"The Ministry of Silly Walks
" is a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus
, episode 14 titled "Face the Press". The episode first aired in 1970. A shortened version of the sketch was performed for Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl
This sketch involves John Cleese
as a bowler hatted civil servant
in a fictitious British
government ministry responsible for developing Silly Walks through grants. Cleese, throughout the sketch, walks in a variety of silly ways, and it is this more than the dialogue that has earned the sketch its popularity. Cleese is presented with a "walk in progress" by one Mr. Putey (Michael Palin
) — a walk which turns out to be actually not that silly. He tells Putey that he does not believe the Ministry can help him, as his walk is not silly enough, and funding is short. The government, he explains, is supposed to give equally to Defence, Social Security, Health, Housing, Education and Silly Walks, but recently has been underfunding Silly Walks. Cleese later offers Mr. Putey a grant that will allow him to work on the Anglo-French Silly Walk, La Marche Futile
(an obvious parody of the Concorde
's Anglo-French development), illustrated with some particularly ludicrous walk motions by Cleese, who is clearly reveling in the prospect of the Anglo-French project's taking place.
There is a brief appearance by Mrs Twolumps serving coffee with full silly walk (Carol Cleveland in the Hollywood Bowl version). The result of her style of walking is that no coffee is left in the cups by the time she puts them down on the desk. In the Hollywood Bowl version, Carol Cleveland accidentally (or possibly intentionally) hops next to Cleese and spills some of the coffee on him during the sketch.
As the years went by, Cleese found it increasingly difficult to perform these walks. He'd say, when told about a new Python Tour, "I'm not doing silly walks."
Some right-wing inspired observers claimed to see in this sketch a satire of government projects. But it should be noted that in the book The Pythons, members of the troupe indicated that they considered the whole scene nothing more than pure silliness. Cleese in particular is mildly dismayed that so many fans consider it their "best" sketch.
It has been suggested by John Cleese's former Director of Studies at Downing College, Cambridge, (John Hopkins) that the inspiration for the sketch came as a result of Cleese's time studying there, where the uneven, slippy and ill-supported gravel paths of the college domus often force undergraduates to navigate carefully around frequently-formed puddles and pot-holes with an amusing, broad and 'silly' stride. However, this explanation is highly unlikely, as the sketch was written by Terry Jones and Michael Palin, who were educated at Oxford University.
Chapter 5 of G. K. Chesterton's 1904 work The Club of Queer Trades may be a source for this sketch. Titled "The Noticeable Conduct of Professor Chadd," the chapter describes the sudden, odd behaviour of an ethnologist who is an "authority on the relations of savages to language." Professor Chadd refuses to speak to anyone and will only hop and dance around in his garden, kicking his legs in a fantastic manner, convincing his household that he has gone mad. In fact, as Basil Grant, the hero of the book deduces, Chadd has invented a new language expressed through dance. Grant then arranges for the government to pay Chadd a research endowment of 800 pounds per year until his new language can be decoded.
References in popular culture
- A reference to this sketch appears in Fawlty Towers episode The Germans, when a concussed John Cleese tries to cool things down by offering I'll do the funny walk — impersonating a German soldier's goosestep.
- In 2000, an episode of Mission Hill, Andy and Kevin Make a Friend (or One Bang for Two Brothers), referenced the sketch when one of the characters attempts to impress a girl by showing how he does a "great silly walk" from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
- In 2005, the sketch was chosen by a poll taken in Britain as the 15th greatest comedy sketch of all time (and one of 5 Monty Python sketches in the top 50).
- A reference is made to the "silly walk" in an episode of the WB's Gilmore Girls when Rory says "Please, don't walk away like that," and Dean responds with "Sorry, I'd do a silly walk, but I'm not feeling very John Cleese right now."
- In the movie Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One For the Road, Larry the Cable Guy makes a reference to The Ministry of Silly Walks and performs various silly walks to illustrate how people walked in Wal-Mart at around 2:00 AM.
- In October 2006, the children's educational TV programme Numberjacks on CBeebies (part of the BBC network) featured a "silly walk" by actor/gymnast Alex Liang in episode 5. In this episode, Alex plays a businessman whose shoes get struck by the "Problem Blob" which makes his shoes go into "silly walk" mode and has him "silly walking" all over Richmond Park.
- During a satellite appearance on The Phil Donahue Show to promote A Fish Called Wanda, Cleese was pressured by Donahue and the studio audience to do a silly walk. Cleese eventually vanished off screen and returned a few moments later, claiming he had just done a silly walk.
- In an issue of The Simpsons Bongo comic when the British invade Springfield it shows John Cleese doing the goosestep and labels him as "the Minister of Silly Walks".
- In the 25th anniversary special of the radio sketch show I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, John agrees to take part in resurrecting the show on the conditions that he can sing The Ferret Song and perform the Funny Walk. Of course, being a radio show, this comprised a full build-up and introduction, followed by several footsteps, and John finishing it by saying "Thank you," to tumultuous applause. He then apologises, saying that he thinks he missed a bit, to which Graeme Garden replies, "The funny bit?".
- On an episode of The Chaser's War On Everything, Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor do a sketch called "The Chaser's British Comedy Sketch", filled with various Monty Python cliches, which climaxes with Andrew screaming "I'm going to do something so totally bizarre it will be imitated verbatim by comedy nerds for decades to come!" He then does a silly walk, doing imitations of Pepperpots, until a 16-ton weight falls on his head.
- In November 2007, as the Eurostar duration between Brussels and London was reduced to 1 hour and 51 minutes, the Ministry of Silly Walks has appeared in an ad campaign in Belgium. The adverts were all on building corners, this one showing two workers carrying a large glass pane walking towards the corner on one side, and walking towards them on the other side a John Cleese look-alike doing his famous Silly Walk. The tagline read "Warning! London is just around the corner!".
- In the game Destroy All Humans! 2, when the "free love" mental ability is used in Albion (London), a police officer may say (whilst dancing) "Can you direct me to the Ministry of Silly Walks?"
The Science of Silly Walks
In a research article published by Britain's Royal Society in 2007, it mathematically disproves the function of a silly walk as a natural primary source for mobility. In an example of life imitating art, they funded this through grant money.