“My hovercraft is full of eels.” “I fart in your general direction!” This is the brash, childlike comedic stylings of the iconic British Actor, Writer and living legend John Cleese. The leader of the Monty Python bunch is just as beloved now by his fans at a young, but creaking 78 years old as he’s ever been. Cleese’s comedic prowess is an elixir for unity, because he bashes everybody instead of all the one-sided hate-mongering standup comedians. They do it to spite others, but Cleese engages with love for laughs. It’s probably that reason why so many types filled up the Dreyfoos Hall at the Kravis Center from young to old, European to African, Swallows that is.
The night began with kind of a refresher as we got to watch a special screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of the few comedies that is just as funny today as it was back then when it was made. However, even before the movie, a fun bevy of Cleesian trivia questions showed on screen. The atmosphere was alive at the Kravis Center as thunders of uncontrollable laughter erupted over the crowd. We were tickled by the Knights Who Say Ni, the not so fearless Sir Robin, the Black Knight’s line “it’s just a flesh wound” and of course the killer rabbit. As the movie concluded the audience roared with excitement as one of the movies star actors and writers, Mr. John Cleese himself stepped on stage and then off again to begin with an encore.
He was escorted by his beautiful daughter Camilla Cleese and his little dog Hercules, who ran all over the stage, but only turned anti-clockwise. John Cleese is also a cat person and said, “Cats are the secret to happiness. They are even better than children.” He revealed some of his insights on the movie we just watched, telling us that 90% of the first Holy Grail script was thrown out. He said he didn’t know why people liked it and that the “ending was crap.” He said it should’ve been shortened and pointed out how they got to the castle by boat, but walked back from it. Still, the movie he was playfully putting down was actually poled as the Best British Comedy of All-time.
Taking a seat alongside his daughter Camilla, she interviewed him and asked some of the questions submitted by the audience before the show began. An audience member wanted to know what was the naughtiest skit he ever did with the Monty Python? Cleese told of a scene in which his mother had died. He took her body in a bag to an undertaker who then ate her. Yes, this was not your normal night or interviews, but you were held captive to the off-color hilarity of it all. Another person asked about him showing his bum in the movie A Fish Called Wanda. Cleese said he wrote the scene in order to get Jaimie Lee Curtis in a nude scene, but when she declined, he ended up being naked by himself. He also talked a lot about another Monty Python classic, Life of Brian. He said no one wanted to put the movie up but it was saved by The Beatles George Harrison who funded the movie himself. All the religious groups protested Life of Brian so Cleese said it was the first time they all agreed together. He further explained his intention behind the movie saying, “Life of Brian doesn’t make fun of religion but rather, it makes fun of how people treat religion.” He told some funny religious jokes poking at Jews, Catholics and Mexicans too, but always with good taste.
The whole evening as Camilla asked questions and John talked with us, it really felt like we were family members sitting at a dinner table with the Cleese’s discussing past stories and laughing at them. He told us a story of how his daughter asked for a pony and he got her a pair of coconuts instead. His daughter showed us his ankles and said John hasn’t worn socks in thirty years, because he can’t bend. It’s true being old has its limitations and when someone at the Kravis Center asked what he has planned for the future? He responded resoundingly saying, “To die!” “I’m 78 years old and I’m barely here.” Well, John Cleese has had an indelible career in those years from his first Silly Walks in 1973, when he fell and knocked himself out, through countless shows, movies, memorial performances to now. For one night at the Kravis Center we got to enter the mind, heart and life of a comedic genius leaving the heaviness and conflicts of the world behind and just allowing ourselves to simply laugh.