Greedy Bastard: An Interview With(out) Eric Idle

Like the impractical optimists he plays in songs like “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life,” Idle keeps their memory alive as best he can. It would be easy to call it shameless or opportunistic…if he just wasn’t so damned charming.

 

As much as fans may hate to admit it, a hefty new coffee-table “autobiography,” The Pythons by the Pythons, and a 20th anniversary DVD of The Meaning of Life make it hard to ignore a simple fact: Monty Python is no more. They’ve joined the Choir Invisible and should be pushing up the bleeding daisies. Yet somehow (with the exception of Graham Chapman, who really is dead), the Pythons still keep moving, brought together for one anniversary or another, as on the “video reunion” on the new Meaning of Life disc, where the surviving Pythons, obviously filmed in different locations, awkwardly pretend to acknowledge each others’ presence, a sly dig at the contractual obligations that keep the Python name alive.

According to some reports, Eric Idle is the Python most committed to preserving the legacy. While John Cleese has written self-help books and secured comfy slots in both the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, Terry Jones and Michael Palin have explored the far regions of the world for BBC documentaries and Terry Gilliam has established himself as a worthy filmmaker. Idle, meanwhile, created the Python Web site, refigured Holy Grail as a Broadway musical (to be directed by Mike Nichols next year), released an album of familiar Python songs.
When I heard that Idle was bringing the latest version of his traveling show to town, I decided to try to get an interview that would address Python’s past, given the historical approach taken in the new book. I had, I thought, an advantage: a friend who had worked with Idle. I was warned that he was somewhat capricious and that my chances of getting an interview would depend on however he happened to be feeling that day. Still, the request was made and I soon received word that I could proceed with the interview. There were, however, a few conditions. I was told to read Idle’s online tour diary so that I wouldn’t repeat things he had already addressed. Furthermore, the interview would be conducted via e-mail, with our mutual friend acting as the go-between.

Eric Idle hit the stage of the Blanche Touhill Performing Arts Center on November 7 with confidence (introduced, inexplicably, by a recording of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A”). Think he’s arrogantly milking the Python legacy for all its worth? You bet!, he answers, building that arrogance into the show itself. After all, the show is called “The Greedy Bastard Tour” (an earlier tour was called, no less honestly, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python”), and the title itself gives him the right to milk the Python rep while maintaining a small ironic bridge from such accusations.
One might expect an evening soaked a little too uncomfortably in nostalgia, with loudmouths in the audience shouting out all of the punchlines as the great but now-familiar Python sketches are reduced to catchphrases. Surprisingly, Idle’s show brushes against sentiment for the Python past but doesn’t wallow in it. Part stand-up, part reminiscence, part sing-along, part “Monty Python’s Greatest Hits”, and part “Hey-Gang!-Let’s-Put-On-a-Show!” theatrics, it makes for a loose but pleasant evening. The familiar Python material is there (“Nudge Nudge,” “Argument Clinic”), performed with such enthusiasm that you’re more aware of the quality of the material than of the absence of Cleese et al. Idle even placed the Python sketches in historical context by nodding to the great boom of British comedy that preceded them, performing a brief Peter Cook sketch from “Beyond the Fringe” and a still-hysterical John Cleese pre-Python piece, in which four old men grumble about the preposterous hardships of their youth. There were bits of new material, as well, including a few digs at Bush, Ashcroft, and Iraq, and a country lament about “Killin’ for God.”

Idle was given a great deal of support by a small cast who added to makeshift nature of the show by moving props, providing back-up and holding their own in some of the roles strongly associated with other Pythons. Peter Crosse, an imposing, head-shaven man who looked like he’d more more at home at a bouncer in a seedy punk venue, was given some of the more fearsome ranting moments, including the long “taunt” of the French guard in “Holy Grail,” while Jennifer Julian displayed an impressive singing voice and followed the form of longtime Python associate Carol Cleveland in acting as a kind of visual punctuation mark to the naughtier bits.

By the end of “Greedy Bastard,” most of the doubts about this admittedly shameless attempt to repackage an irreproducible body of work were set aside. Yes, it’s fun to sing along to Idle’s music-hall ditties about penises and transvestite lumberjacks, and the verbal sketches prove to be so well-written that they hold up even in this new context. Monty Python was unique—“The Beatles” of comedy, as they’ve often been called—but the personalities of the individual performers survive the group’s demise. Like the impractical optimists he plays in songs like “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life,” Idle keeps their memory alive as best he can. It would be easy to call it shameless or opportunistic…if he just wasn’t so damned charming.

What, then, of my rather ponderous questions about the Python legacy? On the day of Idle’s performance, I received the following message from Idle, forwarded to me with an “I told you so” introduction:
“As I’m in St.Louis already, …answering all these questions for your friend becomes to say the least redundant….so I’m going to go to the movies instead. The only point in answering questions is to sell tickets. That’s the Greedy Bastard Philosophy.”

(A very big thank you to Jeanna Crawford for her efforts.)

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Greedy Bastard: An Interview With(out) Eric Idle

As much as fans may hate to admit it, a hefty new coffee-table “autobiography,” The Pythons by the Pythons, and a 20th anniversary DVD of The Meaning of Life make it hard to ignore a simple fact: Monty Python is no more. They’ve joined the Choir Invisible and should be pushing up the bleeding daisies. Yet somehow (with the exception of Graham Chapman, who really is dead), the Pythons still keep moving, brought together for one anniversary or another, as on the “video reunion” on the new Meaning of Life disc, where the surviving Pythons, obviously filmed in different locations, awkwardly pretend to acknowledge each others’ presence, a sly dig at the contractual obligations that keep the Python name alive.

According to some reports, Eric Idle is the Python most committed to preserving the legacy. While John Cleese has written self-help books and secured comfy slots in both the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, Terry Jones and Michael Palin have explored the far regions of the world for BBC documentaries and Terry Gilliam has established himself as a worthy filmmaker. Idle, meanwhile, created the Python Web site, refigured Holy Grail as a Broadway musical (to be directed by Mike Nichols next year), released an album of familiar Python songs.
When I heard that Idle was bringing the latest version of his traveling show to town, I decided to try to get an interview that would address Python’s past, given the historical approach taken in the new book. I had, I thought, an advantage: a friend who had worked with Idle. I was warned that he was somewhat capricious and that my chances of getting an interview would depend on however he happened to be feeling that day. Still, the request was made and I soon received word that I could proceed with the interview. There were, however, a few conditions. I was told to read Idle’s online tour diary so that I wouldn’t repeat things he had already addressed. Furthermore, the interview would be conducted via e-mail, with our mutual friend acting as the go-between.

Eric Idle hit the stage of the Blanche Touhill Performing Arts Center on November 7 with confidence (introduced, inexplicably, by a recording of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A”). Think he’s arrogantly milking the Python legacy for all its worth? You bet!, he answers, building that arrogance into the show itself. After all, the show is called “The Greedy Bastard Tour” (an earlier tour was called, no less honestly, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python”), and the title itself gives him the right to milk the Python rep while maintaining a small ironic bridge from such accusations.
One might expect an evening soaked a little too uncomfortably in nostalgia, with loudmouths in the audience shouting out all of the punchlines as the great but now-familiar Python sketches are reduced to catchphrases. Surprisingly, Idle’s show brushes against sentiment for the Python past but doesn’t wallow in it. Part stand-up, part reminiscence, part sing-along, part “Monty Python’s Greatest Hits”, and part “Hey-Gang!-Let’s-Put-On-a-Show!” theatrics, it makes for a loose but pleasant evening. The familiar Python material is there (“Nudge Nudge,” “Argument Clinic”), performed with such enthusiasm that you’re more aware of the quality of the material than of the absence of Cleese et al. Idle even placed the Python sketches in historical context by nodding to the great boom of British comedy that preceded them, performing a brief Peter Cook sketch from “Beyond the Fringe” and a still-hysterical John Cleese pre-Python piece, in which four old men grumble about the preposterous hardships of their youth. There were bits of new material, as well, including a few digs at Bush, Ashcroft, and Iraq, and a country lament about “Killin’ for God.”

Idle was given a great deal of support by a small cast who added to makeshift nature of the show by moving props, providing back-up and holding their own in some of the roles strongly associated with other Pythons. Peter Crosse, an imposing, head-shaven man who looked like he’d more more at home at a bouncer in a seedy punk venue, was given some of the more fearsome ranting moments, including the long “taunt” of the French guard in “Holy Grail,” while Jennifer Julian displayed an impressive singing voice and followed the form of longtime Python associate Carol Cleveland in acting as a kind of visual punctuation mark to the naughtier bits.

By the end of “Greedy Bastard,” most of the doubts about this admittedly shameless attempt to repackage an irreproducible body of work were set aside. Yes, it’s fun to sing along to Idle’s music-hall ditties about penises and transvestite lumberjacks, and the verbal sketches prove to be so well-written that they hold up even in this new context. Monty Python was unique—“The Beatles” of comedy, as they’ve often been called—but the personalities of the individual performers survive the group’s demise. Like the impractical optimists he plays in songs like “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life,” Idle keeps their memory alive as best he can. It would be easy to call it shameless or opportunistic…if he just wasn’t so damned charming.

What, then, of my rather ponderous questions about the Python legacy? On the day of Idle’s performance, I received the following message from Idle, forwarded to me with an “I told you so” introduction:
“As I’m in St.Louis already, …answering all these questions for your friend becomes to say the least redundant….so I’m going to go to the movies instead. The only point in answering questions is to sell tickets. That’s the Greedy Bastard Philosophy.”

(A very big thank you to Jeanna Crawford for her efforts.)

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Greedy Bastard: An Interview With(out) Eric Idle

As much as fans may hate to admit it, a hefty new coffee-table “autobiography,” The Pythons by the Pythons, and a 20th anniversary DVD of The Meaning of Life make it hard to ignore a simple fact: Monty Python is no more. They’ve joined the Choir Invisible and should be pushing up the bleeding daisies. Yet somehow (with the exception of Graham Chapman, who really is dead), the Pythons still keep moving, brought together for one anniversary or another, as on the “video reunion” on the new Meaning of Life disc, where the surviving Pythons, obviously filmed in different locations, awkwardly pretend to acknowledge each others’ presence, a sly dig at the contractual obligations that keep the Python name alive.

According to some reports, Eric Idle is the Python most committed to preserving the legacy. While John Cleese has written self-help books and secured comfy slots in both the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, Terry Jones and Michael Palin have explored the far regions of the world for BBC documentaries and Terry Gilliam has established himself as a worthy filmmaker. Idle, meanwhile, created the Python Web site, refigured Holy Grail as a Broadway musical (to be directed by Mike Nichols next year), released an album of familiar Python songs.
When I heard that Idle was bringing the latest version of his traveling show to town, I decided to try to get an interview that would address Python’s past, given the historical approach taken in the new book. I had, I thought, an advantage: a friend who had worked with Idle. I was warned that he was somewhat capricious and that my chances of getting an interview would depend on however he happened to be feeling that day. Still, the request was made and I soon received word that I could proceed with the interview. There were, however, a few conditions. I was told to read Idle’s online tour diary so that I wouldn’t repeat things he had already addressed. Furthermore, the interview would be conducted via e-mail, with our mutual friend acting as the go-between.

Eric Idle hit the stage of the Blanche Touhill Performing Arts Center on November 7 with confidence (introduced, inexplicably, by a recording of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A”). Think he’s arrogantly milking the Python legacy for all its worth? You bet!, he answers, building that arrogance into the show itself. After all, the show is called “The Greedy Bastard Tour” (an earlier tour was called, no less honestly, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python”), and the title itself gives him the right to milk the Python rep while maintaining a small ironic bridge from such accusations.
One might expect an evening soaked a little too uncomfortably in nostalgia, with loudmouths in the audience shouting out all of the punchlines as the great but now-familiar Python sketches are reduced to catchphrases. Surprisingly, Idle’s show brushes against sentiment for the Python past but doesn’t wallow in it. Part stand-up, part reminiscence, part sing-along, part “Monty Python’s Greatest Hits”, and part “Hey-Gang!-Let’s-Put-On-a-Show!” theatrics, it makes for a loose but pleasant evening. The familiar Python material is there (“Nudge Nudge,” “Argument Clinic”), performed with such enthusiasm that you’re more aware of the quality of the material than of the absence of Cleese et al. Idle even placed the Python sketches in historical context by nodding to the great boom of British comedy that preceded them, performing a brief Peter Cook sketch from “Beyond the Fringe” and a still-hysterical John Cleese pre-Python piece, in which four old men grumble about the preposterous hardships of their youth. There were bits of new material, as well, including a few digs at Bush, Ashcroft, and Iraq, and a country lament about “Killin’ for God.”

Idle was given a great deal of support by a small cast who added to makeshift nature of the show by moving props, providing back-up and holding their own in some of the roles strongly associated with other Pythons. Peter Crosse, an imposing, head-shaven man who looked like he’d more more at home at a bouncer in a seedy punk venue, was given some of the more fearsome ranting moments, including the long “taunt” of the French guard in “Holy Grail,” while Jennifer Julian displayed an impressive singing voice and followed the form of longtime Python associate Carol Cleveland in acting as a kind of visual punctuation mark to the naughtier bits.

By the end of “Greedy Bastard,” most of the doubts about this admittedly shameless attempt to repackage an irreproducible body of work were set aside. Yes, it’s fun to sing along to Idle’s music-hall ditties about penises and transvestite lumberjacks, and the verbal sketches prove to be so well-written that they hold up even in this new context. Monty Python was unique—“The Beatles” of comedy, as they’ve often been called—but the personalities of the individual performers survive the group’s demise. Like the impractical optimists he plays in songs like “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life,” Idle keeps their memory alive as best he can. It would be easy to call it shameless or opportunistic…if he just wasn’t so damned charming.

What, then, of my rather ponderous questions about the Python legacy? On the day of Idle’s performance, I received the following message from Idle, forwarded to me with an “I told you so” introduction:
“As I’m in St.Louis already, …answering all these questions for your friend becomes to say the least redundant….so I’m going to go to the movies instead. The only point in answering questions is to sell tickets. That’s the Greedy Bastard Philosophy.”

(A very big thank you to Jeanna Crawford for her efforts.)

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