Silly walks, spam and medieval armor may not seem like a recipe for racking up $100 million in sales.
Yet as the Monty Python comedy troupe prepares for 40th-anniversary events this month in New York — the “Flying Circus” television shows began on BBC Oct. 5, 1969 — business is great. The ensemble’s signature skits continue to sell millions of dollars in DVDs, and clips have drawn more than 18 million views on Google Inc.’s YouTube since signing a content deal last November.
The success stems from copyright ownership of the original 45 TV shows and all but one of the group’s films, the 1983 “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life,” said John Goldstone, producer of the movies “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” in an interview.
“It’s given us a lot of stuff to work with, without any interference or censorship,” said Goldstone, who manages new projects for Python (Monty) Pictures Ltd., the group’s three-person London-based management company. “For the last 10 years, the business we’ve been able to do has been astounding.”
Revenue at Python (Monty) Pictures has averaged about $10 million a year since 1999, when DVD sales began to escalate, said Roger Saunders, the company’s London-based manager, in an interview. Sales of DVDs, distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment and A&E, account for about half of the revenue. Since 2003, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Spamalot” has brought in one-third of sales, he said. Leasing movies to theaters, licensing deals and other televised Python showings make up the remainder.The original cast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus
“Spamalot” grossed $168 million before it closed at New York’s Shubert Theater in January, according to the Broadway League, a trade association of landlords and producers.
The cast members — John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Terry Jones — and the family of the late Graham Chapman earn $500,000 to $800,000 a year each, Saunders said. Idle has received more Python money in recent years for having co-written “Spamalot” with John Duprez, Saunders added.
“Nearly all of the revenue is net because the work itself was done years ago,” said Saunders, who has worked for the Pythons since 1989. “It’s the pension plan.”
The Pythons will gather Oct. 15 at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater to reminisce and show a new documentary about the group’s history titled “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut),” which pieces together old and new interviews. IFC is owned by Rainbow Media Group, a unit of Cablevision Systems Corp.