More (much, much more) after the jump:
Monty Python has been called "the Beatles of comedy" so often that I'm hesitant to do the same - it runs dangerously close to cliché, and much of Python's seismic effect on the world of comedy hinges on their conscious avoidance/exploding of clichés (eventually inventing a few new ones in the process, but we can't really hold them accountable for that) - but I don't care: it works. Viz:
1) They were comprised of strong individual talents who only became world-class once they came together as a group. You can see the Python sensibility slowly coalesce as its six members slowly drift towards each other throughout the sixties: partnerships forged, chance encounters made, mutual-admiration societies founded. The Cambridge contingent (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle) all distinguished themselves as members of the Footlights Dramatic Club, riding an unprecedented (and unrepeated) wave of public interest in the wake of former President Peter Cook's ascent to national stardom (as one-quarter of Beyond the Fringe, founder of the short-lived Establishment Club in London's Soho district, and co-founder of the seemingly indestructible Private Eye magazine, he gets much of the credit/blame for kicking off the "satire boom" of the early sixties, though most of his best material relied far more on brillliantly escalating absurdity than tweaking the noses of Cabinet ministers). This led to a great deal of attention from their rough equivalents at Oxford (Terry Jones and Michael Palin), not to mention an unsuccessful attempt to capitalize on Fringe's celebrated run on Broadway by bringing the Footlights' 1963 revue A Clump of Plinths (rechristened with the slightly-easier-to-say title of Cambridge Circus - hmmm...) to New York, where an assistant editor at Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine*, one Terry Gilliam, caught sight of Cleese and recognized the perfect live-action comic strip character when he saw it:
(* - Another roundabout Beatles/Python connection? No idea, but one wonders if a seed was planted somewhere in the organization on sight of this cover...)
The demand for University-bred wits to churn out material for British TV in lieu of pursuing foolish paths like medicine or law crested by mid-decade, when all five of the British Pythons were simultaneously employed by the great facilitator/exploiter of the sixties Brit-comedy boom, David Frost, on his semi-satirical post-That Was the Week That Was program The Frost Report, but that was a statistical certainty, as he hired every young gag writer in the British Isles to write for him (which didn't stop him from hogging the lion's share of the credit, which inspired a wonderful mixture of affection and contempt in his charges - we'll get to an example of that in the very first MPFC shortly, but none is more illustrative than The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, a film scripted by Cleese and Chapman starring Peter Cook as a ruthlessly ambitious character viciously patterned after David Frost, which was produced by... David Frost).
There, the five future Pythons developed their particular... um... (idioms, sir?) idioms. Palin and Jones collaborated on the short filmed inserts that ran throughout the show, Idle concentrated on one-liners for Frost's interstitial bits (known as the "Continuous Developing Monologue," or CDM, though Cleese and Chapman referred to it as OJRIL, or "Old Jokes and Ridiculously Irrelevant Links"), and John and Graham wrote a number of the in-studio sketches. Cleese also made his first major appearances as a performer here, alongside Ronnies Corbett and Barker: