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Thanks to gait analysis, scientists know exactly how silly Monty Python’s walk is

Ministry of Silly Walks

Nothing kills a joke faster than explaining it. But nothing’s more tantalizing to an expert on gait, the technical term to describe a person’s way of walking, than understanding it. So which wins out when you’re an authority on gaits who is also a massive fan of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch? The gait interest, as it turns out — and the world is all the better for it.

Thanks to a new piece of research published by investigators at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, we now know that John Cleese’s hilariously odd walking method in the classic sketch is 6.7 times sillier than regular human walking.

The project started with Nathaniel Dominy, an adjunct professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth. Dominy studies the behavior, ecology, and functional morphology of humans and nonhuman primates — seemingly alongside British sketch comedy of the 1970s.

“The idea to do this was all Nate’s,” Erin Butler, a research scientist who collaborated on the study, told Digital Trends. “He’s a huge Monty Python fan. He thought it would be funny to treat the skit seriously by doing a proper gait analysis. My background is in clinical gait analysis and biomechanical engineering. It took him a couple years to convince me to do the analysis, but he eventually talked me into it.”

Gait cycle Ministry of Walks 1
Dartmouth College

Butler used video-based motion analysis software Kinovea to slow down the video and record the knee joint angles of Cleese’s character of Mr. Teabag and that of Mr. Pudey, a man seeking a government grant to support his development of a silly walk. “I then compared both characters’ measurements to those of typical walking to calculate how much they differ from normal, which in essence quantifies the silliness,” Butler said.

While Cleese’s walk was 6.7 times more exaggerated than a regular human gait, Mr. Pudgey’s is a decidedly more sensible 3.3 times more variable than ordinary walking. As the researchers write in their work: “Our analysis corroborates the Minister’s assessment: Mr. Pudey is a promising applicant and deserving of a Research Fellowship to advance his silly walk. We suggest that the sketch holds special resonance and uncanny prescience for researchers in the health sciences today.”

Butler pointed out that, while this example of gait analysis research is, well, kind of frivolous, the technology has plenty of more useful real-world applications. “Motion analysis, both video-based and three-dimensional, has two main practical applications: Clinical and sports analysis,” she said. “Clinical gait analysis is used to guide treatment like surgery or physical therapy to help people with neuromuscular disorders, such as cerebral palsy. Sports analysis is [meanwhile] used to improve athletes’ performance and minimize injuries.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Gait and Posture.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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