Stop Ruining Your Art by Making It Perfect

Monty Python and the Holy Grail did not become a legendary comedy classic because it’s perfect.

We don’t remember things that work perfectly. In fact, we don’t even care about things that work perfectly. When something works perfectly, we smile at it, nod, and say, “Good job!”

Then, almost immediately, we forget the perfect thing ever existed.

For example, go watch A Fish Called Wanda. It’s a 1988 crime comedy that, for a while, had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It stars 1/3 of Monty Python. It’s a pleasant, funny movie, and most importantly here, it’s a work of expert craftsmanship.

In fact, when I saw John Cleese speak at UC Santa Barbara, he complimented director Charles Crichton for getting the movie finished in half the time it would normally take for a comedy. Crichton, he pointed out, barely had to re-shoot anything because he had tapped into his experience as an editor and planned the movie shot for shot ahead of time.

A Fish Called Wanda is the closest thing to a “perfect” comedy, technically speaking. For that exact reason, nobody will be talking about it 50 years from now, and I have yet to hear anyone call it their favorite comedy.

For an example of an imperfect comedy, look at Monty Python and the Holy Grail. How many times have people told you that this is their favorite comedy? It’s astounding that it still holds any relevance at all, since comedies are supposed to age faster than other genres.

Still, look at the damn thing: it swings wildly between subversive, blink-and-you-miss-it deconstructions of British history and absurd slapstick. The tone is all over the place, and there are long stretches where the jokes don’t land or they stretch out too long.

And, of course, it was apparently a nightmare to film.

Or, go back and watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That series really is an appropriate microcosm for everything the Monty Python members ever created. It alternates between timeless, hilarious sketches and sketches that are so boring and confusing you have to wonder if they were ever funny at all. And, of course, the Monty Python members often say in interviews that they had no idea which ideas were the hits and which ones were the duds until after the fact.

We do not pay attention to perfect. We do not remember perfect. We do not fall in love with perfect.

We respond to tension—the things that don’t quite work, the things that make us feel sensations we can’t easily explain, and the things that stick in our heads because we want to fix them, or at least imagine different versions of them.

If the thing with tension also comes with love—if we intuit that the creator cared—then we might fall in love with it too, and remember it, and keep talking about it for many years afterward.

So, put in your last round of tweaks, because you do care, and then share it us.

We want to start talking about your art.