If there's really one word that I could truly describe the likes of John Cleese & Eric Idle (along with their cohorts Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the late great Dr. Graham Chapman), it would be "unrivaled." (Thanks, CG).
I took my dad to see a sit-down, retrospect and awe-inspiring tale of how not only Monty Python was created, broke up and lived on for 50 plus years, but how Cleese and Idle met and the tumultuous and arduous tasks of keeping the group's name alive. It was entitled "John Cleese & Eric Idle: Together Again at Last... ...For the Very First Time."
My father raised my on Monty Python and he, very much like myself and many of you that read this, love to laugh. Sometimes, even the sillier the better. Oh, yes, we all love the cerebral comedy as much as the next person, but I would bet the majority of comedy fans love silly more than serious comedy.
We arrive at the venue (BEAUTIFUL and very well constructed venue, I might say) and it's a sold-out house. A voiceover of Eric comes on the loudspeakers and provides a lovely disclaimer about how video recordings are prohibited (you know that whole schpeel) and it definitely got the crowd going.
Speaking of the crowd... There was a wide range of ages and variety of Monty Python fans There were not only older men and women, but a good contingent of men, women and children under 35. I was pleasantly surprised to see the gamut covered so well, but I digress back to the program.
The "show" starts with a montage of clips from Monty Python's Flying Circus, with a majority of them featuring Cleese and Idle. It was refreshing to re-live these clips from my childhood. Then, with John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell March" fired up, out walked the former Python members to a rousing, standing ovation. They walked across the stage and then off of it, stage right, to great amounts of laughter.
Idle's voice carried over the loudspeakers announcing that "This concludes Act One. Act Two will commence in 15 minutes." He then proposed the idea of yet another "spontaneous" standing ovation for Cleese and Idle.
The gentleman started out with a relatively short monologue/song about how much they hate selfies. Certainly, an excellent choice that front and center for many millennials today. Hell of an icebreaker. Check out their introduction of the video here on Conan. (Warning: Strong language. Listener discretion advised.)
After that, the guys sat down and took us to the early 1950s at Cambridge University where the two met and how they ended up forming a group that would perform for students and the public. Then, they showed us a great group picture, ultimately, of Cleese, Idle, Jones, Chapman and Palin with fellow members as well as a man who I never would've expected: Marty Feldman.
Just for the record, if you don't know who Marty Feldman is, you might remember him from Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder, directed by Mel Brooks. He was the lovable hunchback assistant Igor.
Feldman was a script editor and chief writer on The Frost Report (with David Frost). Cleese and Idle and others were writers and performers on a new sketch comedy show: At Last the 1948 Show. One time, Cleese and others suggested that Feldman perform on the show, and they were flabbergasted and were uncertain how Feldman would do.
Idle and Cleese would at this point reenact a classic skit, familiar to Python fans, about a book shop assistant who gets fed up with a customer who ultimately wants the book Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying. It was timeless, and the acerbic wit and comedic timing of both men carrying on the legacy of Feldman was truly a sight to behold.
This show had everything. It was not just storytelling. There were never-before-seen pictures of these guys and clips from shows they did on the BBC prior to Flying Circus. It was quite remarkable. There was a show called Top of the Form, and the clip they played had Cleese moderating a game show where Chapman, Feldman and another one played three teammates on one team and three teammates on another where they answered basic learning school questions, but the answer to every question turned out to be the same. It was a riot and my dad and I, and a couple thousand others, were hurting from laughing so hard.
After that, Cleese and Idle shared the idea of Python getting a shot at their own TV show on the BBC. It was essentially created out of nowhere with little to no idea as to what the show would really be about or the contents of said show. Yet, the executive that gave them a chance would prove to be right in his decision. One classic skit that really got the crowd riled up as well was "The Undertaker" sketch. More often than not, I heard this skit in an audio file rather than watching it on TV. It certainly was nice to see these guys re-tell it and re-live it as well as they did back in the day.
The classic sketches from Flying Circus certainly hold up over time, including the "Fish Slapping Dance," "Argument Clinic," and others. Shortly after Flying Circus's run on BBC, Cleese took to showing a few clips of himself portraying a disgruntled, lazy and often discontent hotel manager he met on the road. This would be from a very short-lived show entitled Fawlty Towers. Hilarious clips were played to the amusement of all.
It was also great to see clips from Holy Grail and Life of Brian, and hearing them reminisce on how they ending up creating The Meaning of Life as well as Life of Brian. Something along the lines of Cleese saying he wanted to make a movie entitled "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory." Hilarious!!
After the 20-minute intermission, the guys returned, chatted a little bit and then let each other have the stage to themselves to play clips of their "solo" careers. Idle really blew the roof off the place when he told the following story:
The guys were doing a screening of Monty Python & the Holy Grail when Idle starting chatting up with former Beatle George Harrison. He tried to convince Harrison to appear on his show, Rutland Weekend Television. Harrison shocked me, at the very least, with his acting skills as "Pirate Bob," and with an even more memorable performance following that.
Cleese and Idle would reenact skits, not only the Book Shop sketch, but they dressed up and gave another great rendition of "The Penultimate Supper." I personally had never seen the sketch and it was hilarious in all of its aspects.
You likely know the story of how the Python members went into Hollywood, per se, following the end of Flying Circus, with Cleese probably achieving more success with his appearances in movies like A Fish Called Wanda and others. However, what truly made this night memorable was the continuing memorial of Dr. Graham Chapman. He lost his battle with cancer in 1989.
Cleese relived his eulogy at Graham's funeral. He inserted great quips while keeping the heartwarming memory alive of Chapman to this day. They then showed a clip of a panel the surviving five members did in Aspen in the late 90s to celebrate 30 years of Flying Circus. Robert Klein interviewed the gang and hilarity ensued when Terry Gilliam accidentally knocked over the urn containing Chapman's ashes. I had never seen this, being a Python fan myself, and I think my sides are still hurting from that.
Some of the last pieces I remember from this night include songs from Idle and Cleese where they sang together along with the crowd. The two songs were "The Universe Song" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." It was perfect the way they ended the show and thanked everyone for attending, but after yet another standing ovation, they had an encore, like true performance professionals.
The guys had a great song where they complain about Christmas (Warning: strong language. Listener discretion advised). Perfect placement of the holiday season upon us.
It was one of the best presents I've not only given to myself, but also that I could share it with the man who raised me on such silliness. The Ministry of Silly Walks may have been a classic skit, but I'll take a silly walk down memory lane any day of the week if given the opportunity to listen to the legendary musings of John Cleese and Eric Idle.