Back in December of 2016, I got to see John Cleese and Eric Idle on stage together. It was the first time — and I presumed the last — that I would get to see any of the Monty Python cast live. Less than 18 months later, John Cleese returned to the DFW Metroplex, and I could not be more grateful to have been there.
The venue was the Toyota Music Factor in Irving, or as Cleese so accurately put it: “I’m sorry, we tried to book a proper theater for this. This is the first time I’ve ever performed in an aircraft hanger.” The venue was extremely open concept, the equivalent of an outdoor amphitheater, but with a roof, air conditioning, and tiny black gauzy curtains separating the auditorium from the concessions. I’m sure it’ll be popular with the kids as a place to showcase up and coming bands who don’t yet rank the colossal basketball court setup at the American Airlines Center. But for this, it was mostly acceptable… just not nearly classy enough, in my opinion, for a comedy legend such as Cleese.
I have to admit to being a bit surprised. When Cleese and Idle showed up last time (at a most proper theater), we had more cosplayers, albeit in the lobby of that theater, waiting to ambush us with menacing shouts of “Ni!” This time… I counted only five cosplayers in total. There was a group of four that arrived as Sir Galahad, Sir Bedevere, Zoot, and Sir Robin. One of them was “petting” the remarkably sedate Rabbit of Caerbannog. Arthur himself showed up by himself (what, no Patsy?) as we neared showtime, complete with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and two empty halves of makeshift coconuts. A lot of others showed up in Python-themed t-shirts, a number of which I wouldn’t mind owning myself. I don’t have any, you see. Seems like a serious oversight now.
As I say, the venue was big, which meant that the three-screen setup they had to show the movie made those screens look tiny. Good for rock concerts, I suppose, but tiny all the same. But let’s be honest here… this isn’t a film that needs high end treatment. It just needs a receptive audience, and we had that in spades. As an aside, I’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail twice before in public screenings: once back in college, and the other when the “special edition” was first released, offering us all 24 seconds of new footage (which is the version we were treated with this time). In both of those cases, fully half of the audience or more had not actually seen the film, which made for an awkward experience of stunned silence and muttered questions, followed by grumblings from those who don’t yet understand that maximum effect is achieved only during a second viewing… at which point this becomes one of the funniest movies ever made. This time, as the ticket prices were high enough to accommodate Cleese himself being there, the venue was full of those loyal fans who, like myself, know the movie by heart and for whom the punchlines never get old. Oh, and that one moron sitting a few rows back from me who kept shouting the lines at top volume after the moment had passed. Why audiences suffer idiots like this, I’ll never know. It meant that the movie experience was both perfect and ruined in equal measure with the beat of every passing joke. I spent the whole movie wishing Eric Idle would club him on the back of the head and take him away on a cart. Thanks, bub. Much appreciated. This, people, is why I don’t go to the movie theater anymore. Whatever. I wasn’t there to watch the movie, and we all know it. That’s just a bonus.
When Cleese took the stage, it was a two-chair Q&A setup. The questions were those written on cards by audience members, and the interviewer was Cleese’s “Saber-Toothed Daughter” from his second marriage, Jennifer. The Q&A ran nearly as long as the film itself, and few questions were actually asked as some of Cleese’s stories were quite lengthy. All of his stories were worthy side-splitters too. Most of the stories were anything but politically correct as true comedy cannot be sterilized and still remain funny, but such has always been the hallmark for all of the Pythons since before their careers began. His rant about the final sequence of the film, which he blames on Terry Gilliam, was just epic. I’ll hear that in my head every time I see it now, guaranteed. Mix in some history, some nostalgia, and some completely off the cuff British commentary, and you have an idea of the experience. Anything more defies explanation; you had to be there. Cleese was in rare form and clearly having a good time. I see in him a man who knows what it is to have had a life well-lived, who appreciates the ups and downs, and who ultimately gets the joke of it all and thinks it was worth it.
It was an amazing evening (that one moron behind me notwithstanding), brought to us by an amazing comic genius. I wouldn’t have traded this for the world.
Also, I took today off work, slept in (a rare luxury to be sure), relaxed, finished reading a novel (I’ll write up a review later), and generally enjoyed myself in the wake of the show. Not a bad 24-hour vacation!