By David Slattery
It is really quite difficult to begin a review about someone who has already established themself so firmly as a comedic icon. Writer and actor in Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda…. do I have to go through every one of his contributions to the comedic world right here? We all know he is a comic genius, a pioneer of so much that we see on stage and in television today, right? Good. Let’s move straight on to the show.
I was not entirely sure what to expect from a John Cleese live show. Part of me was thinking a myriad of stand-up, sketch comedy, maybe some deep and meaningful insight into his past and his comedic process. I was almost right, just not quite in the way I expected. The opening of the show was an introduction (as if he needed one) from Richard Stubbs (Whom most of you will know from Radio station 774), who then sat down with him for what became an hour long look into Cleese’s past life. Even as Stubbs was pointing it out to the audience I realised that with all the hours of time spent watching and listening to Cleese’s many works, I knew almost nothing about him at all. So as we were regaled with all sorts of stories and anecdotes about his father, mother, and just about every single known comedian in England in the 1960’s (all of whom he knew personally), I was genuinely amazed at how I had never known any of it. All of these stories were coupled with the obligatory slideshow of photos and film excerpts, and of course Cleese’s unique brand of wit. On that note, it certainly seems Cleese has become much more mellow and even-tempered of late. There were definite layers of bitterness and resentment on certain subjects; the $17 million alimony to his ex-wife for one. But not the red-faced, passionate torrent of abuse that I had been used to seeing from the man.
The second part of the evening was Cleese on his own, explaining to us his view on Black Comedy, and how it influenced his own writing. This was accompanied by some small excerpts of his own writing for film, such as the ever-popular Black Knight sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and even his own memorial service from Graham Chapman’s funeral. As self-indulgent as this seemed at first, it really felt deserved. He also gave a lot of praise to all the comedians he worked with during his time, presenting several anecdotes citing the great comedic abilities of his peers. The image of Graham Chapman in a carrot suit while speaking at a debate for nuclear disarmament is not one I shall soon forget.
But now the most important announcement of all. Two more shows have been announced at the Princess Theatre. If you are a fan of any or all of his works, or if you would just like an insight into how he got to where he is today, buy a ticket. Before it’s too late.
Cleese finishes his run in Melbourne on March 27th then he’s off to Sydney from the 30th.