It was Monty Python Nirvana.
Python alumni John Cleese and Eric Idle brought their “Together Again At Last…For The Very First Time” tour to Kelowna Monday night and for two hours stepped back in time to recount their 53 years of friendship via their work on the popular comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the several movies the series spun off and even Cleese’s seminal, short-lived comedy show Fawlty Towers.
At times the pair, now 76 (Cleese) and 73 (Idle) just sat in large red armchairs reminiscing with the audience, while at others they paced the stage, told stories about their performing past, sung songs, did short sketches and introduced video clips that kept the audience laughing.
Idle and Cleese, who met at Cambridge University in the UK in the early 1960s, went on to join another Cambridge grad Graham Chapman, and Oxford grads Michael Palin, Terry Jones as well as American-born Brit Terry Gilliam to form Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969.
The 45 episodes of the zany sketch comedy show over four seasons and ended in 1974.
According to Cleese, the show was approved by the head of light entertainment for the BBC after the group showed up at his office with no idea what their show would be about.
“He eventually just said go away and make 30 (episodes), and waved us out of his office.” said Cleese. “It was the most remarkable thing.”
He said never in the history of television has a series ever been approved by a person who did not know what the show would be about, after it was pitched by a group who also did not know what the show would be about.
But the innovative, stream-of-consciousness approach, interspersed with Gilliam’s animation, worked and was a hit. It has achieved a cult status that exists to this day.
As the pair recounted their two-hour oral history of Monty Python, they took a moment to remember the late Graham Chapman, who died of cancer in1989, ironically on the 20th anniversay of debut of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television series, according to Idle.
They also paid tribute to Jones, who Idle said now has such bad dementia he can’t speak.
In his honour, with photos of Jones playing the many characters he did over the years in the series and the movies projected on a screen behind, Idle played his guitar and sung one Monty Python’s most famous songs, Bright Side of Life.
The appearance by Cleese and Idle at Kelowna’s Prospera Place had the feel, despite taking place in a hockey arena, of an intimate sit down chat with two old codgers reminiscing about the past. But in the hands of two of England’s funniest men, the laughs kept coming.
At one point, after singing the Monty Python song from the Meaning of Life movie that goes into great detail about the earth, space and the universe, the Galaxy Song, a video was shown of a British professor critiquing the words—from a scientific point of view—that Idle wrote.
The, on the video, in mid-sentence, the pompous prof is run over by a man in an electric wheelchair. It’s non other than famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose equally famous computerized voice can be heard singing the Galaxy Song as speeds away.
Given the conversational approach to the show—two men talking—it was hard to envision what they would do for an encore. But when Idle and Cleese were called back onto the stage by the large crowd that clearly wanted to hear more, the pair pulled that one off too.
They sang a song. A very funny song. A profanity laden little ditty Idle penned and said he first played in Canada a few years ago. It was called F**k Christmas.
For many in the audience, especially those who grew up on a (un)healthy diet of Monty Python’s Flying Circus humour, the evening was a chance to peek behind the curtain at the zaniness that conceived the zaniness we all saw on our television screens following iconic music, the pronouncement “Now for something completely different,” and the animated foot stomping down.
In typical Idle fashion, he said the pair were not doing it for the money.
“We’re were doing it for the sex,” he deadpanned, adding “And for the sex, we need the money.”