In Monty Python's Dead parrot sketch when John Cleese returns to pet shop from the railway station in Bolton, he's having this dialog with Michael Palin:

J.C.: I understand this is Bolton.

M.P.: Yes.

J.C.: But you told me it was Ipswich!

M.P.: It was a pun!

Then Cleese turns back and starts to look around like crazy. Why would he do that? I thought a pun was a kind of word joke.

  • It sounds like, to M.P., Ipswich can mean Bolton! – Damkerng T. Dec 12 '13 at 9:12
  • But why did J.C. react this way? He shouted "A pun?!" and started to look around as if someone was going to hit him from behind – xaxa Dec 12 '13 at 9:22
  • Maybe J.C. didn't believe that it was a pun in the slightest bit. And, I really have no idea why he acted that way. Saying Ipswich is not Bolton is a taboo? – Damkerng T. Dec 12 '13 at 9:26
  • I mean, there is probably another joke with the word "pun" itself? Something like... "p.u.n." meaning "punch u now" – xaxa Dec 12 '13 at 9:29
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    Yes! This is why John Cleese looks around astonishedly. It's as if he's looking for the "pun", because he can't see it anywhere. It is funny, because he is as flabbergasted and as confused as we, the viewers, when we hear Bolton was a pun. It is nothing of the sort! – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '13 at 21:47

Yes, a pun is a play on words! When you use a word or phrase in such a way that more than one meaning can be understood. Good puns are easy to spot, they should make you laugh out loud.

That is why John Cleese looks around in the room, astonished and bewildered. It's as if he's looking for the "pun", because he can't see it anywhere. It is funny, because he is as flabbergasted and as confused as we, the viewers, when we hear Bolton was a pun. It is nothing of the sort!

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    Aha! He's looking for the "pun". This must be right! – Damkerng T. Dec 13 '13 at 7:07

Talk about the importance of context! When I read the dialog in question, I laughed out loud. Then again, I've seen a lot of Monty Python: I could imagine their frantic mannerisms, and their madcap humor. In fact, their offbeat humor is so unique that it's even become a word in some dictionaries:

Pythonesque (adj.) denoting a kind of humour that is absurd and unpredictable; zany; surreal

If you want to learn English from watching Monty Python, then remember: any time you find yourself confused, you should probably be laughing. This comedy group loves to mix the inane with the intellectual, to mix slapstick with a unique brand of brainy humor. Only Monte Python could make the subtle difference between contradiction and argument incredibly funny.1

No, telling someone the wrong name of a city is not a pun, but that's what makes that part of the sketch amusing. The pet shop owner apparently has a hard time differentiating between a dead parrot and a sleeping parrot – and between a pun and a lie. Obviously, the parrot is dead; the idea of the wrong city name being a "pun" merely underscores how far the pet shop owner will twist his words rather than concede error. Whether he's a patent liar or completely out of touch with reality is for you to decide, but I recommend you pick the alternative that helps you laugh the loudest.

1You can watch the classic argument v. contradiction explanation unfold here, or read the script here.


Here is the dialogue I found. (source) In the dialogue, C refers to customer (J.C. in OP's question), O refers to the pet shop owner (M.P.),

C: I understand this IS Bolton.
O: (still with the fake mustache) Yes?
C: You told me it was Ipswitch!
O: ...It was a pun.
C: (pause) A PUN?!?
O: No, no...not a pun...What's that thing that spells the same backwards as forwards?
C: (Long pause) A palindrome...?
O: Yeah, that's it!
C: It's not a palindrome! The palindrome of "Bolton" would be "Notlob"!! It don't work!!
O: Well, what do you want?
C: I'm not prepared to pursue my line of inquiry any longer as I think this is getting too silly!
Sergeant-Major: Quite agree, quite agree, too silly, far too silly...

You're right that a pun plays on the different possible meanings. But in this dialogue, it seems like M.P. (O) has a problem with his word choice, or he is trying to act so.

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    M.P might be worth mentioning, is Michael Palin the actor who plays the pet shopkeeper. – Mari-Lou A Dec 13 '13 at 7:11
  • @Mari-LouA I've never watched Monty Python. Before I read your comment, I thought M.P. is Monty Python. Now I know that M.P. can refer to both. Thanks. – Damkerng T. Dec 13 '13 at 7:14

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