John Cleese is a comedy legend and is one of the founding members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Cleese is also known for The Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, A Fish Called Wanda, and many, many others. Friday night was a treat, as Cleese did a Q & A session (mostly composed of audience suggestions) after a screening of the Holy Grail. Camilla Cleese, daughter of John and ex-wife Barbara Trentham, took the helm as Q&A moderator. Having her in this role did a number of things for the evening, chiefly keeping time and, for the most part, centering Cleese. With questions from the audience in hand, Camilla was able to coordinate the evening with questions that served as great follow-ups to stories John told, or as a catalyst into another story he was telling. In general, the jokes John told seemed well-rehearsed and played off Camilla well. Being a stand-up comedian in her own right, she was able to roll with all the jabs effortlessly.
At a glance, the “craziness” of the Q&A session wouldn’t really garner an idea of being a coherent piece of work, but when you stepped back to take a look, there were themes Cleese and Cleese were able to weave through the evening. Those themes, of course, were centered on the Python universe and were tied up nicely with the two video segments that John chose to share with the audience. Both the videos were focused on fellow cast member Graham Chapman, who passed away in 1989 from complications due to cancer. One was the infamous memorial service, and the second, the group’s first appearance after Chapman’s death many years later at the Aspen comedy festival.
Cleese noted that death is inevitable, and as humans, how we choose to embrace it is a matter of sanity. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, what right do we have to laugh at others? Cleese didn’t have to walk a fine line to know what was going to rile the audience, because he and his daughter have a connection that really was in tune with the audience. If John was to get too close to that point, Camilla was right there to keep the conversation going. The audience groans were few, at most.
John Cleese is a fan of the “dad” joke, as his daughter would point out, and a master of the sarcastic and absurd as well. Some of the jokes were telegraphed to an obvious ending, while others took the audience by surprise and got some of the biggest laughs of the evening. As a novice Python admirer, I found it nice to hear stories of how George Harrison got involved with the making of Life of Brian and how one joke/gag spawned into A Fish Called Wanda. Overall, the evening was fun, and while the Q&A session could have easily been chalked off to a podcast, Cleese and his daughter made us forget where we were and took us on a fun-filled ride. Sadly, there was no mention of Faulty Towers throughout the evening, but maybe next time.