Thursday night, November 2nd, I traveled into far off Tampa (just 30 miles away, but after living in the country for the past 6 years, it feels like a world away). John Cleese was appearing at the Straz Center, answering questions after a screening of the delightful film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
That movie holds up beautifully even after 40 years. YUP! Hard to believe, but that is when the movie was released, like a crazed armor wearing clown from the loony bin. If you have not seen it, do yourself a favor and find 94 minutes to enjoy some of the funniest writing, goofiest acting and really hysterical art and animation that you will find anywhere. If you have never seen this movie, you can watch a collection of some of the funniest scenes in this compilation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F41SSqJx2tU
Of course...do your best to actually watch the whole movie as Monty Python and God (he makes several appearances in the film) intended. After the screening, John came on stage with his daughter Camilla. She had a stack of blue cards with her, and, asked questions of her father that some of the audience had submitted. There were a few of the expected ones like "What is the airspeed of the unladen swallow?" (which John still cannot answer because he keeps forgetting to learn it) to a few more intimate ones about his life and career.
He answered all with witty good humor and proved, without having to try very hard, that his quirky sense of humor was as sharp as ever. John talked about himself, his family, the other Pythons and told some very funny, albeit black humor stories that he and the others in that troupe were famous for, such as - while visiting Germany several years ago, he and fellow Python Graham Chapman were driven to Dachau to see the remains on this terrible concentration camp that held and killed so many Jewish people during WWII. Their host got out of the car and went to get the tickets for them, and was told that the museum was actually closing early that day. Upon hearing this, Graham called out to him from the car - "Tell them we're Jews". OY!
Part way through the interview, an adorable, tiny, white dog wandered onto the stage. Someone shouted out that there was a pig. The dog belongs to his daughter and sat with them for a bit while the Q&A session continued, and then would wander off and on the stage until they were done. John made it a point to explain to all of us how wonderful and important pets are in our lives and told us about his many cats. The man clearly loves these little animals.
At 78 he is as vibrant and funny as ever. If you get a chance to catch this show, do yourself a favor and go. It is worth it just to see the little doggy wandering around the stage. The movie and live conversation with John are a wonderful icing on the cake and a rare opportunity to see a master of comedy at work. We also learned that his name should actually be John Cheese, but that, his father had changed it when he went into the army and had just had it with the jokes. Little did he know at the time that his son would eventually turn jokes into an amazing career.
Thank you John and all of the Pythons for such a treasure!