It was 42 years ago today that the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut on the BBC. In its 45 episodes, the rule-breaking sketch comedy series set the bar for a new generation of shows that would follow — and pushed the boundaries of what kind of humor people were expecting to find on TV. The Pythons weren’t afraid of mixing references to high and low culture in their absurd sketches, or coming off as overly intellectual.
“Their real importance was that they broke all the rules,” George Perry, the author of The Life of Python, explained to The New York Times on the show’s 25th anniversary. “They did skits without punch lines, letting one comic sketch flow into another without a segue. They interrupted themselves. They created a sense of the unexpected. Combined with the brilliant, sometimes grotesque graphics by Terry Gilliam, it was anarchic and completely innovative.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the Pythons’ timeless work, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite sketches after the jump for you to check out now; longtime fans, leave your own favorites in the comments.
Killer Joke (Episode 1)
The brilliance of this sketch about a joke that’s so funny that anyone who hears it dies from laughter is that we never find out what the joke actually is — at least not in English.