How Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch Was Used to Rescue Parrots

Here’s a positive John Cleese story for once
How Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch Was Used to Rescue Parrots

“The Dead Parrot Sketch” is no doubt Monty Python’s most famous comedy routine. Since it originally aired as part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969, the sketch has been performed in films, on stage and even in an episode of Saturday Night Live, which elicited little-to-no laughter because the studio audience was too busy mouthing the dialogue along with Michael Palin and John Cleese. 

The sketch became such an indelible part of modern culture, it was even quoted by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a 1990 speech, although she reportedly didn’t actually understand the joke. (In retrospect, perhaps the “Upper Class Twit of the Year” would have been a better fit). 

Despite the fact that this sketch was predicated on the hilarity of buying a deceased bird, or ex-parrot if you will, its widespread popularity was later used to help save parrots. Yeah, this is a story in which John Cleese actually comes off looking like a pretty good guy for a change. 

Not unlike how monorail enthusiasts got pretty fed up with constant Simpsons jokes, in the 1990s, wildlife advocates were sick and tired of how most media coverage concerning parrot conservation would inevitably reference “The Dead Parrot Sketch” which, according to the World Parrot Trust, would “diminish the effect of any serious point that may be under discussion.” 

So the group decided to use the sketch to their advantage by enlisting Cleese’s help, hoping that he could “tell the world how important it is to preserve parrots in the wild and look after them well in captivity.” Cleese turned out to be a “committed conservationist” who had already been involved with “the restoration of lemurs in Madagascar,” so he happily joined the pro-living parrot cause. 

Cleese helped to launch “World Parrot Month” in August 1999 by starring in the aptly-titled The Live Parrot Video, along with Groucho the “incredible singing parrot” (who had beautiful plumage, but was in no way nailed to his perch). Because it was made back when VHS tapes were worth their weight in cocaine-frosted gold, the five-minute video cost 25 bucks, plus shipping. Of course, it all went to a good cause. 


In the video, shot at the Santa Barbara Zoo, Cleese brings attention to the dangers posed to parrots, while making countless callbacks to the classic sketch. When first meeting Groucho, he remarks, “Now that’s what I call a live parrot.” While visiting another parrot, he notes that she is “very much alive, but her species is threatened with extinction.”

Cleese’s video was a big hit and generated “a great deal of publicity” for the World Parrot Trust and its “effort to push for stronger parrot protections.” For some reason, this success never led to similar promotional efforts from the cheese shop industry or lumberjack lobbyists. 

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