas and sketches were prevented from dissolving into anti-climax by being contained within a rigid, but flamboyant, structure."


Check out the three-part Spanish Inquisition sketch, which disrupts one episode over and over. The first minute of the clip packs in most of the Python formula: Sketches disrupt sketches, characters from different times and places share the stage, and self-referential dialogue breaks the fourth wall two decades before Moonlighting got the greenlight from American TV.

Attention, managers: The lead Inquisitor is exactly what you look like to your tech staff. Notice that he ...


  • Always interrupts at the wrong time.
  • Wears clothes that inspire ridicule, not respect.
  • Can't keep count of the number of items on his agenda.
  • Not only that, but every time he repeats the list he adds one more.
  • Never travels without at least two incompetent cronies.
  • Has the entire punishment/reward system ass-backwards. Which is ok, because he can be tricked into forcing you to sit in a comfy chair and do nothing for hours.

An essential part of Python humor is that, like Wile E. Coyote walking straight off a cliff into thin air, the whole crazy scene makes perfect sense to at least one of the characters, such as the man at the center of the Spam sketch. How did "spam" come to mean junk mail? Watch the word rapidly replicate itself to take over the breakfast menu, the skit, and finally the entire show, just like the Viagra ads in your inbox.

You can get the complete series on DVD. But a more expedient Python primer is the troupe's 1975 feature film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This low-budget sendup of Arthurian legend is the most-quoted 91 minutes of Python dialogue. (SVUG's favorite scene: King Arthur calls for the Holy Hand Grenade, which comes with a team of 24x7 support monks and its own Bible of operating instructions.)

The easiest way to get with the geeks is to watch Holy Grail one or two times. That'll prep you to make Python jokes of your own at the office. Here are five can't-fail punch lines to use in any gathering that's more than 40 percent tech staff.

  • I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. Pretend, with a smile, to be taken aback by a coworker's barrage of questions you can't answer. You'll save face, and you'll gain points by letting someone else deliver the kicker: NOOOObody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
  • Run away! King Arthur's pragmatic battle cry from the movie. Bill, what's your strategy to deal with the lack of legacy LDAP support in the mobile client? Run away!
  • Whenever anyone in upper management says something is the company's Holy Grail, dryly point out to your peers that Holy Hand Grenade is more like it.
  • When asked to do something specific: But I don't want to ________. I want to SING! Gaze and gesture upward as if you're about to break into a Broadway show tune. This one gets points because it's obscure, plus it's kind of gay.
  • What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? NEVER use this one yourself. But eventually, someone will interrupt an especially pointless line of questioning with the movie's best punch line. If it's your meeting, they're waiting to see what you do. You respond to the questioner in your most patient, wise, kingly tone: African, or European? You win.