Monty python’s Life of Brian was born in the mid 1960s. The rosy comedies of the 1950s lay like heavy pancakes on the belly laughs that never came; the art of Hollywood comedy seemed dead at the end of the era. In 1965 appeared The Greatest Story Ever Told, an $18 million disaster that added the biblical spectacular to the celluloid graveyard. Secularism, and a history Hollywood could bill as “centuries in the making,” had molded an audience mentality that saw Jesus as a Hallmark card figure with which they could no longer identify, an un-man without credible letters of recommendation. He had become part of a past that was no longer ours.

In the mid-1960s what some have called “the great comedy revival” began. But revival doesn’t quite fit the change. Associated with warmth and a gentle spirit, comedy became something cold and tough. Frank Capra’s Oscar-winning You Can’t Take It With You (1938) had symbolized the old ways. But by 1975, the symbol of the new comedy had become One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian scavenges parts of its anatomy from the corpse of the old biblical genre and electrifies it with the lighting of comedy’s new mood. The result for the Christian is a burlesque Frankenstein monster that is blasphemously funny and repellant. It is a creature made up of misappropriated and incongruous parts.

It is undeniably funny, from the opening moments when the three wise men mistake “Brian, called Brian,” for the infant Christ, to a stoning and the schoolmasterish official who warns against throwing stones until he blows his whistle. Brian hides from his raving followers in a hole occupied by a mystic silent for 18 years, who then erupts into a hilarious response of Hava Nagilas and choruses ...

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