The Gospel According to Monty Python

Tom Ellis
4 min readDec 14, 2023
Eric Idle in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”

Lately, reading all the articles on Medium and elsewhere that address the converging crises that imperil our future on this planet — global heating; oil depletion; outbreaks of all-out war in Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, and elsewhere; political dysfunction and creeping fascism, both here in the US and throughout the world; it is easy to get thoroughly depressed and demoralized. For this reason, (tongue firmly in cheek), I wish to lighten things up a bit by delivering a sermon on the following reading, from the Gospel According to Monty Python:

Some things in life are bad — they can really make you mad.

Other things just make you swear and curse —

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,

Don’t grumble, give a whistle!

And this’ll make things turn out for the best…

As most of us already know, this is the opening verse, in recitative style, from the final scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, written and sung by Eric Idle. For those who either hadn’t been born yet in 1979, or have been living in a cave, this hilarious film — made possible by a generous gift from George Harrison! — is a send-up of the life and death of Jesus, as reported in the Four Gospels. The protagonist is a hapless man named Brian [Graham Chapman] who is born the same day as Jesus in Palestine, then a Roman colony, and is continually mistaken for the Messiah. Brian’s various misadventures, each hilarious, culminate in his arrest, and sentencing to crucifixion, by Pontius Pilate [Michael Palin, who plays him as a capricious tyrant with a speech impediment, mispronouncing his “r’s” as “w’s”]. In the final scene, Brian and his comrades are all crucified atop a hill on about 25 crosses, when a condemned prisoner (Eric Idle) hanging next to Brian, sees Brian’s despair, tells him to “cheer up,” and sings the above lines, opening a jaunty song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Here is the next verse:

When life is jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing —

When you’re feeling in the dumps, don’t be silly chumps,

Just purse your life and whistle — that’s the thing!

[Refrain, gradually joined in by all the others on the crosses:]

And…always look on the bright side of life

Always look on the bright side of life…

For life is quite absurd, and death’s the final word,

You must always face the curtain with a bow.

Forget about your sin,

Give the audience a grin

Enjoy it — it’s your last chance anyhow!

So always look on the bright side of death

Just before you draw your terminal breath…

Life’s a piece of shit

When you look at it

Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true —

You’ll see it’s all a show,

Keep them laughing as you go,

Just remember that the last laugh is on you!

And always look on the bright side of life…

[Repeat until fade-out, panning back to bring the whole hill of crucifixes into view, each man joining in while rocking his head side to side in rhythm. A variety of overvoices continue making wry comments like “You know, you come from nothing, you’re going back to nothing
What have you lost? Nothing!”]

Since this film came out, a large number of people have chosen this song to play at their funerals, especially in the UK (where attitudes toward death and religion tend to be more whimsical and laid back than here in the Puritan-infused USA). I would make the case, moreover, that there is wisdom in this attitude, especially in times — like hanging on a cross — when all hope is gone and there is nothing to look forward to, other than relentless, increasing pain and then death. This is pretty much where we all are today on this planet, whether death comes from heat stroke, desiccation, drowning, starvation, or violence. Yet, as the song suggests, it is always possible, here in the present moment, to remember to “laugh and smile and dance and sing.” It is, after all, our “last chance anyhow…”

Greeting mortality with humor, in such times, can be very healing. Imagine, for example, that you are arrested for ridiculing Trump, and sent to a prison camp especially designed for Trump’s enemies, staffed by sneering MAGAts with AK47s, where you are among the “woke” prisoners lined up for execution. Suddenly, enroute to the killing grounds, the prisoners join in a chorus of “Always look on the bright side of life,” and continue singing it, laughing defiantly, despite the orders and threats of Trump’s minions all around them. It may not save you — probably won’t — but the last laugh will be on them, as the sun slowly roasts them after you die.



Tom Ellis

I am a retired English professor now living in Oregon, and a life-long environmental activist, Buddhist, and holistic philosopher.