Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a television show that ran from 1969 to 1974. The show was very popular and today it is one of the first things someone thinks of in relation to British humor. It featured sketches that were “quirky and irreverent”(975) with “featuring cartoonish authority figures, strange satirical takes on the idiosyncrasies of British life, and frequent references to philosophers, literary figures, and famous works of art”. The dead parrot sketch is one well known sketch from the show that is not meant only to be entertaining and humorous but also meant to represent the difficulty individual had in dealing with bureaucracy in Britain. Despite the fact that the parrot is obviously dead, the man at the pet shop refuses to admit this despite being presented with evidence. The man yells at the bird, shakes it, hits it on the counter repeatedly, and says it is dead multiple times in many different ways, while the pet shop owner says it is resting, that he has been stunned while waking up, that his type of bird stuns easily, that it prefers to lie on its back, that he is pining, and that if the bird hadn’t been nailed down it would have flown away. Once the man is finally able to make it clear that he is not going to be convinced that the bird is not dead, the pet shop owner finally says that he will have to replace it. The man then turns directly to the camera, addressing the viewer and says:
“If you want to get anything done in this country you’ve got to complain till you’re blue in the face”
which represents the frustration British citizens feel in dealing with the bureaucracy. After complaining and spending time proving that the bird is dead, he finally gets the shopkeeper to agree to replace the bird, but then the shopkeeper comes back right away to say they are out of parrots and offers him something completely different, which further represents this frustration.
The sketch also seems to suggest how corrupt and untrustworthy the bureaucracy can be. The man at the pet shop sold a bird he had to know was dead but that he said was only tired and he had nailed the bird in place so that it was upright, he moves the cage to try and make it seem like the bird is alive, and he tries to distract the man by pointing out its “beautiful plumage”. Then the shop owner’s brother lies to him about where he is, and then tries to pass it off as a pun or a palidrome.
The dead parrot sketch illustrates the frustration individuals feel in trying to get anything done where they have to deal with bureaucracy, and have to deal with so many constraints and talk to so many different people before you can get anything done. The man in the sketch has been convinced to buy a dead bird, then when he tries to replace it he has to convince the owner it is really dead, and then he has to go to another shop where he is told that he is in a different town, then he goes to the railway to complain and finds out he is the right town, so he goes back to the shop until he finally gives up because he finds it all too “silly”.
Black, Joseph. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Twentieth Century and Beyond. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Pr, 2010. Print.