Culture Shock: “Always Face The Curtain With A Bow”

Eric Idle And John Cleese Reunite Once More

Maggie Grimason
7 min read
ÒAlways Face the Curtain with a BowÓ
Eric Idle and John Cleese (Rod Millington)
Share ::
I don’t know what your teenage years were like, but I will freely admit that mine involved a lot of board games, drama club, Quiz Bowl and BBC America, wherein I quickly came to appreciate the singular humor of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and later the magnetism of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and, in particular, Life of Brian, among other titles. A lot of comedies don’t age well, for example, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective doesn’t have half the laughs as an adult that it did for me as a 10-year-old, but the body of work made by the beloved Monty Python crew endures. And in fact, the work of Monty Python is just as good, just as subversive as ever. So much so that with “Flying Circus” on the screen, I feel like I’m 16 again, back home in my mom’s basement, eating a whole row of Oreos and laughing til I cry.

Yet, the audience should expect something completely different than Monty Python “best of’s” at the Kiva Auditorium for John Cleese and Eric Idle’s tour, “Together Again at Last … For the Very First Time.” To get a handle on the duo’s act that’s landing in Albuquerque on Friday, Nov. 25, I gave Eric Idle the Spanish Inquisition over the phone while the two were stopped in Vancouver.

Alibi: What was the impetus for this show with you and Mr. Cleese?

Idle: It is something that happened by chance. John had a book out, an autobiography, so they asked me if I would interview him in Glendale. … I turned up to talk to him and I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ and he said, ‘Ah, we’ll just go on stage, we’ll talk.’ And we did for two hours. We’ve known each other for 53 years … It just sort of flowed. After that a few months later, he called up and said, ‘Do you fancy a tour of Florida?’ … So we went and did it, and it sort of evolved as a show between talking and doing some sketches and having film clips and me playing songs. … It came up to do a tour of the West Coast … It’s quite bold for our age, but it’s quite fun.

What did you talk about that first time?

I honestly don’t remember! Now we talk about almost everything. And we’ve got some shape on the show. We tell the story of when we first met and we cross and we interweave. .. We do little bits of our show, favorite clips … we do some sketches, but we don’t do anything that anyone’s ever seen. … We try to keep it fresh, we change the banter. For us, that’s important, the conversational parts remain conversational.

It makes it more interesting!

People are lacking conversation, in my opinion. There used to be a lot of it on television and that sort of thing, but now it’s just people arguing and shouting. … It think it’s the basis of entertainment: conversation. … It’s nice that you can have emotion, as well as conversation and laughter … It’s interesting you know, two guys on stage after all this time.

How have you two maintained your friendship through all these years?

Well, it isn’t really a friendship … It’s more like having played on the same football team. We know each other’s thoughts, we know how to play. … We don’t agree on everything, but you don’t have to! It’s just that we’ve been through some tremendous experiences. And when you’ve been crucified next to somebody, well, not everyone can say that.

I imagine that’s the kind of conversation only you two could have.

Yes, actually! It’s fun because I can spark [John], I can banter with him. … You have more consideration at this age. You’re just grateful to A) still be alive, and B) to still do it. … And just to think of the stage we were on last night and that we stood on that [exact same] stage 43 years ago, and here we are back. It’s fairly amazing. It gives you a sense of perspective on how extraordinary life can be. That you can keep meeting people and interweaving with them. I like that a lot.

When I think of you and Mr. Cleese’s synergistic work, people were fans of it in the ’70s and young people come to it today and it still resonates. What do you think that magic is?

We have three generations come sometimes! … What happened was, I think it’s the only show put together by the writers, who then perform it. … Six writing and creating, six acting. … So, that might be one of the reasons, [but also that] the network wasn’t in charge, there were no executives telling us what to do. We did try to mess with people so they might say, ‘Wait a second, is this the right channel?’ We’d break the fourth wall. It had a subversive quality, which is very appealing, because it’s not pretending to be something other than us putting together the show or film. I think that’s liberating.

And there’s a huge amount of value in laughter. I think maybe it is too often overlooked.

I wrote a book called
The Road to Mars, which was about a machine trying to understand what comedy was. In the end, I realized that comedy is actually a survival gene. When we’re in great fear or terror, we use humor. We laugh and it takes the fear away. … It’s very common [across] all humanity. We all laugh before we think. It’s instantaneous. It unites us. … Humor is self-knowledge. It’s laughing at yourself at a certain point. And recognition of your own mortality is also very important to it.

On one hand, it can be the highest art, on the other, it can be instinctual.

It involves your physicality, too. That’s why the oldest jokes are fart jokes and poop jokes. That is a recognition of your own body. … Of course it is wonderfully subversive against tyranny, too. Like Donald Trump said he wants to stop SNL, well, that’s exactly what Hitler did—get rid of the comics because they’re not taking you seriously! How could that be permitted? So, it has something to do with freedom, as well.

Politics make me so angry lately. About the only good thing that comes out of it are the jokes.

That’s quite true! … And it annoys people that want to be taken seriously. It’s a very good litmus test, how they deal with humor and how they can laugh at themselves or not. That’s very significant about [one’s] character.

Do you find that performing is just as therapeutic as being in the audience?

Absolutely. You still get a bang from the laugh. It lifts and then you have to wait for it to settle down, then you do another one. It’s really inspiring. It lifts you up. You’re flying on the wings of the audience.

You, too, can join in on the rising and falling chorus of laughter by purchasing tickets at for $60 and up.
ÒAlways Face the Curtain with a BowÓ

Eric Idle

Eric Idle

Eric Idle and John Cleese

Rod Millington

1 2 3 234