Dead Parrot

The Dead Parrot sketch, alternatively and originally known as Pet Shop sketch or Parrot Sketch, is a popular sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, one of the most famous in the history of British television comedy. It was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman and first performed in the eighth episode of the show's first series ("Full Frontal Nudity", 7 December 1969).

It portrays a conflict between disgruntled customer Mr Praline (played by Cleese), and a shopkeeper (Michael Palin), who hold contradictory positions on the vital state of a "Norwegian Blue" parrot (an apparent absurdity in itself since parrots are popularly presumed to be tropical and not indigenous to Scandinavia, or perhaps a riff on the African Grey parrot, or both).

The sketch pokes fun at the many euphemisms for death used in English culture. In this it bears some resemblance to Mark Twain's earlier short story Nevada Funeral.

The sketch was based on an acting exercise where, if one of the actors repeats a line, they automatically lose.

The "Dead Parrot" sketch was inspired by a "Car Salesman" sketch that Palin and Graham Chapman had done in How to Irritate People. In it, Palin played a car salesman who refused to admit that there was anything wrong with his customer's (Chapman) car, even as it fell apart in front of him. That sketch was based on an actual incident between Palin and a car salesman.

Over the years, Cleese and Palin have done many versions of the "Dead Parrot" sketch for various television shows, record albums, and live performances.


In the original incarnation, just as the dialogue is getting "too silly", Graham Chapman's no-nonsense colonel bursts in and stops the sketch.

In the 1972 feature film And Now For Something Completely Different, the sketch ends by going into "The Lumberjack Song". (As the shopkeeper is explaining that he always wanted to be a lumberjack, Mr. Praline gets confused and says to him, "I'm sorry, this is irrelevant, isn't it?")

The double album Monty Python's The Final Rip Off features a live version of the sketch, which is slightly different from the TV version. Praline's rant about the deceased parrot includes "He fucking snuffed it!" Also, the sketch ends with the shopkeeper saying that he has a slug that does talk. Praline, after a brief pause, says, "Right, I'll have that one then!" According to Michael Palin's published diary Palin changed his response in order to throw off Cleese.

On the Rhino Records' compilation Dead Parrot Society, a live performance has Palin cracking up while Cleese declares "Pining for the fjords? What kind of talk is that?" The audience cheers this bit of breaking character, but Palin quickly composes himself and Cleese declares "Now, look! This is nothing to laugh at!" before proceeding with the sketch.

In The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball, a benefit for Amnesty International, the sketch opens similarly, but ends very differently:

Mr Praline: It's dead, that's what's wrong with it.
Shopkeeper: So it is. 'Ere's your money back and a couple of holiday vouchers.
(audience goes wild)
Mr Praline: (looks completely flabbergasted) Well, you can't say Thatcher hasn't changed some things.

At least one live version, released on CD, ended with the slug lines, followed by:

Shopkeeper: (long, long pause) ... Do you want to come back to my place?
Mr Praline: I thought you'd never ask.

In a 1997 Saturday Night Live performance of the sketch, Cleese added a line to the rant: "Its metabolic processes are a matter of interest only to historians!"

In his published Diary, Michael Palin recalls that during the filming of Monty Python's Life of Brian in Tunisia, Spike Milligan (who happened to be there on holiday) regaled the Pythons with his own version of the Dead Parrot sketch, but changed "Norwegian Blue" to "Arctic Grey"

Further uses

At Graham Chapman's memorial service, John Cleese began his eulogy by stating that Graham Chapman was no more, that he had ceased to be, that he had expired and gone on to meet his maker, and so on. Cleese went on to justify his eulogy by claiming that Chapman would never have forgiven him if he had not delivered it exactly as he did. Near the end he also called him an "ex-Chapman".

It has been observed that the same lines from the sketch are frequently used to describe anything which the speaker wishes to describe as defunct or no longer viable. The term "Dead Parrot" is sometimes used in this context too, and also specifically applies to a controversial joint policy document which the Liberal Party and Social Democrats issued in 1988 in the process of their merger into the Social and Liberal Democratic Party. Shortly before her downfall as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher described this party in her deadpan 'comedy' voice, saying "this is a dead parrot, it has ceased to be." The loss of the Eastbourne parliamentary seat at a by-election to the Liberal Democrats shortly afterward was cause for David Steel, its leader at the time to say "it looks like this dead parrot gave her a good pecking!". The emblem of the Liberal Democrats is a Liberal Democrats UK Logo.svg.

However, Thatcher's comment was not wholly original, as three years previously Spitting Image had run a take-off of the Dead Parrot Sketch with David Owen, then leader of the SDP, in the role of Mr. Praline, Owen's predecessor Roy Jenkins as the shopkeeper, and the SDP ("lovely policies") standing in for the parrot itself.

Following the death of Alex, a well-known African Grey Parrot, The Economist ran an obituary on Sept. 20, 2007 that concluded by regretting that Alex had become an "ex-parrot.

There was homage paid to this sketch by Not the Nine O'Clock News, which had a sketch called Not the Parrot Sketch, which contained mention of a parrot but was otherwise not particularly similar. Another homage was paid by the makers of South Park, called the "Dead Friend Sketch".

John Cleese guest starred in an episode of the Muppet Show. In one of the skits of the show, he played as a pirate attacking a spaceship. Here he was accompanied by a nagging parrot who annoyed him to the point where he threatened it with a sword and said " Do you want to be an ex-parrot?"

Journalist Charlie Brooker wrote about what he claimed to be the "Dead Parrot defence", where someone tries to claim defence by continuously lying, making the lies bigger as the defence goes along. Brooker wrote, "The Dead Parrot Defender is hoping that if they lie long and hard enough, reality itself will bend to accommodate them." Brooker claimed that Dead Parrot defences were being used in court for serious offenses, giving Mark Dixie, the man who murdered Sally Anne Bowman as an example.

On May 14, 2008, the Washington Post interspersed quotes from the sketch in a discussion of the status of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president.

Actual Scandanavian parrot

The fossilised remains of a parrot were found in Denmark by Dr David Waterhouse. It is from the Lower Eocene, 55 million years ago, when the region was tropical. The parrot has been nicknamed the 'Danish Blue', in reference to this sketch, although its official, scientific name is Mopsitta tanta.


External links

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