John Cleese

'Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'

'Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'

 'Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'

With that phrase, used in several comedic sketches during a TV show in September 1970, the brilliant knuckleheads who were the writers and cast of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" created a meme that has periodically popped up in popular culture ever since. In its original context, it was employed to introduce and ridicule a trio of red-robed, 15th-century inquisitors who stood in for fanatics of all ages.

If there was a deeper thought behind the inspired silliness -- and there likely was, given the intelligence of Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese and the others members of the comedy troop -- it is that,...