Exclusive: John Cleese “I never thought the silly walks sketch was very funny”

cleeseJohn Cleese reveals his opinion on Silly Walks, the future of comedy, the Monty Python reunion, political correctness his plans and marriage!!

Silly walks: “I never liked the sketch that much”

“I was always good at timing and later I taught myself how to move physically. I wasn’t a natural mover, but if I worked the movements out, like I did with the silly walks literally practised them again and again and again then I could. Nobody was was watching but I do know the people living in the flat downstairs said to me the next week ‘what were you doing last week?’ Cause I was doing this in a 5 floor flat, I was doing these strange movements and our neighbour could hear them.
People used to ask me to do it (the silly walk) . I’m too old now I couldn’t possibly. I worked it all out because my legs were so odd and loose that I could do strange things with them. But it’s very simple stuff if you look at it. It’s just that when I kick up high it looks rather spectacular. It wasn’t difficult back then, I was reasonably athletic and I would do a lot of stretching, but when I had to do it on stage each night at the Python show it was quite energetic, I had to work quite hard at it and I never liked the sketch that much. I never thought the sketch was very funny and when we were doing the stage show I was trying to get it dropped from the show. I just didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t want to do it, I said to them ‘it’s not that funny a sketch’. ‘Cause it was written by Palin and Jones, they’re not very good you know. But I made it by the brilliance of my performance, so it worked on the television. But then on the first night that we did it in the show in Brighton, the first time we ever did it onstage, I did it to complete silence it was appallingly embarrassing. I was doing all this stuff and the audience was just sitting there. It was awful, and I said ‘you see?’. I came of, I was triumphant, I said: ‘You see, it’s no bloody good. I never want to do it again.’ And they said ‘Oh, please, please do it just once more tomorrow.’ And I went on the next night and the bastard audience laughed. And then I was stuck with it. I was stuck with the bloody thing and I had to do it every night.
When I actually performed it on TV the fist time it got a reasonable amount of laughter, but it wasn’t a huge hit. And sometimes just suddenly things become huge. You never know when that’s gonna happen you see. I mean if you listen to the Dead Parrot the first time we ever did it in 1969 the laughter is in no way remarkable. And I don’t quite remember how it became this extraordinary thing that everybody knows about. I think it’s when we started doing it onstage and then we did it in the Amnesty show and somehow everyone seemed to know about it and I don’t really understand.”

Humour “there is only three types of films being made”

“I don’t think you could make Life of Brian now. I have several friends, younger writers in Hollywood and they basically say there is only three types of films being made; there are animated films for families, there are romantic comedies and there are big things about things being blown up. I was thinking about writing a film about things being blown up and calling it; “People dressed in black being unpleasant to each other”. Certain things have got easier, but political correctness has come along now. There was a very funny sequence in a Fawlty Towers where the major was discussing racial prejudice he was explaining to his girlfriend what the difference was between a wap and a wog. He was explaining it quite clearly, and obviously we were parodying it but some people without a sense of humour would say you shouldn’t be saying those words. You see there is two ways of making fun of something one is a direct critical assault on things and actually to say the things that these people are saying but to make it ridicules. But then there is always someone not realising that you try to make it ridicules and think you actually mean it and you can’t cater to them otherwise a certain type of humour would disappear. That is one thing we can’t do anymore because of political correctness.

Marriage: “in America you have equality of the sexes until you get into the divorce court”

”I’m happy now, I’ve finally got a good one. I wish (my other three marriages) had been as quick as a bullfight. The marriage with Connie was very good and I’m very, very pleased that happened, we are still good friends. The marriage to Barbara, I mean the dear woman is not with us anymore, we were very fond of each other but she was an alcoholic who had bipolar problems, so as I often say I really could pick ‘em. But I do have a lovely daughter from that. The third one I really should have got out of many, many years before. ‘Cause that’s cost me a lot of money, 20 million dollars – no children, incredible. The wonderful thing is, you tell people this in Scandinavia they ask ‘why do you have to pay her anything?’ Because they have real equality of the sexes. But in America you have equality of the sexes until you get into the divorce court.
My Alimony tour and the Monty Python reunion were all for financial reasons, we were all in the red. I had mixed emotions during the reunion. During the second O2 performance I looked out into the audience, 16.000 people, and didn’t feel in the least bit excited. Quite strange. Thankfully the enthusiasm of the audience pulled me through, so I can agree with Eric: a heart-warming goodbye.
I long for the day I can retire and focus on what I like; traveling, reading, writing and psychology, As a celebrity everyone wants a piece of you. I’ve been asked to baptise a cat, be part of rituals and meditations and what have you. I have a fake hip and knee for some time now, but have never felt as physically bad as I do now. I have too much going on in my head to relax and keep fit, I always feel tired.
I think I now know the secret of a good relationship. I think the most important thing is not to take things to seriously. And I think when people get uptight and stressed they start making an enormous business about things. And most of the time it doesn’t matter. But I think you have to live quite a long time to realise that most of it doesn’t matter.
Humour is also important. The extraordinary thing about the third one. I remember one of my greatest friends who was a famous Hollywood scriptwriter said ‘did it ever struck you that you as one of the better known comedians in the world are married to a woman with no sense of humour?’ and I remember thinking; ‘yes, that is a little odd, actually.’” I just think it was just another mistake. But Jenny, my present wife, she just breaks me up all the time, she is just very, very funny. She’s mad as a hatter and I love her to bits. We have three cats. So part of the secret of a happy marriage is no children. They are hopeless little bastards they cost a fortune, you worry yourself sick about them and then they turn out like their mothers. Jenny and I hope to get a place in the sun one day and take our cats with us. That’s the long term plan. Because I think if you spend to many winters in Europe it shortens your life. I mean it’s no fun is it, getting to the end of the European winters. Next year we will go for six weeks, to relax and get me fitter.”” I am not scared of dying, my mother became 101, my dad made it to 79 and he was a chain smoker. But I worry about quality of life – losing spirit and memory. Walking slow is not a problem, being dragged about in a cart is.”

Future: “I want to translate a George Feydeau farce”

”As far as writing is concerned, it’s nice to do something that I enjoy doing. So I want to translate a George Feydeau farce, a French farce written in about 1890, brilliantly constructed, just like a piece of clockwork so brilliantly I am taking the construction and re-writing the play. And I think that will be fun. And I might do a musical of A Fish Called Wanda that will be fun, and I would love to make some documentaries. ‘Cause I’ve always been interested in religion but not in organised religion. I’d love to do a series called “What religion would have been if the churches hadn’t fucked it up” and that would be seriously interesting.”

The paperback of “So, Anyway” is out now …

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