An Evening with John Cleese
17 March 2012, Comedy Theatre, Melbourne.
As I walked into the Comedy Theatre on Exhibition St there was a buzz of celebration in the air. The large crowd gave the very distinct impression that something big was about to happen. John Cleese was set to tread the boards within the half-hour and there was a sense of anticipation in the crowd. Though it was largely an audience of older gents, there were certainly a few young fans mingling with the longtime fans, which created a strange kind of unity within the audience.
Presiding over the evening was ABC Radio presenter Richard Stubbs, who had the unenviable task of interviewing one of the funniest men in showbiz. The first half of the evening was largely a retrospective on his career and life. This would have been more interesting to hardcore fans than for the casual fan, and as I fall into the latter category I felt that in parts the first half dragged. A lot of information was shared about family life and Cleese's home town, and in parts it felt very rehearsed.
What was interesting however, was finding out about the interconnectivity that existed in the arts scene of Cleese’s time. He performed in a revue which toured internationally with Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor, two members of the British comedy heavyweight trio The Goodies, as well as many future members of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Cleese’s manner and wit were very much in check at all times of the lengthy, and no doubt by now tiresome, interview (he has told the same story five nights a week for many months now). When discussing the scriptwriting techniques of the Pythons it was disappointing to find myself hearing all the same examples and anecdotes that had been spread across television and radio for months.
The use of visual aids was something that was often seen in the first half. This added an extra dimension and broke up the interview a little bit. The live rendition of the infamous "fish-slapping" skit had the crowd in stitches.
However, by far the most humorous aspect was seen in Cleese's anecdote about the funeral of ex-python Graham Chapman. For those of you planning to see the show I will not spoil it for you, but for those interested, YouTube the following: "Graham Chapman Funeral John Cleese".
I was a little relieved when the interview ended and interval arrived, as I thought we were finally going to get some stand-up from a legend of comedy.
The second half of the show played exactly the same as the first! Except this time Cleese didn’t have Richard Stubbs interviewing him. All he did was speak, on his own, about various aspects of pythonesque humor before cutting to a video displaying it. It was more like a high school presentation than a comedy show. Thankfully Cleese's dry manner and tried-and-tested video clips provided great humor, as they should have.
Anyone who was looking for some original comedy from one of the greatest men to ever silly-walk was not going to be getting it. I didn’t buy my ticket so I could have a YouTube session with John Cleese. Whilst it was great to find out which sketches were his favorites, it would have been great to see some stand-up from Cleese. I can, however, see the appeal of the former for a longtime hardcore fan.
At a hefty $100+ this show was really only for the part of the audience who could quote the entirety of Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life or A Fish Called Wanda. I almost felt ostracised from some parts of the show.
The only concession I can really make is that Cleese is by trade a scriptwriter, not a performer. He made note of this fact all evening and while anyone who’s seen any of his shows would know he can absolutely perform, it perhaps explains how overscripted the performance was.
While it was an enjoyable night at the theatre, I’m not sure An Evening With John Cleese was all it was cracked up to be.
2 and a half out of 5.
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