John Cleese: Still Naughty After All These Years

The tall uptight member of Monty Python embarks on a short tour


Calling the tour “Last Chance To See Me Before I Die” Cleese did a very good job of explaining what he and his fellow Pythons did over the years: poking fun at the topics of politics, religion, sex and especially death.

He pointed out that he first noticed as a writer for the BBC that the biggest jokes were the ones that touched on these seemingly taboo topics.

Cleese called this “being naughty.”

He was able to convince the BBC producers to record the full script, and if the joke didn’t get a laugh, it could be cut before transmission. Invariably the naughty jokes brought the biggest laughs.

At his Balboa Theatre performance Cleese distinguished how he and others can poke fun at foreigners. He compared it to the affectionate jocularity of a family gathering. Poking fun with affection, Cleese’s stock-in-trade, is different he said than the nastiness which has the intent of making the recipient feel bad.

Cleese then laid into an array of jokes aimed at various nationalities and religions. In fact, he proposed that the UN choose one country per year to be the butt of all jokes. The evening’s recurrent theme of death was pointed out by showing a clip of his hilarious eulogy for Graham Chapman. In fact, decades ago when I saw one of Graham Chapman’s final one man stand-up shows, the structure was quite similar to Cleese’s. Both performances liberally and understandably were interspersed with clips from Monty Python films. Chapman, however, included clips from his ridiculous races down ski slopes and elsewhere.

Not too much Spam on offer at the merch table

Cleese’s delivery last night was commendably robust, with his impeccable sense of timing intact. Quite remarkable from a chap in his 86th year.

The second half of the show was mostly a Q&A session moderated by his daughter Camilla (who had opened the show with a commendable 12 minute routine).

No mention was made by Cleese of the current apparent acrimony among the remaining Pythons. But several warm tales were told about the other five Pythons and their interactions from decades ago.

The several stories Cleese told about Life of Brian have been told elsewhere, but are worth repeating. After showing the script around, no financing was available in either Britain or America. But Eric Idle passed the script along to George Harrison, who said he would mortgage his house to fund the production. When asked why he would want to do this Cleese explained, “it was because Harrison wanted to see the movie.” (Harrison and Idle alternately later called it the most expensive movie ticket ever).

The Pythons were happier still when they were told they need not go on any promotional tours for Life of Brian because all the protesters of the film had garnered more than enough publicity. That and Harrison’s $2 million led to about $200 million at the box office.

Cleese mentioned after many long years production of a musical version of A Fish Called Wanda would be underway. He did not mention that he received an Oscar nomination for best screenplay for A Fish Called Wanda.

Whether Cleese is as spry as when he was Minister of Silly Walks is unlikely, so it worked with the theme of the evening when he would dodder on stage and off.

Cleese is probably in the top three of people who have made me laugh the most. He is definitely thicker of waist and thinner of hair, but so are we.


Cleese will head east for more shows after a break; details here.





Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.