Circus Trick: Q&A with John Cleese & Eric Idle

John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again at Last...For the Very First TimeTwo of the comic icons who catapulted to fame in the British groundbreaking absurdist sketch group Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit the local stage October 3. The show, “John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again at Last … For the Very First Time” at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall (tickets start at $65) is a must-see for fans of intelligent, irreverent, hilarious comedy. Cleese and Idle share some laughs before their upcoming tour.

NI: What was the inspiration behind the structure of this show?

Cleese: There is no structure to our show. We are deliberately keeping things very loose, to the extent that some evenings we might not even turn up. If you don’t realize this is a joke, please do not buy tickets for the show.

Idle: My interviewing John at The Alex Theatre in Glendale last November, to publicize the launch of his autobiography, where we just sat down and talked for two hours. Totally improvised and apparently fascinating. We’ll build on that.


What will the musical numbers be like? Will you revive any of Monty Python’s greatest hits?

Cleese: The musical numbers will be catchy, with breathtakingly obscene lyrics by Mr. Eric Idle. But we won’t be doing any of the classic sketches as we’re fed up with them.

Idle: Well, completely different, since we don’t have 20 singers and dancers and an eight-piece band! It’ll be me and a guitar. Probably some oldies and a few less well known.

John Cleese - Monty Python - John CLeese and Eric Idle: Together Again at Last...For the Very First Time

John Cleese | Photo by Bob King


In three words, how would you describe yourself?

Cleese: Dolichocephalic, ambiverted, spiteful.

Idle: Far too old.


In three words, how would you describe Eric Idle?
Cleese: Bandy-legged, confused.


In three words, how would you describe John Cleese?
Idle: Far too tall.


What motivates you to tour at this stage of your life?

Cleese: Paying $20 million to my ex-wife made a bit of a dent in my finances, and I am tired of living in a shoebox in the middle of the road. So … money.

Idle: First of all, the money. But mainly the adventure. I was thinking of going on the road and then John asked me to join him, and I thought, that sounds like fun. I haven’t been to many of the places we’re visiting.


What are three things few know about you?

Cleese: My deep hatred of hypocrisy; my huge collection of plastic forks; and my favorite sexual position.

Idle: I speak French. I’m a Geordie [person from the larger Tyneside region of North East England]. I’m quite shy.


Who (or what) makes you laugh?

Cleese: President Trump

Idle: Everything. From Donald Trump to Sara Palin…


What was the biggest difference between making Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Monty Python films?

Idle: We had a bit more money and we had a bit more time to spend on them, and we (really?) vaguely knew what we were doing by then, or at least that there would be an audience for them.

Eric Idle - Monty Python - John CLeese and Eric Idle: Together Again at Last...For the Very First Time

Eric Idle

How do you feel about Always Look on the Bright Side of Life becoming a popular funeral song?

Idle: It’s wonderful. Of course I don’t get royalties… but somehow that song seems to have become an anthem which cheers people up, so that makes me feel really good. I was proud to sing it at The London Olympics.


Out of all the characters you’ve brought to life, which one do you feel has had the biggest cultural impact and why?

Cleese: In the UK, it’s a hotelkeeper called Basil Fawlty. In the USA, it was my portrayal of Moses in Exodus 2.


I hear you have three huge cats, what will they be up to while you’re on tour?

Cleese: They have very full diaries: playing with string, snoozing, chasing each other, lying down as high up as possible and Pilates. The new one, Celebrity Cat Francis, is opening masses of shopping malls.


You’ve done quite a bit of voice acting. Which animated alter ego has been your favorite and why?

Idle: I don’t remember. On the whole I don’t like acting, and in voice acting they always demand you overact like mad.


What other projects do you have in the works?

Cleese: I am adapting a French farce, putting on a stage version of Fawlty Towers, writing a musical of A Fish Called Wanda, and I hope to be able to wrap Dick Cheney in duct tape for the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Idle: I am working with Professor Brian Cox on something wonderful. 


What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Idle: There have been no clinical trials of laden swallows so far. I think it’s time we had some evidence. Apparently Siri knows the answer to your question, which shows just how far the pernicious influence of Python has spread…

Cleese: I think the below link should adequately answer the question

Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow

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