Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch

Josh has been writing questions on the whiteboards the last few weeks.  Just now he wrote this week’s question: “What is an academic argument?”  That made me think of the argument clinic and posting a shortened version of it on the whiteboards (as a way to get students to comment).  We may or may not do that (it’s kind of long), but I decided to post the text here, since I’m sure I’ll use it in the future.

Here’s the c.1968 version.

The Argument Clinic Sketch

The Cast (in order of appearance.)
M= Man looking for an argument
R= Receptionist
Q= Abuser
A= Arguer (John Cleese)
C= Complainer (Eric Idle)
H= Head Hitter

M: Ah. I’d like to have an argument, please.
R: Certainly, sir. Have you been here before?
M: No, I haven’t.  This is my first time.
R: I see. Well, do you want to have just one argument, or were you thinking of taking a course?
M: Well, what is the cost?
R: Well, It’s one pound for a five minute argument, but only eight pounds for a course of ten.
M: Well, I think it would be best if I perhaps started off with just the one and then see how it goes.
R: Fine. Well, I’ll see who’s free at the moment.
R: Mr. DeBakey’s free, but he’s a little bit conciliatory.
Ahh yes, Try Mr. Barnard; room 12.
M: Thank you.

(Walks down the hall. Opens door.)

M: Well, I was told outside that…
Q: Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!
M: What?
Q: Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, maloderous, pervert!!!
M: Look, I CAME HERE FOR AN ARGUMENT, I’m not going to just stand…!!
Q: OH, oh I’m sorry, but this is abuse.
M: Oh, I see, well, that explains it.
Q: Ah yes, you want room 12A, Just along the corridor.
M: Oh, thank you very much. Sorry.
Q: Not at all.
M: Thank you.
(Under his breath) Stupid git!

(Walk down the corridor)
M: (Knock)
A: Come in.
M: Ah, Is this the right room for an argument?
A: I told you once.
M: No, you haven’t.
A: Yes, I have.
M: When?
A: Just now.
M: No, you didn’t.
A: Yes, I did.
M: You didn’t
A: I did!
M: You didn’t!
A: I’m telling you I did!
M: You did not!!
A: Oh, I’m sorry, just one moment. Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?
M: Oh, just the five minutes.
A: Ah, thank you. Anyway, I did.
M: You most certainly did not.
A: Look, let’s get this thing clear; I quite definitely told you.
M: No, you did not.
A: Yes, I did.
M: No, you didn’t.
A: Yes, I did.
M: No, you didn’t.
A: Yes, I did.
M: No, you didn’t.
A: Yes, I did.
M: You didn’t.
A: Did.
M: Oh look, this isn’t an argument.
A: Yes, it is.
M: No, it isn’t. It’s just contradiction.
A: No, it isn’t.
M: It is!
A: It is not.
M: Look, you just contradicted me.
A: I did not.
M: Oh you did!!
A: No, no, no.
M: You did just then.
A: Nonsense!
M: Oh, this is futile!
A: No it isn’t.
M: I came here for a good argument.
A: No you didn’t; no, you came here for an argument.
M: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
A: It can be.
M: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A: No it isn’t.
M: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.
A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’
A: Yes it is!
M: No it isn’t!
A: Yes it is!
M: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
(short pause)
A: No it isn’t.
M: It is.
A: Not at all.
M: Now look.
A: (Rings bell) Good Morning.
M: What?
A: That’s it. Good morning.
M: I was just getting interested.
A: Sorry, the five minutes is up.
M: That was never five minutes!
A: I’m afraid it was.
M: It wasn’t.
A: I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to argue anymore.
M: What?!
A: If you want me to go on arguing, you’ll have to pay for another five minutes.
M: Yes, but that was never five minutes, just now. Oh come on!
A: (Hums)
M: Look, this is ridiculous.
A: I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to argue unless you’ve paid!
M: Oh, all right.
(pays money)
A: Thank you.
short pause
M: Well?
A: Well, what?
M: That wasn’t really five minutes, just now.
A: I told you. I’m not allowed to argue unless you’ve paid.
M: I just paid!
A: No, you didn’t.
A: No, you didn’t.
M: Look, I don’t want to argue about that.
A: Well, you didn’t pay.
M: Aha. If I didn’t pay, why are you arguing? I got you!
A: No, you haven’t.
M: Yes, I have. If you’re arguing, I must have paid.
A: Not necessarily. I could be arguing in my spare time.
M: Oh, I’ve had enough of this.
A: No, you haven’t.
M: Oh, shut up.


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