John Cleese Taunts Richmond a Second Time [11.10.17]

I’ll be honest; when tickets went on sale in June for an appearance by John Cleese that included a screening of the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ I was on the fence. I had seen Cleese along with fellow Python member Eric Idle in 2015, performing together and answering questions in what became a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. And tickets for The Holy Grail evening were close to $100 face value (over $100 with fees), so I was not certain that the evening would be worth it.

But the more I thought about it I told myself, ‘Remember back in 2004 when you were stunned that Eric Idle stopped in RVA on his solo tour? And you were floored that any member of Python would bother to stop in Richmond for any length of time?’ So the fact that a) John Cleese would be coming to the city where I live for the second time in two years, and b) He’ll be dead soon (as he admitted on stage) led me to buy a ticket for a film that I already own and have seen over one hundred times.

I thought I bought my ticket to see John, and trust me, he was great, but the true star and biggest surprise of the evening was the 4K Ultra-HD Digital Transfer of the film. I seriously doubt that the film looked that clean and vibrant when it premiered in 1975. I sat there in my fourth-row center seat completely in awe of how truly beautiful this film now is as a piece of ‘cinema.’ Yes, it’s silly, yes it’s absurd and yes the ending is horrible, but it is now truly majestic in its depiction of the times of King Arthur and his ‘English Kni-iiiiiiiiigh-its’

Soon after the film concluded, the house lights rose and Cleese’s daughter Camila walked onstage and announced that the interviewers on the previous leg of the tour were far too nice, so she was brought along to ‘get the dirt.’ She welcomed her dad and Cleese promptly announced that the movie we had all just seen wasn’t nearly as good as its followup, ‘Life of Brian.’ He’s right, ‘Brian’ is a better film, it was just a surprise to hear the star attraction admitting as much.

Over the next hour, Cleese lovingly berated all other members of Python. At one point he cracked himself up almost to the point of choking while telling the audience ‘You [Americans] elected someone [to the presidency] who has never read a book!!’ After collecting himself, he finished the thought, adding, ‘Now, if we’d written that ten years ago, Hollywood would’ve said ‘Yeah it’s funny, but it’s not believable.’

The kindest most sincere words of the evening were, not surprisingly said about his former writing partner in Python, Graham Chapman, whom Cleese said ‘became totally divorced from reality around 1968 and never returned.’ But, he said, Chapman’s greatest asset was as a sounding board and that ‘if Graham laughed, I knew I had something that would make the audience laugh.’ After that comment, the two Cleese’s left the stage while a film clip from Chapman’s 1989 memorial service was shown, where Cleese delivered a truly uproarious and fitting eulogy.

The 2014 Monty Python Reunion was momentous, and I’m very glad it stayed in England and didn’t have a US leg. That brief run of shows was a lovely way for them to make up and say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Goodbye’ at the same time. Michael Palin prefers to make travel programs, Terry Gilliam is a director, Terry Jones is ill and silenced by dementia, it’s possible though unlikely that Eric Idle would tour the US again, so this tour by Cleese, even though most of the evening was spent watching a film, was a way for Richmond’s Monty Python fans to say ‘Thank you’ to John and his comrades for for almost fifty years of laughs, which made for a truly wonderful evening.