There are two types of people: Those that haven’t yet seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail and those that can recite most of its script from memory. The hilarious first narrative feature from the Beatles of British comedy troupes, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a wordy, dense and rewarding film to revisit—even if you think you’ve caught every last gag. Written by the entire troupe—Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin—the film’s place in the comedy canon is hard to debate. Its memorable lines ended up on merchandise, or as geeky calling cards between newfound friends presenting their love of Arthurian silliness as a qualification. Remember all of the best jokes by reading through the best and funniest Monty Python and the Holy Grail quotes below.
“We apologize again for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s credits
From the silly Swenglish subtitles to the eventual strobe-lit llama party that it devolves into, the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail are filled with good gags that are entirely missable on a first watch. But few lines stand out like those separating the thematic sections, immediately breaking the fourth wall and letting us all in on the joke that the formal elements of the filmmaking process will be deconstructed during the comedy.
“Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?” – Soldier
One of Monty Python’s calling card joke constructions is presenting an absurdity and then allowing a few characters to nitpick it to death with over-informed logic. We may never know how those coconuts got up into England, but we surely learned plenty about how many times per second a swallow needs to beat its wings in order to maintain air-speed velocity.
“I’m not dead” – Carried Man
Often misremembered as “I’m not quite dead” or “I’m not dead yet,” the old man protesting his placement on the plague cart is a deliciously dark joke done with great sincerity. Nothing puts you in a medieval frame of mind like someone clubbing an elderly man to death as he chants “I feel happy, I feel happy.”
“Well, I didn’t vote for you.” – Peasant Woman to King Arthur
Is England a monarchy? A dictatorship? An autonomous collective? An anarcho-syndicalist commune? A self-perpetuating autocracy? King Arthur certainly gets an earful from Dennis on the subject in this scene, which sneaks in the film’s only references to Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake…all before the scene is stolen by Terry Jones’ filth-loving peasant in a single line.
“Just a flesh wound.” – The Black Knight
The immortal, intimidating and unflappable Black Knight primarily functions as a great visual gag—eventually having the mysterious warrior relegated to a particularly aggressive torso—but John Cleese’s line deliveries sell it through and through. The over-the-top understatement of calling an amputated arm a “flesh wound” is something that I use all the time whenever I get (minorly) injured.
“She turned me into a newt.” “A newt?” “I got better.” – Villager and Sir Bedevere discuss witchcraft
There are plenty of ways to identify a witch in the world of the Holy Grail, but none as satisfyingly silly as referring to a time when you were transmogrified into an amphibian. The gags about what floats and what doesn’t land every time, but the deadpan thoughtfulness on John Cleese’s face as he delivers this particularly surreal set-up and punchline are priceless.
“We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.” – Knights of Camelot
The Camelot musical number shows that the home of the Round Table is indeed a silly place, but no line in its song had the impact of this one. Spamalot, the Broadway musical directed by Mike Nichols and starring Tim Curry, owes its title to the goofy rhyme—and the long-running show’s three Tonys (and hilarity in its own right) shouldn’t be ignored.
“’Course it’s a good idea!” – God
It wouldn’t be a Monty Python production without some signature animation from Terry Gilliam and some signature fun-poking at Christianity. While Arthur’s knights avert their eyes and praise the lord, the Lord in question gets more and more fed up with their mortal fallibility. The best bit, however, comes when Arthur notes that God had a good idea. The sheer offense taken by the Creator is funny every time.
“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.” – French knight to King Arthur
The French taunting that the knights weather is brutal, but perhaps no burn was repeated as often among my circle of Python fans as that wild line about hamsters and elderberries. It even made it on a t-shirt at one point. The sheer strangeness of the Mad Libs nouns involved are equal parts impressive for staying PG and amusing for their surrealism. And no, there’s no one else up there we can talk to.
“Ni!” – The Knights Who Say “Ni”
If there’s one line on this list that will haunt parents watching this movie with their children (which I personally recommend…with a few scenes excepted), it’s this one. “Ni” will be inescapable. It will haunt your dreams. The Knights get a lot of mileage out of making silly sounds and repeating said silly sounds, making the quote and the bit some of the most endearingly childish of the film.
“Don’t like her? What’s wrong with her? She’s beautiful. She’s rich. She’s got huge…tracts of land” – King of Swamp Castle
Simultaneously a history joke and a boob joke, the “huge…tracts of land” line sneaks in commentary on tactical feudal marriages, aimed to increase a family’s capital holdings, into a scene filled with oddball references and an absurd Abbott and Costello routine. I like to imagine this is how the upper crust still talks about potential matches in their social circles.
“Bones of full fifty men lie strewn about its lair. So, brave knights, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth.” – Tim the Enchanter
A joke that led me to get my mom a pair of killer rabbit bunny slippers for Mother’s Day one year, Tim’s dire warning about the rabbit (and the miming of “nasty, big, pointy teeth”) is almost more memorable than watching the fluffy assailant flying through the air. The blood geyser soaking his fur is matched only by the image of those bunny fangs.
“First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thou foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.” – Monk
The literal appearance of God wasn’t the last time that Christianity would be mocked by the Pythons. The reading of the Book of Armaments (chapter two, verses nine to 21 if we’re being specific) weaves punchlines into Biblical diction and style, hammering home the humor in the religious text’s devotion to repeating itself in increasingly complicated ways. You’ll never count to three the same way after hearing this.
“But if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘Aargh.’ He’d just say it.” – King Arthur
Another example of logic interrupting and enhancing a gag—especially one playing on movie tropes like a carved message in a cave wall—the last words of Joseph of Arimathea are very funny as text, but mainly thrive as fertile ground for the performers to groan their hearts out. Perhaps he was dictating.
“No chance, English bedwetting types! I burst my pimples at you and call your door-opening request a silly thing, you tiny-brained wipers of other people’s bottoms!” – French knight
Underappreciated compared to the shocking novelty of the first taunting, Arthur’s return to the French castle (and his subsequent taunting) holds a special place in my heart for taking that PG-level grossness and meanness to its limits. Ridiculous in its descriptiveness and creativity, the stream of insults is such rapidfire fun that it’s hard to pick out the best digs. There’s something about the phrase “call your door-opening request a silly thing” that sticks with you, especially if you’ve ever had a roommate call you with their arms full from right outside.