All of the old Monty Pythons have their niches, be it as TV historians, TV travel presenters, film directors, stageshow writers or corpses. And John Cleese has his, too – as the star of a million phoned-in guest spots on rubbish American sitcoms.
That was at least true until recently, but now John Cleese has decided that he's too old to work any more; he wants to write a comprehensive book of the history of comedy and act as a teacher of comedy to youngsters instead. That's right – John Cleese has retired from comedy. It's funny – we've seen Fierce Creatures, and were under the impression that John Cleese retired from comedy at least nine years ago.
Part of us is looking forward to the day that we reach the stage of growing old where you look around you and feel the need to complain about how rubbish everything is… no wait, we're already a bit like that. What we mean is, the stage of growing old where suddenly everything was so much better in the old days, even though everyone was dead from dysentery at the age of 19 back then. The stage of growing old that John Cleese has just reached, in short.
John Cleese, for younger readers, didn't always be the old bloke from a few episodes of Will & Grace, or the old bloke from a few episodes of Third Rock From The Sun, or the old bloke who was in two short scenes in the last couple of James Bond films – he used to be quite a funny man. And now he's realised that he isn't so much, as he told The Times:
"I'm too tired to write new comedy. I can never do better than `Fawlty Towers,' whatever I do. Now I very much want to teach young talent some rules of the game."
And he'd like to do this by writing a book all about the history of stage, film and TV comedy stretching all the way from silent greats like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd to modern-day comedy like The Office. But presumably not Extras, which was a bit disappointing. Anyway, things really aren't as good as they were in John Cleese's day, you know:
“When the target audience is American teenage kids, you can have problems. My generation prized really fine acting and writing. Sometimes you have to go back to the basic principles which underpin great visual comedy… it is very rare today to see someone with that grasp of old-fashioned comedy. The last truly excellent live performance I saw was Eddie Izzard. But Ricky Gervais is also a match for the great American sitcoms.”
We're looking forward to reading John Cleese's comedy book, especially the chapter about how young policemen look these days and how those new 5p coins are too small to pick up.
[story by Stuart Heritage]