Books

Was John Cleese ever funny?

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

Like many of my generation I was enchanted by the surrealistic irreverence of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, until I overheard other boys — it was never girls — excitedly murdering the Parrot Sketch: ‘Ah yes, the Norwegian Blue — lovely plumage…’ This was not out of a snobbish disdain for popularity; I still loved the Beatles, after all. What made me wince was that the boys in question obviously lacked any sense of humour, and had adopted the show as a kind of prosthesis — which would explain its huge success in Germany.

This planted in me the appalling suspicion that Monty Python wasn’t really funny at all, and earlier this year, as the humourless boys held mass rallies at the O2 Arena, that suspicion was confirmed when I watched some old clips on YouTube. Beneath their undergraduate wackiness, the jokes are as desperately conventional as Dick Emery’s.

No one loves a critic, especially not performers, but John Cleese’s hatred of the trade is remarkable even for a performer, so it is sporting of him to include in his memoirs the New York Times’s response to Cambridge Circus, the revue that made his name, taking him from the Footlights to Edinburgh and the West End, and then on to New Zealand and America: ‘The visitors behave as if what they are doing, singing or saying is hilarious, but what emerges seems obvious or pointless.’ Fawlty Towers is clearly a masterpiece, and Cleese’s performance in Michael Frayn’s Clockwise is superb; farce, performed with utmost seriousness, is his great love. But the Times’s verdict seems to me applicable to nearly all his sketches.

Cleese turns out to be a stern critic himself, pronouncing that the ‘rather simplified psychology’ of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters ‘forces me to regard him as a very good comic writer rather than a great one’. He is more indulgent of his own work. He bulks out So, Anyway… with many sketches he wrote for the Python forerunners At Last the 1948 Show and How to Irritate People, as they are ‘really funny (in my opinion and it’s my fucking book)’. The first of them, featuring a psychiatrist and his patient, gives a fair idea of their groan-worthiness:

Tim Brooke-Taylor: ‘I think I’m a rabbit!’
John Cleese: ‘You stupid loony! ’Course you’re not a rabbit! Pull yourself together!’


Writing good comedy, he explains, is ‘exceedingly difficult’, and ‘being really funny is much harder than being clever or witty’. It is harder still to be all three, which is what Beyond the Fringe achieved.

Though he mentions Python quite often, Cleese’s narrative effectively ends with the recording of the show’s first sketch, ‘Flying Sheep’, in August 1969, though a final chapter covers the O2 rallies, which he compares to those held by Hitler at Nuremberg. On the second night, he recalls, ‘I found myself thinking: “How is it possible that I’m not feeling the slightest bit excited?”’

So the Life of Cleese deals with his previous 30 years, beginning with his birth near Weston-super-Mare. As ‘the only child of older, over-protective parents’, he was ‘a weedy, namby-pamby little pansy’. He adored his father, an insurance salesman who had changed his name from ‘Cheese’ to ‘Cleese’, apparently so he could fight in the Great War; his son was naturally called ‘Cheese’ at school, and has ‘always preferred’ it to ‘Cleese’, ‘which is, quite simply, not a proper name’. He loathed his mother, who used to beat up his father. He blames her for his difficulties with women, and for his many years in therapy, but her irascibility has surely been useful in his comedy: ‘Her rage filled her skin until there was no room left for the rest of her personality.’

The Cleeses moved house a lot, which he thinks nurtured his creativity. They always ate chicken at Christmas, and never went on holiday abroad, spending ten days every August at a Bournemouth hotel called Devon Towers. At his prep school (St Peter’s in Weston) ‘Cheese’ grew inordinately tall — 5’3” by the age of nine, and over six foot before he was 12.

He continued to grow as a day boy at Clifton, where he excelled at science and belatedly discovered that life isn’t fair. In his last year, ‘wounded’ that he hadn’t been made a house prefect, he ‘responded rather splendidly’ by throwing away his house cap, and wearing that of a rival house. After two happy years teaching at St Peter’s, he went up to Downing College to read law, and found his spiritual home at the Footlights.

Gosh it’s dull, this book — a dreary combination of pompous self-congratulation and tetchy sarcasm! There’s some rather predictable malice (Bill Oddie ‘could be prickly’ and ‘a bit obtuse’), and the odd diverting flash of weirdness — ‘I have always had an extensive collection of soft toys (I buy them pretending they are for children)’ — but the only time I laughed was at a grammatical error (‘Like Graham and I, Michael and Terry, and Eric were primarily writers’). As Cleese justly observes, ‘It’s a nightmare once comedy stops feeling funny.’

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £16 Tel: 08430 600033

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Show comments
  • GraveDave

    Good question.Was the whole Monty Python team ever funny. Not really.Though one or two made good actors in other films and comedy drama not written by them.

  • davidofkent

    Monty Python was very funny, at the time. So was Fawlty Towers, at the time. Watching them again now is agonising. The Goons, however, were really funny and I still find them amusing (BBC Radio 4 Extra). Of course it was the manic writing of Spike Milligan and the wonderful characterisations of Peter Sellers that made the show.

    • Mike

      Each period in time has its own comedy pieces and the Goons, Hancock and others of that time were for radio but bombed when the BBC tried to put them on TV. Monty Python succeeded on TV for being fringe comedy along with Fawlty Towers as well as Men Behaving Badly, Fools & Horses, Allo Allo, Waiting For God, One Foot in the Grave and many others that all did very well.

      What they all had in common was humour that was funny in itself and most times made fun of the protagonists and we saw the same sort of format in Friends from America. Russel Brands form of sick humour that has to mock others in a lazy and feeble attempt to be funny which it isn´t. Its no better than some comics or films that repeatedly use the F word in the mistaken belief its amusing.

      • davidofkent

        I still regard ‘Allo Allo’ as good comedy. It was always well-written even though the jokes were rather similar each week. ‘One Foot in The Grave’ is just irritating, isn’t it? There was a slightly odd comedy in the 1980s (I think) called ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ which was rather clever and very funny, or so I thought. There is little modern comedy just would-be celebrities fooling around and thinking they are being very witty. Those are the good ones. The bad ones, like Russell Brand, are simply moronic but seem to appeal to a certain generation.

        • Damaris Tighe

          They seem to appeal to the beneficiaries of edyookayshun, edyookayshun, edyookayshun.

        • Mike

          To be fair I quite like most if not all of these old TV comedies but we each have our favorites and I never really got into ‘ever decreasing circles’ personally but each to their own as they say.

          As for Roy Chubby Brown, the stand up foul mouthed comic, even he had/has his place at a stag do or working mans club when it was strippers night and I never found him offensive because of the setting (Men behaving Badly I suspect).

          That’s something that Ross & Brand don’t understand I fear.

      • Alexsandr

        disagree about fawlty towers. Still find it funny.

        ‘there is too much butter on those trays’

        ‘no no, Uno, dos, tres’

        and then there was Brahms’ third racket.

        and farty towels and flowery tw@ts

        • JGM

          And of course, the famous goosestep in front of the Germans, Goebbels salad and Eva prawn and that lot! Modern comedy (if you can call it that!) can only dream of being in the same category as the likes of Fawlty Towers.

      • willshome

        You really are obsessed with Russell Brand aren’t you?

        • Mike

          To call him funny is rediculous, thats all.

    • Picnicl .

      I never liked the Goons. It was basically immediate post-war time type era humour that could only be written by the shell shocked. Peter Sellers was great as an actor in his own right though. Some Pythons might have liked the Goons but Python was modern, coherent even in silliness. The Pythons share more in common with Peter Cook. Dudley Moore was his own personality- the brilliant innocent kind in love with Hollywood (and the piano) like a life long kid in a candy store.

    • post_x_it

      Few comedies are genuinely timeless. I recently went on YouTube and re-watched Dudley Moore performing “Little Miss Britten” and his Kurt Weill parody. They are aimed at a niche audience but will always be very, very funny to anyone familiar with the music. This type of stuff never gets old.
      It also struck me that he managed to create a perfect parody without any hint of spite or sneering. Britten was of course offended, but then he wasn’t known for his sense of humour.

      • Mike

        Only Fools & Horses perhaps ?

    • Dolly Smith

      Watching ‘Fawlty Towers’ is ‘agonising’? Really? It’s a middling farce made amusing by some great performances. No more than that.
      The Goons on the other hand is a collection of irritating noises & dated references that is irritating in the extreme.
      This is just tories bashing a left leaner.

    • willshome

      The Goon Show for surrealism; Round the Horne; Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; Marty Feldman. The shows that bear repeating are few and far between.

  • Fraser Bailey

    I find Python to be intermittently funny. I watched Fawlty Towers again recently and still found it to be very good and very funny. The Life of Brian is their great masterpiece, I think. His point about the Nuremberg-like nature of the 02 performance is spot on. Any event in which so many people face in one direction at a stage or performer becomes fascistic.

    • Alexsandr

      when will there be a life of bert, a bloke born in mecca about 570?

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  • Sean L

    Collectively they were sometimes hilarious and the others had their moments individually, but for me he stood out as singularly unfunny.

  • Damaris Tighe

    I beg to differ. John Cleese is naturally funny, he doesn’t have to open his mouth. I once met him at a new age weekend workshop. I didn’t twig who he was at first, even though when he said hello to me I noticed his badge saying ‘John’. Then he bounded up the stairs like Basil Fawlty & I said to a friend, ‘he looks just like John Cleese’. My friend gave me a withering look & said, ‘he is John Cleese’.

    Nice man btw, & inexplicably attractive to women. We all succeeded in giving him a cuddle.

    • GraveDave

      Well, I do like him. But in retrospect I think some of us overrated Monty Python just because it was different and dare I say it ‘edgy’, lol.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Yes, some of the sketches (eg dead parrot) will live for ever but generally I find Fawlty Towers or the film called Time (???) where John Cleese is playing John Cleese more funny.

        • Alexsandr

          ministry of silly walks was genius. as was ‘is this the 5 minute argument or the full half hour’

        • Kennybhoy

          The “Piranha Brothers” is my favourite! 🙂

          • Damaris Tighe

            Don’t know this one Kenny. Was it a sketch?

          • Kennybhoy

            The wonder that is youtube! 🙂

            You will never again hear the word litotes without smiling! 😉

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jmnspyj-eY

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhV856sXf3w

          • Damaris Tighe

            Thanks for giving me a good laugh on a Sunday afternoon! The reference to the drama ‘Kierkegaard’s Journals’ on BBC2 reminded me of the Proust jokes.

    • Swanky

      inexplicably attractive to women
      Probably it’s the height and the suggestion of braininess/boffinity. He has no looks.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Yes, the combination of being big & a bit of a softy (as it appeared!).

        • Swanky

          Aha! Sweet to his own but savage to his enemies, that sort of idea perhaps. The sort of thing cave-women sought in a man : )

          • Damaris Tighe

            Big, protective, kind … 😉

          • Swanky

            You forgot ‘rich’!

          • Damaris Tighe

            Not any more – he was beggared by his last divorce. That’s why he’s treading the boards again.

          • Swanky

            Oh, right. Something’s coming back to me. Who was it that went on a ‘comedy show to pay for my divorce’ tour? Was it Cleese? I have a feeling that many entertainers have a similar problem.

          • Damaris Tighe

            I think it was. Price of divorce from the psychoanalyst! She really took him to the cleaners (what a lot of humane insight she must have), probably taking advantage of American divorce settlements (she’s American & they lived in the US). Then he remarried yet again! Fourth time. I hope he did a prenup.

          • Swanky

            Golly. Well, at least he is own gravy train, so to speak. I’m sure it’s all work, but it’s not like other men who can’t decide to go out and make any more money than they’re already making. A bit like Picasso: anything from his hand was instant money. He almost painted his own cash. Few people have such powers of wealth creation!

          • Damaris Tighe

            Sorry you’re getting aggravation (I have noticed). It seems to be all over the place today. Chin up.

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            My dear, you seem to have left us. I’m hoping you’ll return to this thread & see this. We women who don’t pretend to be all the things men want (twittery, fluffy & silly) should keep going.

  • Diggery Whiggery

    What I love is the obsession that Americans have with it. It’s almost as if understanding why it’s supposed to be funny is some sort of intellectual rite of passage and means of self-assurance that they still have a spiritual link to the old country.

    I remember sharing a student house once, with an American student on an exchange year, who had obviously targeted ‘understanding Python’ as his main goal for his year in England. He was almost zealous in how he went about it to, accosting almost anyone to give him an explanation.

    When I finally explained to him that those who thought it funny originally did so more because the style of presentation was new and eccentric and that subsequent generations merely say its funny because it’s traditional to say so and a form of respect to an institution, it was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

    • GraveDave

      What I love is the obsession that Americans have with it. It’s almost as if understanding why it’s supposed to be funny is some sort of intellectual rite of passage and means of self-assurance that they still have a spiritual link to the old country.

      Excellent.

      • pbird

        Oh piffle.

    • Living

      The vast majority of Americans, Python fans or not, absolutely don’t care about any kind of spiritual link to any old country. The only thing that matters in America is America. You had an Anglophile who was obsessed with being an Anglophile trying to be an Anglophile.

      • benjamincgessel

        No. I don’t think so. The “vast majority of Americans”, are at least somewhat interested in links to countries of their ancestry, spiritual and otherwise. Whether from Vietnam, India, Russia, West Africa, Sweden, Scotland, I’ve heard it all before, and I’ll continue to hear it. The MINORITY of Americans have absolutely no interest in a spiritual link, etc. to the country(ies) of their ancestry. Of these folks, a good chunk of them are “white trash” or inbred hicks, dim-witted couch potatoes, inner city black thugs, or just plain atheistic, godless, good for nothing scumbags. The whole world doesn’t look very kindly on these kinds of folks, aka, the Americans we are LEAST proud of…

    • KimJongUn

      Many people also want to find Woody Allen funny.

    • Mr__Neutron

      Most fans of Python, regardless of nationality, find Python funny because it makes them laugh, not because of your cod-psychological analysis. And Python still has a more “new and eccentric” style of presentation than Fawlty Towers and Yes Minister, which are excellent but very conventional comedies.

      • Swanky

        I never found M P to be very funny. The argument sketch was clever. The parrot thing was good. That’s about it.

    • John Mountfort

      Yes, obsessions that compel someone to go on and on with a theme of interest to no one except people burdened by the same affliction is a sign that something is wrong.

  • Mike

    At least the comedy is natural, funny and doesn´t target individuals like the sick rubbish that appeals to Russel Brand and whats his name, Jonathan something !!!

    • willshome

      My goodness. Pick a regrettable (and regretted) incident from six years ago why don’t you? Brand made one stupid, unkind phone call to Andrew Sachs; John Cleese hit him hard all the time in Fawlty Towers, once so hard he couldn’t get up, and didn’t even apologise for knocking him out when Sachs complained. He also told Sachs he had to be a Spanish waiter, not a German one (an accent he would have found easier) because, “You’d be very good at things if you were German. He’s got to be Spanish.” Personally I never found Fawlty Towers either natural or funny.

      • Mike

        Clearly you´re in the minority who never understood that classic comedy not dissimilar to Laurel & Hardy with the berating of a typical immigrant worker from the Med region.

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  • MountainousIpswich

    “Beneath their undergraduate wackiness, the jokes are as desperately conventional as Dick Emery’s.”

    Yes – they are now. Cos we’ve had 50 years of copycat jokes since.

  • IainRMuir

    Obviously it isn’t one or the other, it’s a matter of opinion. I find some parts of MPFC funny, other parts less so, but I can’t think of a single comedian who is funny all the time. Ken Dodd, for instance, is a master in front of a live theatre audience but, IMO, awful on TV. He seems to need the adrenaline and audience feedback from live performance.

    One thing is for sure though, comedians are not necessarily nice jolly people off-stage.

  • WalterSEllis

    What puzzles me – and this doesn’t just apply to the Pythons – is why classic comedy ceases to be funny with the passage of time. Were Cleese & Co funny, or were they just shocking? Could it be that without the novelty factor, their humour looks tired and obvious? I suspect Cleese stopped being funny when he went to his shrink and started sorting himself out. What emerged from the process was both surprisingly prickly and surprisingly dull – witness his recent appearance on the Graham Norton Show. As for his marriages … dear Lord! But, yes, Clockwise was brilliant.

    • Alexsandr

      any comedy when you have heard it 20 times sounds trite.

      • Fenton!

        Except for The Honeymooners. And even Are You Being Served? Which goes to show something….

  • Davey

    Yes, he was funny! But, evidently, it takes a lot to make some people laugh – like the author of this piece it seems. Monty Python was not to everyone’s taste, but it had moments of brilliance and almost everyone in Britain can quote some, so that shows what an important part of our (rapidly disappearing) culture it was. For that reason alone it should be held in high regard. Fawlty Towers has almost universal appeal, and contrary to some of the comments here, is still regarded by many as enormously funny. Comparing it to some more modern offerings (The Office, for instance) is like comparing excrement to cream. I think it was Cleese’s masterpiece and for that work alone he deserves to be held in high esteem. However, I do think certain entertainers need to realise when enough is enough and to retire from the public eye with dignity. There’s a WHOLE long list of those.

    • Alexsandr

      cleese wrote FT with connie booth. we should not assume all the best bits were his.
      but the visual clowning must be his alone.

  • Archibald Heatherington

    “the only time I laughed was at a grammatical error (‘Like Graham and I, Michael and Terry, and Eric were primarily writers’).”

    That’s not a grammatical error, you stupid fool. It’s a parallel construction with an implicit verb: “Like Graham [WAS] and I [WAS], Michael and Terry, and Eric WERE primarily writers.”

    As to Cleese’s comment on Wodehouse, we mere mortals (Cleese included) can only ever be jealous of his talent.

    • Fenton!

      There just needs to be a slight adjustment: an added comma, and the deletion of ‘and’:

      ‘Like Graham and I, Michael, Terry, and Eric were primarily writers’

      In any case, it’s hardly something to provoke laughter (in the reviewer).

      • Marmalade Sandwich

        There’s nothing wrong with the sentence. You need to understand context. Graham and John wrote together, Michael and Terry wrote together, and Eric wrote on his own.
        “John Cleese wrote some real jems” should be the headline in a magazine like the Spectator. This headline belongs in the gutter press.

    • John Byde

      and the award for pompous twerp of the week goes to…

      • Archibald Heatherington

        Lewis Jones, for looking down his nose at perfectly correct sentences.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Was John Cleese ever funny. Yes. Very funny.

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  • Terry Field

    Cleese played stuffed shirts. With talent.
    He did it very well indeed.
    How was he assisted in this enterprise??
    Very simple to say.
    He was, and is a monumental stuffed shirt in reality.
    That is why his biography is boring and pretentious.

  • Rintintin

    Cleese, pre-psychotherapy, very funny. Post, not at all.

  • UnionJihack

    John Cleese was funny, of course he was, forty years ago.

    Who in PC Britain will step forward and take the mickey out of today’s Arianism-equivalent?

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  • chrome

    I distinctly remember MP being funny once upon a time. In the ’70s I had all the albums and they certainly made me laugh back then. I could recite them all from memory as well, which made me a bore, apparently. Oh well. I certainly wouldn’t listen to them now, but then I wouldn’t listen to the Beatles either. I have a saying for this type of thing: “it was good at the time”.

  • david gom

    No.

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  • Trev Hill

    There is a line in Not The Nine O’Clock News’s “Christ’s Life of Python” sketch:

    “These men died for us… frequently!”

    Kind of sums it up. A lot of MPFC was hit and miss. By the time I got to watch it it was old. Other shows had used the forum and overtaken it in quality. But Cleese was and is funny.

    • JGM

      NTNOC was also a very funny series, which took over from Fawlty Towers oddly enough, lots of very funny gags which sent people up without being cruel or nasty about it.

  • Picnicl .

    Whilst Flying Circus may have had something like 25% great sketches to 75% OK ones which might be lower than some sketch shows since, what should be borne in mind is a) probably a high percentage of people never write a sketch show , b) when Flying Circus Came Out the British sketch show as we know it was in its infancy. It was more an offshoot of Oxbridge student ‘revue’ comedy – a blend of confidence, sophistication and , especially in the case of Chapman it is said, no regard for ‘mindless good taste’- also with a dash of Millgan and The Beatles dry humour. I hope that anyone who saw the O2 concerts of the Pythons this year witnessed a comedy tour de force with many of their best TV sketches (apart from the ones in which Chapman was key- which it would have been nice to see on the screen regardless) cherry picked and the Pythons resembling truly grand men of the stage, their sketches treat with a total authenticity for the late 60s and early 70s right down to the innovative dance numbers- for some innovation still had to be there rather than a retread of innovation. They’re all great people in their own right. Cleese’s Fawlty Towers was, with some fairness, regarded as relatively ordinary sitcom territory in concept by some of the Pythons, at least at the time. It is only a farce at the end of the day with Cleese playing a passive aggressive man. I prefer Cleese instead at his most confidently ‘schoolmasterly’ e.g. as a sex education teacher in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Considering that he has married a trio of Americans, has spent much of his life in America and doesn’t waste many opportunities to say how he didn’t really get the mindset of his mother, it does appear that Cleese, ironically (maybe?) considering The Argument Sketch, loves contradiction- in being a ‘let it all hang out kind of person’ in the body and manners of an old school military, schoolmasterly, type. I personally think it’s his way of being a ‘Renaissance man’, rather than sticking to the rather comic book persona of Palin’s eager jolly hockey sticks demeanour which no doubt disguises raw ambition in much the same way as the insincere quiz show hosts that Palin played. That said, Palin is a genius for it. They’re all clever people who did want they needed to do to become national treasures. At a time when Wilson and the comprehensive school system was all about egalitarianism, the Pythons were a reminder that a grammar or public school education followed by Oxbridge was still a reliable way to have an army of references and some confidence to both challenge and benefit from ‘the system’. Cleese was and is funny…

  • Fenton!

    the only time I laughed was at a grammatical error (‘Like Graham and I, Michael and Terry, and Eric were primarily writers’)
    Cough. Were you tiddly at the time?

  • Philip

    ‘humour’ per se is neither funny or clever..it relies on its effects purely by often surreal juxtaposition of incongruous paradoxical ideas..often the sad efforts of some schoolboy vainly seeking popularity/acceptance from his peers to avoid (justified) bullying because he was a weedy bespectacled geek..and in later years eking out a miserable career in ‘stand-up’..My motion which is passing its final stages in the Commons is to outlaw all ‘humour’ and its attendant effect.. ‘laughter’ which is both subversive, infectious and irreverent..have you considered the detrimental effects of ‘secondary sniggering’ for example..capable of reducing sane people to helpless uncontrollable apoplexy?!.. Yours, Brigadier Smiley-Visage (Mrs)..retired..deceased.

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    Yes, John Cleese is a genuinely funny man, a damned sight funnier than todays so called comics, his comedy could be a bit slapstick but there was an intelligence behind it, maybe that’s why younger generations don’t ‘get him’, they prefer their humour to be more violent and stupid, usually poking malicious humour at other people, which is OK to a point, but when the party that is having the fun made at them stops finding it funny, that is the point where it stops being good natured and becomes malicious and hurtful. The likes of Miranda I find to be that sort of stupid comedy, it’s so unrealistic and dishumourous, and there are others that go too far and step over the line between funny, and disrespectful and sometimes hurtful, it’s almost like schoolkids slagging off and bullying someone to make them feel tiny, that to me is not funny but downright cruel. Sometimes I hate the modern world, no wonder I wish I could go back to a time when things wern’t as nasty as they are today.

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  • Al Bowlly

    John Cleese was funny but not nearly as much or as often as he and his admirers think. I found this sketch quite amusing. I am not sure why. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MT-JIJTSpF0

  • Tom Mot

    He was a boring twit.

  • Torybushhug

    MP never appealed to anyone I know (born in the late 60’s, early 70’s).
    Mockme accents, clunking school boy humour, no forensic insight.
    Something like The Office is a thousand times better and for those that truly know Human behaviour is the bar. Those not finding it funny are always they type that do not truly know the Human condition.

  • HY

    Like most genuine comedic talents, who are usually deadly serious about their work, John Cleese will always be funny. Compare and contrast to the “alternate” (aka political) comedy brigade, devoid of talent, trite and who are now jokes themselves. eg. Marcus Brigstocke et al. If it wasn’t for BBC sponsorship (at our expense!) many of these people would, quite rightly, never work again – as comedians.

  • James Munro

    I too was a lover of Python and felt we owned it as a generation but as years went by I realised it didn’t travel well and the players were becoming the sort of characters they used to make fun of. Palin travel progs for example aren’t far removed from the Whicker’s Island sketch. Ever since I have avoided watching it and nothing would have dragged me to the money making concert.

  • HS2

    Yes!

  • Mr__Neutron

    I have to applaud The Spectator’s consistency–in all my years of reading, it has never had a good word for Cleese or Monty Python. Group-think at its finest!
    The dodginess of Mr. Lewis’s review is apparent at the start. Apparently he was a Python fan until he overheard other, supposedly humorless, boys badly reciting the material. That is an extraordinarily flimsy reason for enmity. If the boys were supposedly humorless, why did they find Python as funny as Lewis did? Moreover, since every successful comedian or comedy act has its share of gormless fans who love endlessly repeating punchlines, why is Lewis so upset at a natural occurrence? He sounds like someone who doesn’t trust his own taste. The rest of his review barely rises above character assassination. No wonder Cleese despises the British press.

    Lewis states that “Beneath their undergraduate wackiness, the [Python’s] jokes are as desperately conventional as Dick Emery’s.” But wackiness (no need to call it “undergraduate”–is there a such thing as “mature” or “graduate” wackiness?) is at the heart of Python’s sketches (especially since they didn’t rely on jokes). The premises depend on the surreal–a man attempting to return a dead parrot, the Spanish inquisition appearing like genies, a barber yearning to be a transvestite lumberjack, and so on. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” remains the best sketch comedy of the past 40 years. It’s hit and miss ratio is considerably better than its closest competitors, Spike Milligan’s often ragged “Q” and Cook and Moore’s more conventional “Not Only…But Also…” And contrary to the cliche, it’s often the less heralded Python sketches that outshine the famous ones. “Woody/Tinny Words” is much funnier than “Dead Parrot,” while “Deja Fu” is more entertaining than “Nudge Nudge.” Anyone in doubt should try re-watching the series instead paying heed to the middle-aged grumbling that has stunk up this comments section.

  • adrian kola

    Contrary to many opinions, Germans do have a very decent sense of humour!

    • Michael James Sherman

      In Hamburg, ‘schwarzfahren’ or ‘to travel black’ means to use the public transport system without paying. When there, I heard this German joke: A Nigerian came to Hamburg. How did he travel? Black! That really cracked the burghers up! It was my introduction to the ‘very decent sense of humour’ that Germans have.

  • El Wisty

    ‘Case, more like’.

  • Leo Bloom

    Thank God you’re not writing YOUR bio, Mr Whatshisname – “dull” would be understating it big time.

  • spiderbucket

    My God. Next, you guys will tear down the Beatles. Is there a single writer on this website who loves England AT ALL ?

    • Swanky

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  • John Mountfort

    What a stupid article. Of course he was funny. Laughter proves it. It is pathetic when people feel the need to reevaluate something that doesn’t need it with only their own self-importance providing the occasion. This urge — like the intellectual vacancy signaled by anything titled “The End of…” — gives its own game away. You have nothing to say. No independent sense of taste. No judgement. Just an urge to self-promote in a shameless and mean-spirited way.

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  • Timuras Feministas

    Why in Britain you have to criticize a guy for doing comedy in such a way as if he raped or killed people.

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    Instead of this drivel, read called MONTY PYTHON VS THE WORLD, which tells the never-known story of how the python series was conceived – and almost didn’t happen many times. Especially interesting was how Dean Martin and Owen Wilson’s dad were instrumental in getting the series to America…! A lot of the material comes from the archives of the late Python, Graham Chapman, as the book was written by the curator of the Chapman archives.

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  • “Original” Hunter

    wow, this article and some of the comments below are a bit harsh, eh? I bet you dont find Peter Cook funny either….
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    what made me laugh was the anonymous comment saying that americans are obsessed with python as if they want a link to the old country or something like that…ever been to the US? I doubt it. If you had I’d bet you’d find that most of them are euro-phobic. python is a rare exception.
    To that, the “american obsession” with Python pretty much starts and ends with the holy grail (and maybe the parrot sketch/the And now for something completely different” film). Most every college student watches that one ad infinitum/ad nauseam to the point of memorization. if it extends beyond that its mostly the Life of Brian. You’d have a hard time finding many americans who knows the show well.

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  • Macephtopheles

    That isn’t a grammatical error. Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote as a pair, Eric Idle himself. The way it was written is to show it is supposed to be read as a pair of writers and a solo writer and the comma is used (correctly) to indicate the separation. Y’know, how commas are supposed to be used? The only correct ways to write that, while trying to show how it was intended to be read, would either be how it is written, or as ‘Eric, and Michael and Terry’ so no, it’s not a grammatical error at all. Glad it amused you though. Pointing it out in the article also amused me, much like reading many other incorrect “corrections” to grammar found on the internet often does.

    • Andrew Ryan

      The reviewer means that it should be “Like Graham and ME”, not “Like Graham and I”. Whether or not you consider that an error, that’s what the reviewer is referring to, not misuse of commas.

      • Macephtopheles

        Well, if that’s what they were referring to it’s even worse because ‘I’ is the correct use. If he’d used ‘I and Graham’ it would be absolutely wrong but ‘Graham and I/me’ can both be used but ‘I’ is considered, grammatically, the more correct use of the two.

        • Andrew Ryan

          How do you figure that? Wouldn’t most people say “Like me, he’s a writer” rather than: “Like I, he’s a writer”? Adding Graham in makes no difference to the grammar of the sentence, hence: “Like Graham and me, they’re writers”, rather than: “Like Graham and I, they’re writers”.

          We say “They are like me” and “I am like them”. If they are the ones doing the action we use ‘me’, if I am the one doing the action we use ‘I”.

          In the quoted sentence, the other Pythons are the subject of the verb ‘to be’. So I’d have thought the commonly used English here would be ‘me’ not ‘I’.

          But I’m happy to be corrected if you can explain why that is not right.

          • Macephtopheles

            In the example he’s specifically discussing himself as part of a writing duo, so saying the name of the other person ‘and I’ is considered the more correct grammatically but, as I say, both ‘I’ and ‘me’ are interchangeable so highlighting either as a grammatical error or attempting to correct it would be unnecessary so it’d make it worse than the commas example I was assuming he had meant.
            If it was being used how you were giving examples of then, like you say, ‘like me’ would obviously be the correct use but if you’re describing yourself as part of a duo then ‘I’ is considered correct. I guess that’s because if you view it how you’d describe yourself in a duo then ‘I am part of a duo’ is correct but ‘Me is part of a duo’ is obviously wrong. It all goes on the context of what is being said, basically. Singular, it’d be ‘me’ but as a plural then ‘I’ or ‘me’ is fine to use just ‘I’ is considered as more right for some reason. (The reason I gave is the only reason I can assume for why that is?)
            As I say, the context it’s viewed in impacts which sounds correct but if it’s plural then both ‘I’ and ‘me’ are perfectly acceptable and definitely not a grammatical error regardless of which is used.

          • Andrew Ryan

            ” like you say, ‘like me’ would obviously be the correct use but if you’re describing yourself as part of a duo then ‘I’ is considered correct”

            No, that’s not right at all. The subject of the verb is unaffected by how many people are involved. And the subject of the verb ‘to be’ in the disputed sentence was the other writers. That applies whether it is “They were like me” or ‘They were like me, Graham and the rest of the entire population of world”. ‘They’ are still the subject of the verb. The fact that John was part of a duo in that sentence is irrelevant – neither he nor Graham were the subject of the verb. It would only be ‘I’ if he was saying “I was like them” or “Graham and I were like them” or “Graham and the rest of Great Britain and I were like them” etc.

            If you don’t trust me, look it up. Find whatever source you want that explains when you use ‘me’ and when you use ‘I’ and it will back up what I say above. Come back to me when you’ve checked.

          • Macephtopheles

            That’s why I’ve already explained it’s entirely to do with the context. He is specifically saying it to be read as Graham and him and it’s exactly the same as the context of the commas example I gave. He’s specifically discussing himself and Graham as a duo and were he discussing each as individuals then, yes, ‘me’ would be correct but, reading it as it’s intended to be read, both ‘I’ and ‘me’ are fine and 100% interchangeable. Show an example specifically regarding something meant to be read as a duo (which none of the examples given are) that says that ‘me’ should definitively be used? There are none, because in that context either way is fine.

          • Andrew Ryan

            Again:
            “If you’re having trouble deciding which one to use in a particular sentence, here’s a hint: Take out the other person, and it should be clearer. You are not likely to be tempted to say, “Me joined the chess club,” or “Jill took I to the shop.””

            Note, ‘take out the other person’ – they’re specifically saying that being part of a duo MAKES NO DIFFERENCE to who the subject of the verb is.

            Did you follow the link I gave or search for any of your own? Trust me, you have got it wrong. In fact don’t trust me – look it up. Look up ‘when is it me or I’ and see what it says then tell me what you’ve read.

          • Andrew Ryan

            The following is from Oxford Dictionaries.com. Note in particular the first paragraph, because it applies specifically to your claim that it being a duo (with Graham) makes any difference:

            An easy way of making sure you’ve chosen the right pronoun is to see whether the sentence reads properly if you remove the additional pronoun

            Use the pronoun I, along with other subjective pronouns such as we, he, she, you, and they, when the pronoun is the subject of a verb:

            • He went to bed.
            • We waited for the bus.
            • Clare and I are going for a coffee.

            In the last example, the pronoun I, together with the proper noun Clare, forms the subject of the sentence, so you need to use I rather than me.

            Use the pronoun me, along with other objective pronouns such as us, him, her, you, and them, when the pronoun is the object of a verb:

            • Danny thanked them.
            • The dog followed John and me to the door.

            In the last example, the pronoun me, together with the proper noun John, forms the object of the verb follow, so you need to use me rather than I.

            Use the pronoun me, along with other objective pronouns such as us, him, her, you, and them, when the pronoun is the object of a preposition:

            Rose spent the day with Jake and me.

            Me, together with Jake, forms the object of the preposition with, so you need to use the pronoun me rather than the pronoun I.

            An easy way of making sure you’ve chosen the right pronoun is to see whether the sentence reads properly if you remove the additional pronoun

            http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/i-or-me

          • Andrew Ryan

            And again, making the point that the important part is who the subject of the verb is, not whether you are on your own or part of a duo or indeed a group:

            http://www.betterwritingskills.com/tip-w026.html

            Let me know if you find ANY references online that contradict what I’ve said and back up your claim.

          • Andrew Ryan

            Try this link:
            http://www.learnersdictionary.com/qa/when-to-use-i-and-when-to-use-me

            It explains it all pretty clearly, including this hint:
            “If you’re having trouble deciding which one to use in a particular sentence, here’s a hint: Take out the other person, and it should be clearer. You are not likely to be tempted to say, “Me joined the chess club,” or “Jill took I to the shop.””

            And when you apply that the sentence discussed, taking out ‘Graham’, it becomes obvious that ‘me’ is correct’ not ‘I’.

            If you think that’s link is talking rubbish, search for others – they’ll all tell you the same.

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