Ottawa's 'silly walk' sign catches John Cleese's eye

Someone altered the figures on a City of Ottawa physical distancing sign to resemble John Cleese's character from Monty Python's iconic sketch, and the famous funny man took notice.

Comically altered physical distancing notice draws chuckles, and city laughs along

Walk this way: The altered sign replaces silhouettes of ordinary people with John Cleese's character from the 1970 Monty Python sketch The Ministry of Silly Walks. (Shannon McMillan/Twitter)

An image of a comically altered City of Ottawa sign that's been circulating on social media has now caught the attention of the lanky comedic giant who inspired it.

The figures on the physical distancing notice have been changed to resemble John Cleese's character from The Ministry of Silly Walks, a famous Monty Python sketch that dates back 50 years.

The city posted the bilingual signs around parks and playgrounds to remind people to keep a two-metre distance to reduce their exposure to COVID-19. The unaltered signs feature silhouettes of people walking, separated by red arrows marking the desired distance between them.

Actor John Cleese made the exaggerated stride famous in a 1970s Monty Python sketch about civil servants who work for the Ministry of Silly Walks. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

The doctored sign seen in the image circulating on social media instead shows the silhouette of a bowler-hatted figure carrying a briefcase and brolly, and taking long, silly strides.

Cleese, who was tagged in the original tweet, retweeted it to his 5.7 million followers.


The Ministry of Silly Walks is an iconic sketch poking fun at bureaucracy from a 1970 episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. It features John Cleese as a government official, Mr. Teabag, and Michael Palin as Mr. Putey, who's seeking a grant to make his own silly walk even sillier.

Some are giving the City of Ottawa the credit for the creativity.


Some may say it's neither the time nor place to poke even gentle fun at a public health sign. Others, including the city's official twitter account, seem to be welcoming the moment of levity.


Mayor Jim Watson saw the humour in it, stating: "It's great to see residents having fun while raising awareness about physical distancing in Ottawa. I appreciate John Cleese's sense of humour and I'm grateful that he is showing his support for the campaign. Since we didn't get his permission to use this iconic image, as a good Canadian, I have to say sorry!"

But who gets the credit? The first person to post the picture left this cryptic clue.


Alex Di Nardo has admitted it was he who Photoshopped the silly-walking figure onto an image snapped by a friend at a local park.

"I swear it only took me 10 minutes. It was totally on a whim," Di Nardo said. "This was a hack job. I actually just quickly pilfered some clip art and slapped it together as an inside joke."

A sign at Ottawa's Sylvia Holden Park reminds residents that the playground has been closed due to the threat of COVID-19. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

His friend, Ottawa artist and local history buff Andrew King, retweeted Di Nardo's doctored image, "and it went a little viral from there," Di Nardo said.

He said he's a bit sheepish about his accomplishment because he used borrowed art, something professional designers tend to avoid. "I broke the orthodoxy," Di Nardo said.

Still, he's glad Cleese got the joke. "Everyone's looking for some levity," Di Nardo observed.

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