MY EVENING WITH A NOT SO FAWLTY PYTHON
Earlier this year, I got an email from our promotions director at CTV Vancouver which read ‘Would you be interested in being the MC for the John Cleese show in May?’ To which I replied, ‘Do bees buzz?’ Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a huge Monty Python fan and an even bigger fan of John Cleese. To me, he is a comedic genius and someone who I have longed to meet. Despite a few years and several unsuccessful opportunities to get interviews, I always hoped that one day I would get the chance to meet him. Now it was no longer chance…it was going to happen.
He is currently touring Canada with his show entitled (ironically) Why There Is No Hope, a wonderful monologue about why we should not place our trust or faith into the people or institutions we trust and put faith in to begin with. A very clever, funny and informative class, if you will, as only John Cleese can deliver it. It would be followed with a question and answer session with the audience. Now, the original plan was for me to come out, give a few sponsor credits and bring him onstage. The Q&A session was going to be hosted by his daughter, Camilla Cleese. It did not matter to me…I was just thrilled enough for the opportunity to see & meet this man. About 3 weeks ago, I got a call from the tour’s promoter telling me that Camilla had to leave the tour and if I would be able to moderate the Q&A session as well.
Do bees buzz?
If I wasn’t already in orbit, this sent me to the moon.
So, last night, in front of 2,600 people at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I fulfilled a long held ambition. Not only did I introduce John Cleese, but I got to sit down and chat with him in front of a live audience. My first meeting with him was during the soundcheck about an hour before the show. I was a combination of excitement, nerves and stress and didn’t really know if he was going to be intimidating. His tech assistant Andy brought me over and said “John, this is Marke. He’s our moderator for this evening.” John then thrust out his hand saying “Ah, wonderful! ” Yes, he was tall but not the least bit intimidating. He then said ” So, the most important thing to remember is there are no such things as mistakes. We’ll just have a nice conversation and we’ll have fun. Alright?” With that, all the stress and nerves were gone…the excitement remained. This was going to be fun.
So, at around 7:40 I walked onstage, welcomed the audience and brought the man himself onstage. For the next 50 minutes, he told some great stories and put forth his theories on why the world is the way it is, from hopeless politicians, millennials, egos and ‘stupids’ It was typical, sarcastic, at times cutting but always hilarious, insightful, intelligent mixed in with just the right dose of optimism. While he was doing that, I was backstage with Andy as he was reading the IPad that was taking the questions being e-mailed in from the audience. I would then take the IPad onstage, scroll through the questions and ask them, along with some of my own, of course. After his monologue, I joined him onstage and sat down for the session. I had been feeling anxious about how I would be at this moment, but it was a great feeling to look over at a man you have admired for so long and you were now getting a chance to get to know him better…with a live audience no less. I first welcomed him back to Vancouver, noting that he’s said numerous times this was one of his favourite cities. He said this was one of his 3 favourites, the others being Sydney and San Francisco. He said “all three are on the ocean, have beautiful harbours, have lots of Asians so there is good food and they all have a big gay population so there is great design and fashion.” I then asked a couple of questions about Monty Python, his great chemistry with fellow Python Michael Palin and their reunion show in London in 2014. He was engaging, interesting and interested. Then at one point, while he was answering a question, I looked down at the IPad to look for a question from the audience. Then, I heard him say with that famous indignant Basil Fawlty tone “Are you listening to me right now?” The audience laughed, I was a little red faced but laughed too, then said ‘And I’m not even a millennial!” More laughter from the audience but more important, he started laughing as well. It was happening. We were having fun! And more important, I had made him laugh!
The rest of the session was terrific. We took some audience questions and I also asked him if people today were too easily offended. Political correctness is a favourite subject of his and said that comedians today have challenges. Jerry Seinfeld once told him that you have to be careful as some people, in Seinfeld’s words ‘are waiting to be offended’ He also talked about the state of the UK and why he can’t live there at the moment but did end off on an optimistic note. He closed with the Serenity Prayer and advised everyone to use that in their life with whatever God means to them. He also said to be nice to people and to pets. In his words “I am beginning to think more and more our lives are really about our pets” As one myself, I can agree with that. He then thanked the audience and we both walked offstage. After getting our microphone headsets off, he grabbed my hand, gave me a pat on the shoulders and said “Well done! You did very good! You must do something else than just the weather, do you?” I told him that, yes, I also do interviews and have a performing background which included stand up comedy, improv and acting. ” I could tell that” he said. ” You were very quick and very comfortable out there. It was a lot of fun!” I said, coming from him, that was the best compliment I could ever get. I felt like I had been knighted!
Afterwards there was a meet and greet session with some audience members and, after they had their turn, I got to get my pictures taken and introduce him to my wife and son, who were at the show. Now, my son, unlike his father, has incredibly long hair. I introduced my wife Amandah first but he saw my son right away, walked over to him and said “Hello Amandah, nice to meet you!’ Always that quick wit and my son loved it. We got some terrific pictures and he signed my copy of his autobiography…with one more classic Cleese touch. When I told him that I spelt my name with an ‘e’ on the end, he once again channelled his Basil Fawlty and said “No! Really! Come on!” He then signed it ‘Mark’ and left a space and then added a single ‘e’ “Mark with an ‘e’ …is that alright?’ I told him I expected no less…it was perfect. Then, I told him how much of an honour it was to be part of his show tonight…how I’ve admired him for most of my life and how the evening had been a huge thrill for me. With that, he seemed so genuinely pleased and flattered and we had one more warm handshake. I walked out of the theatre and back to the car with my wife and son. I had a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. This was a very special night.
I posted a previous blog about being careful about the people we admire. There is an expression that one should never meet their heroes, for they are bound to disappoint us. John Cleese, for me, did nothing of the sort. My admiration for him is even stronger now. I can even say I made him laugh.
Thank you, Mr. Cleese
And there is always hope!