John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again at Last... For the Very First Time

2 out of 5 stars
Founding Monty Python members John Cleese and Eric Idle on stage

Two of the founding members of Monty Python take to the stage for a half-scripted, half-improvised show, but it wasn't all we thought it was cracked up to be

Let’s start with the pros. The show opens with a request for a standing ovation – and no one hesitates. John Cleese and Eric Idle are comic legends who have blessed us with game-changing laughs since the ’60s. Query for instance whether we’d have the ’Boosh if not for its surrealist forebear Month Python’s Flying Circus.

Thereafter, Cleese and Idle take us for a spin through their storied history, with a couple of time-honoured skits performed live on stage, interspersed with archival footage. It’s a reminder that even now, their skits can shock – when they revisit Monty Python’s Undertakers skit where a mortician suggests a casual spot of cannibalism it’s met with stunned silence by about three quarters of the audience and guffaws from the balance. So for all of the silliness and the boundary pushing, we say thanks.

Also, so long as Eric Idle has a twinkle in his eye, his cheeky-chappie shtick is never going to get tired. Singing along with him during ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ feels like ticking a life goal and he’s still a mischievous bugger; when passing through Brisbane he autographed Terry Gilliam’s new book, Gilliamesque, and snuck it back on shelf.

Another plus was the opportunity to have a peek at some of the pair’s lesser-known arcana including a clip of George Harrison insisting on playing pirate instead of singing ‘My Sweet Lord’ on Idle’s 1975 Rutland Weekend TV show.

Now for the cons. One of the show’s highlights involved the two responding to questions written down by audience members before kick off. As you’d expect, Idle and Cleese are whip smart and hell funny. However, it would have been great to see them engage in more off-the cuff banter because the reliance on archival footage and the regurgitation of their history seemed a little lazy. Let’s face it, they could have done the show with their eyes closed. Our companion reminded us that they’re both in their ’70s and that it was par for the course. Bullshit. They’re still kicking.

Cleese posed a few thornier problems. First, the plug for the stage version of Fawlty Towers, in which he’s not even performing, was shameless.

Secondly, his foray into thornier topics was a disappointment. Cleese bemoaned political correctness and the demise of the racial joke. He dismissed the brunt of such jokes, by querying, “are they so pathetic they can’t defend themselves?”. Well done, John Cleese, you've successfully identified one of the issues faced by disempowered minorities. Sometimes, people lack the voice and access to advantages that accompany white (male) privilege.

Similarly, Cleese’s newer material – a two-part skit taking a dig at Sweden’s purported humourlessness – missed the mark. The second part of the skit involved Cleese playing a Swedish newsreader and announcing that Sweden’s fun week had been cancelled because six of the event’s organisers had topped themselves. Aside from the obvious issues with laughing at suicide, things got very grim at this point (and not in a helpful, educative, thought-provoking kind of way).

Also, jokes about women being money-grubbing whores need to be retired (“Where do you find a married man’s wallet – between his thighs”). It’s misogynistic, tired and they can do so much better. Especially when the average ticket to hear all of this exceeded $100. 

By: Meg Crawford


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