The sketch stars John Cleese and Michael Palin in safari outfits and pith helmets at the side of a canal lock (Teddington Lock in west London). At first both are facing each other and standing perfectly still. Light-hearted music then begins to play and Palin performs a simple merry dance which consists of dancing towards Cleese, lightly slapping him in the face with two small pilchards, and returning to his starting spot. After Palin does this four times he returns to standing stiff and still. In traditional British dancing, of which this is reminiscent, one would now expect the other dancer to repeat these steps. Instead, the music stops, Cleese reveals his fish - a much, much larger halibut - and clobbers Palin around the head with it, knocking Palin into the water several feet below.
The music, which fits the sketch perfectly, is "Merrymakers Dance" from "Nell Gwynn suite" by British composer Sir Edward German (1862-1936).
The sketch appears in the episode entitled "Mr & Mrs Brian Norris' Ford Popular" from 1972. It is about a quarter of a minute long, but its fast-paced non sequitur nature has been enough to endear it to fans. Due to its nature it has not been reproduced for live shows, etc., and therefore does not always receive the same recognition as other popular Python sketches. It remains, however, one of Michael Palin's favorite routines on the show. Palin once said that the sketch summarises concisely what Monty Python is all about.
The Fish-Slapping Dance in popular cultureEdit
In the Monty Python-inspired Broadway show Spamalot, there is a song called "The Fisch Schlapping Song", sung by pseudo-Finnish people, before the historian abruptly ends the song. During the song, men and women dressed in stereotypical Scandinavian garb slap each other with fish, very similar to the original sketch.
The Swedish comedy team Angne & Svullo did their own version of the fish slapping dance in one episode of their popular TV show in the late eighties. The sketch starts the same as the original: first Angne slaps Svullo a few times in the face with small fish, then Svullo takes out a big fish and with a single blow knocks Angne into the water, laughing hysterically. However, in their version an old lady with an umbrella then comes by and starts hitting Svullo with her umbrella until he too falls into the water.
The "slapping"-feature in mIRC ("X slaps Y around a bit with a large trout" where X is the person performing the action and Y is the nickname of the selected target) may be a reference to The Fish-Slapping Dance.
In an interview, George Harrison's son, Dhani Harrison, said that the Fish-Slapping Dance was one of his father's favourite Sketches.
The Chaser's War on Everything did a "British comedy sketch" that mainly parodied Monty Python. At one point, someone is slapped with a fish.
- Michael Palin writes about the dance, while setting the record straight about his reputation as 'the nice Python' - on Pythonline
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