JOHN CLEESE IS HERE

On October 5, 1969 “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” debuted on the BBC changing sketch comedy forever. “Monty Python” alumnus John Cleese is here for a silly walk down memory lane.

Aired on October 9, 2018 & October 4, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> THIS PARROT IS NO MORE.

IT HAS CEASED TO BE.

THIS IS A LATE PARROT.

THE CLASSIC DEAD PARROT SKETCH.

IN 1969 THE BBC INTRODUCED THE WORLD TO A NEW BRAND OF COMEDY, A GROUP OF SKETCH COMEDIANS PUT TOGETHER A PROGRAM SO UNIQUE AND DIFFICULT, THAT IT Q ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS A FLYING CIRCUS.

'MONTY PYTHON'S' FLYING CIRCUS.

JOHN CLEESE RECENTLY SAT DOWN WITH RAFAEL P. ROMAN TO REFLECT ON THE ORIGINS OF THE SHOW'S COMEDIAN CHEMISTRY AND ITS HISTORIC RUN HERE ON PBS.

WE NEVER THOUGHT IT WOULD HAVE A CHANCE IN THE UNITED STATES.

WE NEVER HAD ANY IDEA IT WAS GOING TO CATCH ON.

OF COURSE, IT DIDN'T CATCH ON UNTIL WE STOPPED MAKING TELEVISION SHOWS.

IT STARTED IN DALLAS IN '74.

THE PBS STATION.

YES.

ALL HIS FRIENDS RANG THE NEXT MORNING AND SAID, HAVE THEY BURNED THE STATION?

IT'S ALL RIGHT.

IT'S OKAY.

IT CAUGHT ON.

AND THEN SOMEBODY ON PBS ONCE SAID IF IT WASN'T FOR 'MONTY PYTHON,' WE MIGHT NOT STILL BE AROUND BECAUSE WE DREW A LOT OF PEOPLE.

HOW DID THE SIX OF YOU COME TOGETHER, THE SIX UPON ANY PYTHONERS?

WE KNEW EACH OTHER IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

GILLIAM SAW ME ON STAGE AND SAID HE LIKED THE FACES I PULLED.

ENORMOUS COMPLIMENT.

CHAPMAN I KNEW FROM CAMBRIDGE IN '62.

I JUST MET ERIC, IT WAS MY LAST YEAR.

IT WAS HIS FIRST.

WE SORT OF KNEW EACH OTHER.

AND THEN THESE ARE THE GUYS, THE OXFORD GUYS, MIKE AND TERRY.

THEY HAD DONE A SHOW IN LONDON, AND THEN THEY WERE AT A FESTIVAL WHEN ERIC WAS THERE.

WE KNEW THEM PERIPHERALLY.

WHEN DAVID KNEW THE SHOW, THEY WERE ON THE WRITER'S TABLE.

THE SCRIPT EDITOR, THERE WAS MYSELF, CHAPMAN, PALIN, JONES.

AND THEN, OF COURSE, THERE WERE OLDER THAN US.

WE ALL GOT ON TERRIBLY WELL TOGETHER THE VERY FIRST MEETING WHEN WE WENT ALONG TO THE HEAD WRITER AT BBC AND THE GUY WHO GREETED US AND HE SAID I'VE HEARD YOU WANT TO DO A SERIES.

WE SAID YES.

HE SAID, WHAT ARE YOU PROPOSING TO DO?

SO TYPICAL OF PYTHON.

THERE WAS AN AWKWARD SILENCE BECAUSE WE HADN'T DISCUSSED IT.

NO IDEA WHAT KIND OF SHOW YOU WANTED.

HE SORT OF ASKED US.

WELL, WE'RE GOING TO DO A HUMOROUS SHOW TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH WITH COMEDY MATERIAL AND JOKES AND VISUAL GAGS.

HE SAID GO MAKE 13 PROGRAMS.

EVEN WITHOUT A PILOT?

WITHOUT A PILOT.

HE GAVE US A WHOLE SERIES.

HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WE WERE GOING TO DO.

AND WE DIDN'T KNOW.

BUT I LEARNED FROM THAT, YOU SEE.

I THINK THAT'S WHY IT WAS SO CREATIVE.

PEOPLE WILL BE SURPRISED.

IF WE COME UP WITH A CONCEPT AFTER THAT, WE WOULD HAVE BENEFITTING OUR STUFF INTO THE CONCEPT.

BY STARTING OUT LITERALLY NOT KNOWING WHAT WE WERE DOING.

A BLANK SLATE.

EXACTLY.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHICH SKETCH WOULD GO ON THE AIR?

WE'D ALL GO AWAY AND WRITE AND WE'D SIT AROUND THE TABLE AND READ IT OUT.

AND IF PEOPLE LAUGHED, IT WAS IN THE SHOW.

IF PEOPLE LAUGHED AT HALF OF IT WE'D SAY WE'LL KEEP THE FUNNY BIT.

WE GOT THIS WAY OF DOING IT WITH KIND OF A FLOW BY CUTTING SKETCHES OFF AT THE MOMENT.

THERE WAS NO COMPETITION AS TO WHO WOULD PLAY WHAT PART.

NONE AT ALL.

WE WERE WRITERS.

PEOPLE DON'T BELIEVE ME.

IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND PYTHON, WE WERE SIX WRITERS WHO HAPPEN TO PERFORM OUR OWN STUFF.

SO THE SQUABBLING WAS ABOUT MATERIAL.

IN A SENSE THE MOTIVATION WAS VERY ARTISTIC.

WHAT'S THE BEST WAY OF DOING IT?

SHOULD THE SKETCH GO THIS DIRECTION OR THAT DIRECTION?

IS THIS PARTICULAR PIECE FUNNY OR SHOULD IT BE REWRITTEN?

THAT'S WHAT WE ARGUED ABOUT LIKE CATS AND DOGS.

EITHER WAY IT WAS GOOD BECAUSE WE CARED.

ONCE WE GOT TO CASTING, IF I HAD WRITTEN A SKETCH WHERE I KNEW.

A LOT OF THE SKETCHES WOULD BE CONSIDERED TODAY INSENSITIVE, IF NOT DOWN RIGHT OFFENSIVE, RIGHT?

I LOVE INSENSITIVE.

DOWNRIGHT OFFENSIVE.

IT BEGS THE QUESTION COULD 'MONTY PYTHON' BE BORN TODAY?

NO.

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

WE'D NEVER GET AWAY WITH IT.

BACK IN '69 WE NEVER THOUGHT WE COULD GET AWAY WITH IT ON AMERICAN TELEVISION.

NOW WE'VE GOT BACK THERE WHICH IS A LITTLE BIT SAD.

THE WONDERFUL THING IS THAT PYTHONS SEEMED TO HAVE A LICENSE.

PEOPLE THOUGHT, WELL, YOU ALWAYS DID THIS.

IT'S NOT AS IF YOU SUDDENLY STARTED DOING IT.

ANOTHER THING IS IF PEOPLE GET OLD, IF PEOPLE COME TO SEE ME, THEY'RE THERE BECAUSE THEY LIKE MY STUFF.

THEY'RE PRESELECTED TO BE OKAY WITH THE KIND OF MATERIALLY DO.

I LIKE PLAYING WITH THIS BECAUSE IT'S VERY FUNNY SOMETIMES WHEN THE AUDIENCE GOES [ GASP ]. IT'S FUN TO PLAY WITH THAT STUFF INSTEAD OF IMAGINING THAT EVERYONE IS SO FRAGILE, THAT IF YOU MAKE A JOKE ABOUT THEM, THEY'RE GOING TO FALL APART.

I HAVE TO ASK YOU BECAUSE I WANT TO KNOW.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ALL-TIME 'MONTY PYTHON' SKIT?

PROBABLY THE --

A NOR WEEJIAN --

WHEN I READ THAT OUT, I HAD THE HAPPYIEST MOST OF MY ENTIRE PYTHON CAREER WHICH WAS THAT MICHAEL STARTED TO LAUGH AT 30 SECONDS.

IT WAS SHEAR PREDICTABILITY, AND HE STARTED TO LAUGH AND HE COMPLETELY LOST IT, AND I HAD NEVER SEEN HIM LAUGH LIKE THAT.

HE SLID OFF HIS CHAIR ONTO THE FLOOR AND ROLLED AROUND ON THE FLOOR, UNABLE TO STAND UP.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019