Monty Python returned to the stage for the first time in over 30 years on Tuesday with a reunion show in London full of silly jokes and smut and ending in a mass sing-a-long by 14,000 fans.

Opening a 10-night residency at the 02 arena, the five surviving members of the British cult comedy troupe performed some of their best-loved sketches and songs to an adoring crowd. John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones, now all in their seventies, went through more than a dozen costume changes for a show featuring live comedy, animation, archive footage and big musical numbers.

Idle, the director, had promised something spectacular but ultimately it was the old sketches performed with a minimum of fuss — and perfect comic timing — that proved the most successful. There were many in the crowd crying with laughter as Palin and Cleese performed their legendary dead parrot sketch, in which Cleese tries to return the bird to the pet shop insisting that it “is no more”. The pair seamlessly moved into the cheese shop skit where every variety that Cleese asks for is out of stock, and which ended with both men descending into giggles. “It was brilliant, better than expected,” said David Mallinson, 48, who came to London from Manchester to see the first night with his two sons.

“I’ve got tears in my eyes. The atmosphere was amazing.” His 17-year-old son James added: “The fact that they forgot some of their lines and laughed at their own jokes almost made it better.” The Pythons were credited with creating a new type of comedy with their brilliantly absurd TV show “Flying Circus” in the 1970s and in the later hit films “Life of Brian” and “Holy Grail”. Although their last live performance was in 1980, they still have fans around the world and tickets for the first night sold out in 44 seconds.

The show was filled with all the expected silliness, sexual innuendo and fart jokes, but it also took pot shots at the military, the judiciary and organised religion. World famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking had a cameo, singing a Python song about the universe in a pre-recorded clip. And the gang paid tribute to sixth Python Graham Chapman, who died of cancer in 1989, by including old TV footage of him performing.

The night ended with a mass sing-a-long of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, the hit from “Life of Brian”, the 1979 movie based on the life of Jesus that caused outrage when it was released. Some fans had marked the occasion by dressing up as their favourite Python characters, from the knights of the “Holy Grail” to the red-cloaked cardinals in the Spanish inquisition sketch. Richard Hillier, a 39-year-old marketing manager in full cardinal attire, said he loved every minute. “It was really good, although it was over too quickly. Luckily I’ve got another two nights booked!” he told AFP.