The comedian and actor on his pet hates and staying with the real Basil Fawlty
Yes, John Cleese is as tall as we think, and he still has that gait as he strides on stage to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. He obliges with occasional oral explosions and outrageous comments, as we require. As he leaves, he snatches his notes from the podium, intentionally all Fawlty-like.
He’s casual, wearing a navy polo short and jacket, and, delightfully, (I’m almost sure) no socks under what look like navy moccasin slippers.
Talking with the Monty Python member about Peter Sellers, failure, and why he prefers disrespectful interviewers.
It was absurdist. It didn’t try to be intellectual, yet it at its core it still was. I always had an affinity for the silly, and the humor of The Goon Show was just that. It was also very subversive. Spike and [co-creator Harry Secombe] were in the armed forces during the Second World War, you see, and they had developed a rather disrespectful attitude towards authority and the officers, and that was always coming through in the show — just a disrespect for the pompous old-style English guys and the upper class. And that anti-authority really spoke to us [in Python]. People used to ask us to describe what sort of humor Monty Python was because they didn’t know how to categorize us. We’re just silly. Other people who come across us can give us labels if they want.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone working in comedy that hasn’t creatively cribbed from Monty Python. The influential British comedy troupe’s trademark surrealism, self-referencing, and artistic anarchy has been coded into the DNA of many modern architects of America’s absurdist comedy Zeitgeist, from Doug Kenney to Amy Sedaris to the minds behind Mr. Show. [ . . . ]
The film turns the real-life machinations of Stalin’s subordinates into an uproarious, political spoof. And its timing couldn’t be better.
“I feel like Trump, in his own way, is killing art,” actor David Duchovny told me recently. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between art and gesture, because it seems like there’s so much gesture everywhere. I’m interested in politics, but I’m thinking about it all the time. It’s exhausting. But then art is a luxury, so maybe this is the time when we have to deal with what’s real.”
Duchovny’s comments came back to me while watching Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin,” a film about the power struggle in the Soviet Union in the immediate aftermath of the brutal leader’s death. A remarkable, dark comedy, it turns the real-life machinations of Stalin’s subordinates into an uproarious, political spoof through some of the more biting satire in recent memory. And the timing is impeccable: Today’s news seems stranger — and less funny — than ever.
“In extreme situations, when everything is falling apart, people should turn to humor,” says Monty Python alum Michael Palin, who plays Stalin intimate Vyacheslav Molotov. According to Palin, the comedy of the Pythons and the comedy in “The Death of Stalin” aren’t all that dissimilar. Both speak truth to power and shine a spotlight on the ridiculousness of it all, making the movie feel perfectly tailored for the Trump era.
“Humor is a very strong force for dealing with people who have gone power mad,” Palin told me. “It’s the one thing that they can’t really deal with; they can deal with any kind of opposition, but being laughed at they really don’t like.” [ . . . ]