It ain't easy being "Cleese"y: Monty Python comic says it's hard to be funny
During an impressive 50 years in the industry, famous funnyman John Cleese has been used to pushing the boundaries of humour.
Indeed, his work with ‘Monty Python’ back in the 1960s and 70s was widely credited with changing the face of British comedy. But the ‘Fish Called Wanda’ star says there’s a difference between making people laugh and intimidating them.
Speaking to 7DAYS ahead of his series of shows at the Madinat Theatre this week, he explains: “I do feel an awful lot of the young stand- up comics are relying on that feeling that they are edgy and daring and of course the hardest thing in the world is to be funny. I realised at the beginning of my career that it was much easier to be clever than it was to be funny and I’ve always tried to be as funny as possible.
“You do find that everyone’s sense of humour is different and obviously I’ll have to be more careful in Dubai about certain kinds of things but nobody had an objection when I talked about it last time - there were no problems, no complaints!”
After breaking into the world of showbiz as a sketch writer for BBC radio, Cleese went on to write for ‘The Frost Report’ and has since enjoyed roles including eccentric hotel manager Basil Fawlty in ‘Fawlty Towers’ and Q in the Bond movie series. He also voiced the character of Bulldog in recent Disney movie ‘Planes’ as well as a role as ‘The Guv’ in South African movie ‘Spud’.
So just what inspires him?
“It’s just nice to laugh,” he explains. “When I sit down with a piece of paper - I’m writing my autobiography at the moment - and when I start writing something that makes me giggle and I make myself laugh, I love it. That’s the stuff I really enjoy.
“Trying to describe the other stuff, you know, breaking up with a girlfriend or moving into a house, I can do that, but it’s when I can think of a humorous angle on it, that’s what I enjoy.”
Admitting that he fears the golden age of comedy is over, the comedy star says there are individual comedians he finds funny. He explains: “I was very impressed a couple of years ago by Michael McIntyre - I thought he had a marvelous act. And Eddie Izzard. I’m more interested in stand-ups these days and I tend to see them occasionally but I’ve almost got out of the habit of switching on television. Almost everyone that I speak to says there’s little good comedy on television and I’m not about to sit around for hours trying to disprove them.
“We had a golden age of comedy from about the mid-fifties that went through for the next 35 years or so and I think it was absolutely wonderful, starting with ‘The Goon Show’[British comedy radio show]. I just don’t think it’s as good at the moment.”
When you’ve worked in comedy for 50 years, surely it’s a case that you’ve seen it done, and often done better before. John admits it can be challenging to find new material but says the key to being a good comic is being both original and amusing. The 74-year-old, who says he always tests new gags out before gigs because ‘if people don’t laugh, it’s not funny’, adds: “This
is always the problem, people always try to do something that hasn’t been done before and eventually it gets very, very difficult to come up with anything that’s original or creative. I mean it just becomes very, very repetitive.
“In fact I thought towards the end of Monty Python we were beginning to become a bit repetitive. Mind you, we were repeating ourselves not repeating other people!”
An Evening with John Cleese runs from tomorrow to Saturday at Madinat Theatre. Tickets start at Dhs350 and are available at the box office or from madinattheatre.com