Monty Python alumni John Cleese and Eric Idle took the stage at the Majestic Theater last night for their comedy tour “Together Again at Last… For the Very First Time.” And I was there to see them!
There’s something about Monty Python. For my generation (and I suspect for many before and after me), these guys were something of a rite of passage, especially for geeks. I’m proud to say that my hometown of Dallas is where the Pythons got their foothold in the States, our local PBS station KERA being the first one in the country to carry Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Like so many, though, my first experience was their film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I remember me and my best friend at the time renting this on VHS after hearing others talk about it, and we sat there gobsmacked through the first viewing, not really sure what to make of it. When it was over, we turned to each other and asked what it was we just saw. Was it funny? Was it just silly? We were taken so off guard that something like this had even been made. So we watched it again, just to make sure we did indeed see what we’d really seen. And on that second viewing, we were laughing ourselves stupid and quoting along like old pros. I’ve been a Python fan ever since, introducing them to all those who, like myself, had somehow made it this far in life without knowing who they were. On the whole, I’m not even a fan of sketch comedy. But this… this is the gold standard for me.
On some level, I’m not even certain this evening happened. It’s too surreal for me to believe I was even in the same building as these comedy legends. To actually see them on stage, doing what they do best, was a dream come true.
We had balcony seats in a solidly packed house, 5th row. I zoomed out on the camera to get a better perspective of the whole stage, but this really makes look even farther away than it was. We were still close enough to make out every facial expression and every subtle gesture.
The guys took the stage almost half an hour late, but that by no means cut the performance time. The auditorium speakers were playing classic bits and song while we waited before Eric Idle’s voice announced that cell phones and camera flashes annoy the people around you. If you really want to annoy them, he added, stick your fingers in their ears or fart in their general direction. He also announced that anyone caught snapping photos or otherwise filming would be accosted by large scary people and hauled out a back entrance while audience members laughed and jeered.
Once they did take the stage, they assured us that they were not here for the money. In fact, they were here for the sex, and they needed the money to pay for the sex. For the first half of the show, the stage was more cluttered than what you see in the above picture, which I took during intermission. In addition to those chairs, there was a desk, a bookshelf, a guitar leaning against the left chair, and some other odds and ends that would all be used. What unfolded was one part nostalgic memoir of how the Pythons got started in showbiz, how they met, the road to success, etc., and one part “here’s an example of the bits we were doing at the time.” There was a mix of rare footage and classic bits on the screen combined with their live stage antics. One lucky person in the first few rows got quite the souvenir as after the bookshop sketch, Cleese tossed the ripped copy of Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds (now without the offending gannet or robin) into the audience, which it turns out was autographed by the both of them.
The second half of the show dealt with life after The Flying Circus, discussing how they got together for the films, how George Harrison mortgaged his house to finance The Life of Brian because he wanted to see the film (thus holding the record for the most anyone’s ever paid for a movie ticket), some of the various projects they’ve done since then, and basically catching us up to the present with more skits, more sketches, and a well-placed argument. One of the highlights, Cleese read off his eulogy that he did for fallen Python Graham Chapman’s funeral, which as he put it, it wouldn’t have been right if it didn’t cause a collective gasp from the audience. Idle agreed that the moment when you can stun an audience into a silent gasp is one of the single most rewarding moments in anyone’s career. To make his point, he told us an anecdote about how they were up in Canada on tour, and they did an audience Q&A. One member of the audience asked, “Did the Queen have Diana killed?” Our own audience gasped in silence, and Idle shouted in exuberance, “YES! That’s it exactly!” The house just lost it.
A nice little bonus: I didn’t know about the little show Idle did, Rutland Weekend. As such, I had no idea about George Harrison’s “Pirate Bob” character.
The show closed out with a sing-a-long, and the entire house joined in. The last time I saw something like this, Paul McCartney was performing “Hey Jude.” Seriously. With the lyrics up on the screen for those not in the know, we all sang a stirring rendition of “Sit On My Face,” followed by the number one song to be played at funerals in the UK, “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.” As an encore, we were given a little Christmas tune.
I have to tell you, 2016 has largely been a disappointment at the personal, professional, and political levels, sliding deeper and deeper into the muck with each passing month. There have been brighter spots to help offset things, of course, but not like this one. This show — these guys — this is one of the greatest memories of my life. I’ll even forgive the lady behind me who kept crinkling the bag of popcorn two inches from my ear through the majority of the second act (there’s always one, isn’t there?) simply because I had such a great time. Cleese and Idle pretty much balanced the scales and reminded me of far better things in life. I’m going to hold on to this one.