Monty Python’s Latest One Night Stand

Discussing history with Terry Jones.

Discussing history with Terry Jones.
(Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

Last Thursday night, the living members of legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python — John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, along with their beloved female co-star Carol Cleveland — attended the New York premiere of the six-part IFC documentary Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), which is currently airing on IFC through Thursday of this week and is out next week on DVD. I covered the red carpet event for AOL TV and also got Terry Gilliam to chat about his upcoming films for Moviefone. I ended up with some extra material that is an ADD exclusive. I was able to chat with everyone except Eric Idle. Here is the rest of the Q&A. For my chat with Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson on the red carpet, click here. Hopefully it will not take another few years before the members of Monty Python reunite in public again.

Terry, how have people in England responded to a comedian, albeit one with an English degree from Oxford, writing books and essays about medieval history and politics, particularly given the fact that you’re challenging conventional viewpoints?
Terry Jones: People seem to take it seriously. I think the medievalists love the fact that I’m getting involved in medieval subjects because it makes a bit sexy for them. They get more undergraduates coming along and studying it. The last book I wrote was Who Murdered Chaucer? I was actually writing with some other medievalists as well.

Michael Palin is all smiles on the red carpet. (Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

Michael Palin is all smiles
on the red carpet.
(Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

Are you amazed that 40 years later how much of a furor Monty Python still creates, and do you see it still resonating with modern British sketch comedy?
Terry Jones: I tell you, I don’t really watch television, so I don’t really see anything. I’ve got no idea what’s going on at the moment. I did see Ricky Gervais’ film The Invention Of Lying, and I think the first three quarters of the film are brilliant. It’s really great. The dénouement doesn’t really work for me, but otherwise it’s a brilliant film.
Michael Palin: I think we were able to do lots of different things in Python. It is very difficult to pin down. It was partly slapstick, it was semi-serious, some intellectual stuff that wasn’t really intellectual. There was wordplay, music and Gilliam’s amazing animation. I don’t think anybody could really pin it down. We did an awful lot in a very, very short time. There weren’t that many shows, 45 shows, and they were packed with lots of different things.
Carol Cleveland: It hasn’t gotten the cult following [in England] that it has here in America. I think the Americans are far more into their cults than we are. We’re not cult orientated, but the Yanks are. In that respect it will probably go on longer here than in England because the Americans don’t let go. [laughs]

Carol, of all the sketches you did, which one was your favorite?
Carol Cleveland: My favorite was “Scott Of The Sahara,” which was a sendup of [the film] Scott of the Antarctic. It was one of the lesser known sketches, but it was also one of the longer sketches, and it won an award in France, the Montrose Award. It all took place on a beach that they covered in fake snow. It was all a big sendup.

Carol Cleveland made a striking entrance with her red outfit. (Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

Carol Cleveland made a striking entrance
with her bright red dress.
(Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

Michael, you’ve been around the world for more than 80 days for your various travel programs. I recall you eating snake at a restaurant in China. With all these wild experiences you’ve had traveling the globe, is there great sketch comedy material that you’ve collected?
Michael Palin: [laughs] I think in many ways the travel programs depend on humor and comedy. You’ve got to have that humorous perspective on it. You don’t want to put people down. You’re just saying they do funny things in this country. That’s just the way they do it. They’re different to us and unfamiliar. But certainly traveling the world, I know that carrying a sense of humor is vital and kept me going. So I was just happy to do the traveling and get the laughs along the way.

A jovial John Cleese was generous with his time. (Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

A jovial John Cleese was
generous with his time.
(Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

John, aren’t you’re going on tour soon with a show called A Ludicrous Evening with John Cleese… or How to Finance Your Divorce?
John Cleese: Yes, I’m going out on tour in two weeks. I start in Modesto and then go up the coast to Seattle, Portland and places like that and finish up down in San Diego, then inland to Arizona. Sixteen shows in about three and a half weeks. I quite enjoy it. The killer is flying. I was just in Norway — six flights in seven days, seven shows in nine days, an absolute killer. If you can get in a comfy bus when you finish the show, it’s pretty easy. I like performing on my own. My way of performing is very different now. I used to just look at the black, but now I have the lights on the audience because I like the sense of being in contact with the audience. It’s something I used not to do, and now I find that works better for me. I do about an hour in the first half and 45 minutes for a second, then I do a Q&A, and what really pisses me off is that everybody likes the Q&A best of all. I write this funny material, polish it, perform it and rehearse it, and I come out and do it, then the Q&A is what everyone says is the best bit.

Eric Idle: The missing (interview) link. Next time! (Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

Eric Idle: The missing (interview) link. Next time!
(Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

A lot of your film and television work from over the years is coming out on DVD. Are you happy about that, and are there any favorite works of yours that you have?
John Cleese: There aren’t favorites so much. When I’m in one mood I might choose one thing, and when I’m another mood I might choose another. I’m very fond of Clockwise, although I think we screwed up the last three or four minutes. It was really good up until that point. I made a documentary about lemurs being released into the wild in Madagascar. I’m enormously fond of that because there’s a whole lot of me in that you that isn’t seen in any of the other things that I’ve done. It’s a mood thing. I’ve just been putting commentary on Fawlty Towers [The Complete Collection Remastered], and it was a great pleasure for me to see how funny those episodes were. Some of them I’ve not seen for 20 years. Sometimes people think I sit at home watching my old work. I don’t. But to see something after 20 years and find it’s still really funny is very satisfactory.

You’ve done some funny authoritarian roles in Python and bumbling roles in other projects. Is there a role that you would like to do that would represent a side of you that people haven’t seen?
John Cleese: The one role I would love to do…do you know the play Art? Yasmina Reza, a French woman, wrote it. I would like to play the guy who didn’t like the painting in Art. If anyone knows the play then they’ll know what I’m talking about. That’s the one part I would really like to play. In other ways I find writing so much more interesting than acting. I don’t particularly look forward to acting.

Terry Gilliam talks film. Check out our Q&A on Moviefone; linked above.
(Photo ©2009 by Gail Flug.)

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