Cleese with Cheese

Josh Hadley

josh hadley | shadows of pop culture | feb. 2017

John Cleese addresses the Weidner Center crowd during his visit to Green Bay on Jan. 23, moments before the Q & A segment of the evening, led by radio personality Len Nelson. Monty Python is that oddly enduring comedy troupe which seemingly transcends generations and cultures.

Originating in 1969 on the BBC in England as a comedy sketch series featuring absurdist humor and a random atmosphere where logic need not apply for the laughs to spring forth. Written and starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin with animation and direction by Terry Gilliam, the show was surreal to say the least. Straddling the line between intellectual and moronic, the show ran for four seasons in its home country with films scattered about in the interim.

“Monty Python's Flying Circus" was the most famous of the TV works that the Python's would generate but, in fact, many of the Python members had worked together prior to the Flying Circus. Long standing TV comedy veterans, the group quickly became a staple of British television as well as radio and while it would take some time, they would help define their style of comedy to future generations.

It being thought that British humor would not translate to Americans, it took until 1972 before we got to see any of the Python's shenanigans. The show was brought to us by Time-Life and in 1974 became a long running part of PBS's most-watched programming. American audiences loved the series and it came to define how US viewers would judge UK comedy (a high bar that few were able to ever get close to).

The series was introduced in America as a companion piece to the first Python film "And Now for Something Completely Different" in 1971 (which we got in 1972 alongside the show).

Following the series being cancelled in the UK in the mid-1970's (right as we were getting it ironically) three more Python films were released. They were "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," in 1975, "Life of Brian" in 1979 and "The Meaning of Life" in 1983.

The series and the movies have long been favorites on college campus's and with ... um .... stoners. I can't put that any other way: stoners love Python. With the admittedly insane style of humor employed by the show it sometimes greatly enhances the jokes if you are on another plane of reality at the time of viewing.

“Holy Grail" is by far their most popular film and the one that John Cleese himself was in Green Bay to bring us. An insane mixture of behind the scenes jokes, a fantasy story and a surreal comedy with 4th wall breaking gags, Holy Grail deserves the reputation it has garnered over the last 40 years. Start any line from Holy Grail and it will immediately be completed by someone else. The movie is just so quotable.

Doing modest business upon its initial US release, the movie aired on television in 1977 with a disastrous edit prompting the Python's to restrict TV airings to only channels that would air the film uncut. This led of course to a massive resurgence on home video where the film was continually a top seller and renter.

As John Cleese is in Green Bay to present this movie, it only helps cement the legacy of not only "Hold Grail" but also of steadfast comedians such as Cleese. While the man has a career spanning nearly 50 years, hundreds of TV episodes, dozens upon dozens of films and yet it is his work with Python and Holy Grail specifically which will earn him longevity in America.

Cleese very much made Green Bay his own, entering the stage wearing a cheese hat and wasting no time in cracking jokes about "American Football" while also telling us the true story of how his family name was once Cheese but his father changed it to Cleese.

"Absurd and/or ridiculous questions only are requested, please." This was how the tickets were sold and indeed the audience lived up to this mantra.

Being a funny guy in real life as well as in the movies, Cleese let loose with his irreverent stories all the while taking shots at interviewer Len Nelson from WAPL. Berating him (in a humorous manner) for interrupting and finally taking the cards with the questions on them and throwing them across the stage wanting a less formal atmosphere. That all said, Cleese was engaging and frankly warm and outgoing for a good hour after the film with many funny asides and even an impromptu bit when (for no apparent reason) someone got up and walked out of the theater.

A true showman, Cleese proved yet again why he is one of the comedy greats and why the tradition of Monty Python is as large and revered as it is.


A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.

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