Brno, Czech Republic. Nicole Schickova adjusts her unruly fake mustache, as crucial to her outfit as her bowler hat, and takes two comical giant steps, thrusting her leg up as far as it will go, before dragging her rear foot over.
The 24-year-old’s Austrian friend, also in mustache and hat, shuffles his feet while bending forward, then leans back for the next three steps — all with great exaggeration.
The two are part of an 80-strong group doing the fourth annual Silly Walk March in the southern Czech city of Brno, inspired by a 1970 Monty Python sketch featuring John Cleese with a bowler hat, briefcase and goofy gait.
In the episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British television comedy that ran from 1969 to 1974, Cleese kicks up his legs, shuffles his feet and combines polka steps with twists while heading over to his office at the Ministry of Silly Walks.
There he encounters a grant applicant whose walk he dismisses as “not particularly silly”, then orders coffee from a silly-walking secretary who spills it all over the tray.
Walking at the head of the Brno march are Adam Jandora and Daniel Masek, both 22 and ardent fans of the British cult comedy troupe, who launched the walk in 2012.
”We’ve been silly since we were born and we like the idea of having something as silly as this ministry that deals with silly walks,” Jandora told AFP.
Celebration of silliness
When the men learnt on the Internet that January 7 was International Silly Walk Day, they were quick to ask friends to kick up their heels.
”We had eight people the first year, a few dozen the next and 140 last year,” says Jandora, who declined to give his occupation, insisting he was an employee of the Ministry of Silly Walks.
”It’s a voluntary job of sorts. The ministry pays us some pittance to keep us alive.”
Comprising Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, Monty Python was credited with creating a new type of comedy with Flying Circus.
Besides performing live, they went on to shoot hit films including “Life of Brian”, “The Meaning of Life” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.
Chapman died of cancer in 1989, but the five surviving Pythons returned to the stage last July with 10 live performances in London.
Styles vary as the Czech group kicks up, dances and limps its way through Brno’s streets in a jumble of arms and legs, but the two leaders adhere to the basic silly walk devised by Cleese.
”The goal is to look like a civil servant, to make the servant’s stiffness contrast with the silliness of the step,” Jandora said, as snowflakes fall on what is a particularly freezing day.
‘Similar sense of humor’
Sporting a suit and top hat but no coat, he shivers along with others, as the chaotic crowd bumbles its way through the city brandishing “Silly Walk” banners and displaying fancy footwork.
”I suppose Czechs and Britons have a similar sense of humor. That’s why the march is such a success here,” Jandora says, adding that fans in other Czech cities and even Brazil have been inspired to hold similar events.
Some passersby recognize the march and cheer, while others spontaneously join in on the shambling, waddling, dancing and sideways-walking. A little girl traipses merrily next to her dad, while a couple whose laces are tied together do their best to keep it together.
Waiter Darius Brummer says he worked on his silly walk “about once a week, mostly on the way to work”, to get ready for his debut this year.
”I don’t think I could afford to practice at work though.”
Cleese, who is now 75, ruled out ever trying silly walks again at a 2013 news conference, blaming his artificial knee and hip.
But the organizers of the Brno walk are hoping to welcome the star one day.
”We have agreed to keep inviting John Cleese every year and to carry on silly-walking through Brno until he comes,” says Jandora.