John Cleese on his new tour with Eric Idle, bad Q&A questions and how to tell when comedy works


  • Bob King
John Cleese and Eric Idle, founding members of legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, arrive in town this weekend for their new tour, John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again ... for the Very First Time. We had the opportunity to talk to John Cleese, also known for Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda, ahead of his shows at the Dr. Phillips Center, and he gave us a rundown of the show and some advice for those planning on asking questions during the Q&A portion.

Orlando Weekly: What do you and Eric Idle have planned for the shows on your tour?

John Cleese: Well, we start. We play one or two practical jokes on the audience to start with. I don't mean physical practical jokes. We tease them a couple times, and then Eric and I have a chat. Then we start talking about how Monty Python got together, and we do one or two new sketches from that period that are not Python sketches, but were written almost exactly at the same time for a show called At Last the 1948 Show, which I used to do with Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman. Eric used to come and help us out on things, so that’s the first time that we worked together, in 1967. So we do those sketches and then we go back and talk more about Python, some of the controversies and that kind of thing. We show a couple of clips. My favorites, Eric’s favorite three scenes. After that we sing a song, we do a sketch and we sing a song or two and that leaves us at 65 minutes. It’s very relaxed. There’s plenty of laughs. The second half I come out and do 20 minutes pretty much on my own, show a couple of short clips talking about racial jokes, racial humor, and what’s effective and what’s not effective. And Eric sings songs and then we do Q&A, which varies a little bit depending on how good the questions are.

OW: I did see on your Twitter that you were disappointed with the questions being too polite at a recent show.

Cleese: Yes, it’s much nicer when the questions are rude, when people say, “My God, Cleese, why can’t you stay married to one woman?” or that kind of thing. Or “Which Python do you all hate the most?” That kind of thing. It produces much more fun than people saying “What’s your favorite sketch?” or “Why is the show called Monty Python’s Flying Circus?” They’re both reasonable questions, but they’re not very interesting answers.

OW: Is there any question that you would like to preempt people from asking?

Cleese: Yeah, I would like them not to ask, “Why is it called Monty Python’s Flying Circus?” Because the answer is boring. No other reason. The answer I could give you, but it’s boring. It’s much better to get questions that the answers are more interesting, or hopefully funnier.

OW: What’s been the highlight of the tour for you personally?

Cleese: I think the most extraordinary thing was the first night. Eric and I had never done a show remotely like this before, and the first night was very riddled with technical errors. Some of the queuing of the tech stuff was a little bit slow, that kind of thing. But it worked, somehow, just straight away. You never know. People think in comedy that they know whether things are going to work or not. You never know it until you do it in front of an audience. And I certainly thought this is going to work. The audience likes it and the fact that it’s a bit loose and a little bit informal and a bit different each night. Audiences today – I don’t think it was true 30, 40 years ago – audiences today like something that’s spontaneous and in a sense authentic. See what I mean? Not something that’s perfectly polished down to the last detail, that’s exactly what you did the night before.

7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 16-17 | Walt Disney Theater, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave. | 844-513-2014 | | $59.50-$99.50


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