GRAB your dead parrot, your finest shrubbery (one that looks nice, and not too expensive) and get ready to silly walk your way to Johnny Mercer Theatre on Tuesday: the Pythons have arrived.
Eric Idle and John Cleese, two of the affable absurdists comprising legendary English comedy troupe Monty Python, have united for a rare United States tour.
A sensation throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Pythons’ output, ranging from the sketch series Monty Python’s Flying Circus to timeless feature films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, are comedic masterpieces, crucially influential works in comedy, film and television.
While there have been some reunions over the years—most recently a 2014 live show—Idle, Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman (who passed away in 1989) have all led successful solo careers. But there’s nothing quite like getting the gang back together—even in twos.
The announcement of the Idle/Cleese show, named, with tongue firmly in cheek, “Together Again At Last...For The Very First Time” came as a bit of a surprise to the public. When the Daily Mail reported a falling-out between Cleese and Idle over the success of Spamalot, Idle’s musical ode to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, back in 2011, it was widely believed that the longtime collaborators wanted nothing to do with each other.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“That’s the Daily Mail,” Idle tells Connect bitterly. “They make things up, lie, and invent stories, and there’s almost nothing you can do.”
“The papers behave disgracefully in England,” he continues. “They had to even shut down a newspaper tapping everyone’s phones in liaison with the police. It was disgraceful, and they haven’t been punished at all.”
It’s an issue that Cleese has publicly criticized, much to the press’s chagrin.
“They hate John in England,” Idle says. “He’s a real satirist; he’s fearless. They started to hate him, and it’s such a pity. He’s a national treasure! They like Michael [Palin]—he’s nice. John actually speaks up, and they dislike him. They decided there was a spat, they paid people off...they do that all the time. You can only ignore them...it’s all just to sell newspapers.”
“There was never a fight,” he reassures. “So, the spat continues successfully. If this is a spat, bring it on!”
Rather than hop on a madcap, lengthy mega-tour, “Together Again At Last” is an opportunity for the duo to travel the East Coast by car, taking in the scenery and soaking up the culture.
“I’ve been on the big tour in a rock ‘n’ roll bus, played New England, Chicago, L.A.,” Idle says. “It’s nice to see the other parts of America. By going by road, you see so much more, and it’s so much nicer. You get to wander around, look at this, and that’s the great bonus of a tour like this.”
Really, though, Idle wryly discloses, “We came to Florida to try to find a Florida even older than we are!”
Flash back to their younger days. Terry Jones and Michael Palin met at Oxford University; meanwhile, Idle, Cleese and Graham Chapman were enrolled at Cambridge, performing with the Cambridge University Footlights. Cleese was an enormous influence on Idle.
“It was more like he was my hero,” Idle says with warm admiration. “He was a bit older, and he was absolutely magnificent. He was an inspiration, and I just loved seeing what he did, because I’d watched a lot of comedy as I grew up, and he was just head and shoulders above everybody else, as he still is. He never let on he was funny. There was an anger about it, too, which was lovely and delightful.”
Idle, Palin, Chapman, Cleese, and Gilliam were writing for The Frost Report, a satirical show that aired on the BBC, when Cleese asked them all to become involved in a strange little show he called “Monty Python.”
“He didn’t really need to come to us,” Idle says. “He could have done a solo show. But the interesting thing about John is, he didn’t want to do that.”
Built on sketches linked together by Gilliam animations, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was an absurd, surreal treasure. Cleese and Chapman wrote together, as did Palin and Jones, but Idle preferred to write solo.
“I don’t think any gentleman should speak before lunch,” he says wryly.
Given their incredible legacy and lasting relevance, it’s wild to think the Pythons only had an active 14-year run; Matt Groening, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Seth MacFarlane all cite the troupe as major influences. A love of the Pythons is passed from generation to generation; “spam” email gets their name from a particular Python sketch; “Pythonesque” can be found in standard dictionaries.
To this day, Idle is surprised when he’s recognized in the street. On this very tour, Cleese and Idle stopped at a Starbucks for a cup of tea, only to be surrounded by a gaggle of 16-year-old fans.
“I like the way parents pass it on,” Idle says. “It seems to be one of those things that went multigenerational.”
Perhaps Python’s lasting influence is due to its innate playfulness and steadfast refusal to play by the rules.
“It’s anti-authoritarian, and there’s a certain silliness—it doesn’t take itself seriously,” Idle muses.
“A lot of American comedians want to be loved and laughed at, and I think that’s a mistake. I don’t think we made that mistake. English people don’t. It’s not gentle, and it’s quite silly and occasionally, it’s savage,” he says.
“And the other interesting thing about it is it’s written by all six of us, and there’s never been a show where the writers perform it all, and there’s no producers—we weren’t censored. It’s executive-free comedy.”
Idle has boasted an impressive solo career, including writing the immensely popular, Tony award-winning Spamalot. With John Du Prez composing, fleshing out Idle’s basic ideas into a full-fledged production, Mike Nichols directing,
“It was absolutely the most joyous thing I think I’ve ever done,” he says.
Most recently, he released an e-book, The Writer’s Cut, a Hollywood kiss-and-tell novel from a male writer’s perspective.
Idle is lovingly referring to “Together Again At Last” as “an IKEA tour.”
“You rip it apart, screw it together, and you’re always missing a screw when you assemble anything from IKEA,” he chuckles.
The duo were inspired to tour together when Cleese released his memoir, So, Anyway... in 2014.
“It happened quite by accident,” Idle recounts. “They asked if I’d interview him. I said yes; we booked The Alex Theatre in Glennville and sold tickets—which the bastards didn’t tell me—and it sold out!”
“We’ve got lots to talk about, and two hours flew by. It was that experience that encouraged him to suggest we do this.”
The show, touted as an evening of “unforgettable sit-down comedy,” is a blend of “filthy songs,” solo bits, sketches, and banter between two legends.
“We do some classic bits, we do sketches, but we don’t do anything we’ve done for years and years,” Idle explains. “We do talk about them and do some sketches people don’t know, and they’re quite funny.”
The floor will also be open for Q&A.
“The best one so far was in Sarasota, and they said, ‘What’s it like being amongst the youngest men in Sarasota?’” Idle laughs.
In the early days of Python, Idle and crew didn’t expect much success in the States; to their disbelief, the over-the-top English silliness was a total hit.
The skits didn’t wrap up neatly and boasted a brash aggression to them skewered by sharply clever wit and goofiness—it was unlike anything the U.S. had seen.
“Americans love Python; they just love it,” Idle says. “I don’t think Python has been on in England for 20 years. In America, it just keeps going on and getting bigger, and it gets younger and younger.”
John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again At Last...For The Very First Time
When: Tuesday, October 20, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Civic Center – Johnny Mercer Theatre
Cost: $59.50-99.50 via etix.com