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John Cleese’s huge comedic influence has stretched across generations; his sharp irreverent eye and the unique brand of physical comedy he perfected with Monty Python, on Fawlty Towers, and beyond now seem written into comedy’s DNA. In this rollicking memoir, So, Anyway…, Cleese takes readers on a Grand Tour of his ascent in the entertainment world, from his humble beginnings in a sleepy English town and his early comedic days at Cambridge University (with future Python partner Graham Chapman), to the founding of the landmark comedy troupe that would propel him to worldwide renown.
Cleese was just days away from graduating Cambridge and setting off on a law career when he was visited by two BBC executives, who offered him a job writing comedy for radio. That fateful moment—and a near-simultaneous offer to take his university humor revue to London’s famed West End—propelled him down a different path, cutting his teeth writing for stars like David Frost and Peter Sellers, and eventually joining the five other Pythons to pioneer a new kind of comedy that prized invention, silliness, and absurdity. Along the way, he found his first true love with the actress Connie Booth and transformed himself from a reluctant performer to a world class actor and back again.
Twisting and turning through surprising stories and hilarious digressions—with some brief pauses along the way that comprise a fascinating primer on what’s funny and why—this story of a young man’s journey to the pinnacle of comedy is a masterly performance by a master performer.
From the Hardcover edition.
(I’d arrived after the matinee and still remember an autograph hunter at the stage door asking me, “Are you anybody?” I was tempted to answer him ontologically, but instead told him a white lie, and denied my own existence.) When Harry greeted me, he immediately presented me with a beautiful coffee-table book—a copy of J. B. Priestley’s Man and Time. He’d remembered our conversation in Barbados! He then asked me if I would write some sketches for him to perform in a big TV special he had planned
that of the cheap pepperpots to be found in workplace canteens. In How to Irritate People we had them talking during a film—not very funny at all. But the biggest surprise of all—in fact it was a shock—was to realise just how poor the show was. And then I remembered in ghastly detail the truly horrendous day we recorded it. Up to that moment there had been no sign of danger: we thought the script was pretty good, and Michael Palin remembers the read-through, on the first day of rehearsal, as
a pompous man. He would like to have been, but he was so tiny he simply couldn’t pull it off. It’s tough being weighty when people can knee you in the head. So he had to make do with the kind of Cromwellian joylessness that banned Christmas puddings. Thus he wrote in my final school report: “I commend him for his dedication in practising his cricket.” Dedication?! You might as well praise a boy for his dedication to strawberries and cream, or masturbation. I practised cricket whenever I could
made the most celebrated anti-Frost jibe, that David “rose without a trace.” Well, if so, he nevertheless continued to leave more of one than she did. (Look her up online if you have a spare twenty seconds.) All that granted, though, David’s many admirers would never have accused him of a neurotic perfectionism; and the recording of the Frost Over Britain album was pretty slapdash. David did a number of monologues (some from That Was The Week That Was), and he and I performed three of my old
the recordings, and then tried to recall them again from scratch. I like to think I learned a lot about sketch construction from those two. I was always less interested in funny songs, but I did love Tom Lehrer, the Harvard mathematics teacher whose numbers sometimes contained much blacker humour than I’d heard before—about nuclear war, and venereal disease, and poisoning pigeons in the park. I was exhilarated by his stuff: I found it liberating, and very funny and oddly good-humoured, and I was