Last night I saw John Cleese at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary with my friend Zenon West. This was one stop on his Last Time To See Me Before I Die tour. For those interested in the phenomenon of Monty Python and really, the history of comedy in England from the 1960’s till now (which I am), this was a very entertaining and informative show. Mr. Cleese uses clips from the Monty Python TV series, as well as his films such as “A Fish Named Wanda” and the amazing Fawlty Towers to illustrate his points and to break up a very generous lecture of sorts – half lecture, half stand up comedy – which is always charming and informative.
The two hours go by so fast. It really is a brilliant evening. The audience is so appreciative to be in the presence of someone who has made us laugh for so many years. What a gift he has given us, the gift of laughter. I can think of none greater.
As I sat there, listening to one of my favourite people on the planet, I was taken back to an evening some forty years ago in my home town of Regina. It actually goes back maybe a year or so before then . . .
Some of you will have no frame of reference for this, but back in the 1970’s, not just in Regina but most anywhere, there were only a few channels on TV which were mostly black and white, and if you wanted to change the channel you had to physically do that on the set with a dial, there were no remote controls.
In Regina, there were two channels, CTV from Regina and CBC from Moose Jaw. (2 and 9, as I recall.) On Thursday nights at 9 on Channel 2 there was an hour long detective show on called Mannix, which I loved to watch. My friend Rick (aka Richard Campbell) told me about a new show that came on at 9:30 on Channel 9 called Monty Pythons Flying Circus which I wanted no part of.
On Friday mornings Rick would ask me if I’d watched Monty Python but I stood fast and remained true to Mannix. (Hey, if nothing else, I’m loyal.) Finally, one Thursday evening a little after 9, Rick walked over to my house and turned the channel on our old Zenith TV and made me watch Monty Python and from then till now I was hooked.
That summer, Rick and I learned that the Monty Python troupe was actually coming to the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts. We could hardly believe it. (No one came to Regina back then other than Valdy and Supertramp.) We were able to get front row tickets for the simple reason that not many people had heard of them by this time.
We were treated to an amazing show, all their TV sketches done live, and done word for word, as well. For a couple of aspiring theatre artists, this show must have had a more profound impact on us at the time than we could have known. I doubt that I’ve been more enthralled with a performance since.
After it was all over – after the flying edible missiles and dead parrots and cross-dressing lumberjacks and all the rest of it – Rick and I went back to stage door and waiting for them to come out. (The only time I’ve ever done such a thing.)
And then they came out. It would be hard to put into words the generosity they showed Rick and me that night. They not only signed our programs (which I have since lost, alas) but had Rick and me sign the various books and magazines they were reading, anything on hand really. As their cabs (and one limo) waiting to take them to their downtown hotel, they stood and engaged two young high school kids in conversation for what seemed like a good half hour. Amazing! It seemed so then and it seems so now, so many years later.
So, all that was going through my head last night as my friend Zenon and I watched Mr. Cleese’s very charming performance. After a well deserved standing ovation, it was over. Back in the day, back in Regina some 40 years ago, when the show was over they projected PISS OFF onto the curtains. The beauty of Monty Python was that we laughed at that. Of course we did. It’s funny.
No such thing last night, and when it was over, Zenon remarked that John Cleese genuinely seems to be a nice man, and I couldn’t agree more.
To end, here’s one we all know, that they did in Regina a million years ago and that Mr. Cleese shared with the audience last night.
Enjoy, and thanks for reading!