For most of Terry Gilliam's early career, fans of the popular comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus assumed that he was British, since Python's other five members were natives of Britain. But the innovative animator and future director, who spent more time behind the scenes than in front of the camera, was actually the troupe's only American member. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 22, 1940, Gilliam was briefly employed as an assistant editor for Help! magazine (a job that introduced him to English comedian John Cleese, who was in NYC posing for a comic photo-strip in the magazine); he then emigrated to England in 1967. Soon after gilliam arrived in the U.K., he began working on Do Not Adjust Your Set, a popular children's TV show, developing his eccentric animated cartoons, which put into motion a hodgepodge of images, including photographs, cutouts from magazines, and famous works of art. Gilliam's contributions to the show were geared more toward adults, as his surrealistic stream-of-consciousness segments, drenched in black humor, were beyond the grasp of most children.
In 1969, Gilliam was asked by Cleese and others to join the absurdist comedy troupe Monty Python. In addition to writing for Monty Python's Flying Circus, Gilliam also contributed his animated interludes, for which he was pretty much left to his own devices; the other Pythons just told him how much time he needed to fill and never gave him any narrative direction. Gilliam began offering his iconoclastic vision to moviegoers with the comedy troupe's first original film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), which he co-directed with fellow Python Terry Jones. An instant cult classic, the movie contained all the requisite Python elements: absurdist humor, self-referential parody, and extremely quotable dialogue. The following year, Gilliam had his first outing as a solo director with Jabberwocky (1976). Based on the poem by Lewis Carroll, the film featured a medieval setting similar to that of Holy Grail and starred Pythonite Michael Palin. Along with Python's brand of irreverent humor, the film featured glimmers of the visual resplendence that would become the director's trademark. But critics found it awkward and repetitive, and audiences largely stayed away.