Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is a landmark comedy celebrating its fortieth anniversary in 2023. The ambitious project, which attempts to answer the biggest question in the more irreverent of ways, has many golden moments.
However, few have etched themselves into culture quite like the infamous sketch Mr Creosote.
Opening the film’s 6th chapter, The Autumn Years, director Terry Jones plays Mr Creosote, a comically obese man dressed in a tuxedo who waddles into a fine dining restaurant.
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Welcomed by a smiling French waiter (John Cleese), the patron is already vomiting before making his order of “The Lot” (everything on the menu), served in a bucket with an egg on top. Other diners are completely disgusted as the staff try to stifle Creosote’s vomiting with a bucket.
We cut to the end of the meal, where an overwhelmed, filthy Mr. Creosote is tempted into one last “Wafer-Thin Mint” by the waiter, who runs for cover as the man explodes. Incredibly still alive, but with organs showing, the waiter presents the bill.
Originally written by Jones and Michael Palin, it was rejected by the production before fellow Pythons Cleese and Graham Chapman rewrote the piece.
Watch the Mr Creosote clip below
Filmed in London, the sequence was tricky to manoeuvre. The film had a bigger budget and was free from the restrictions of television, meaning this sequence could go as far as they wished. Minestrone soup was used for the vomit, while Jones’ prosthetic suit was designed by Christopher Tucker, most famous for the makeup in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and working on Star Wars’ Cantina creatures.
In the Making Of documentary for the film, the troupe revealed that Cleese struggled to finish saying “Wa-fer Thin Mint” without laughing, and that the soup-covered dining room had to be quickly cleaned as it was to host a wedding the next day.
It’s a scene that remains shocking to this day. Whether you see it as a metaphor for the angry gluttony of the upper classes, or simply a hilarious visual gag, once witnessed it’s never forgotten.
However, it was by no means an outlier for Python or the time in which it was released. In the Seventies and early Eighties, physical effects and public taste combined to the point where some truly shocking moments were witnessed on screen.
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In 1979, Alien’s ‘chest-burster’ scene made headlines for its disturbing nature, delivering a similar pay off to Mr Creosote albeit for screams rather than laughs. In the years surrounding The Meaning of Life, films like Creepshow, The Thing, The Evil Dead, and An American Werewolf in London were grabbing audiences with visual set pieces that turned the stomach.
Of course, the purpose of the scene is not to make people run in terror, but fall from their seats laughing. While gross-out comedies had been in fashion for a few years before, The Meaning of Life gave it The Pythons’ own uniquely absurd perspective.
An incredibly ambitious undertaking for what is just under seven minutes of screentime, even those involved thought it might not work (Cleese is reported to have described the sketch as “The Pits!” while filming).
Yet, it remains the film’s signature, and one of the greatest Python moments because it seems to sum up what they were all about: a clever observation of the world wrapped up so tightly in absurdity that you almost missed the point while doubled over in hysterics.
Forty years on, it’s clear that the initially rejected sketch has had a substantial impact on comedy. YouTube reaction videos show new generations being introduced to the character, while it’s arguable that the DNA of the bulbous, foul-mouthed character can be found in characters like Eric Cartman from South Park (the creators of which have cited Monty Python as an influence).
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who built a reputation for having very graphic scenes in his movies, confessed that the scene was the one time he felt uncomfortable watching a movie. “I saw Monty Python's Meaning Of Life” he told Film4.
“When the fat Mr Creosote guy who does all the puking turns up — I remember sitting in the movie theatre thinking, 'If somebody vomits, and I actually smell vomit while I'm watching this, I'm just going to hurl!'"
Four decades on, the comedy genre may feel like every it has pushed every envelope possible. However, Mr Creosote remains a moment in film history that astounds, disturbs, but ultimately entertains.
It’s a hilarious classic that fans will be able to watch over and over until they’re ready to burst: although perhaps staying away from any “Wa-fer Thin” mints!
Monty Python's Meaning of Life is streaming on Prime Video with a Lionsgate+ subscription.
Watch a clip from Life of Brian.