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You didn’t really expect a Q&A involving the five living members of Monty Python to go off as planned, did you?
The British comedy troupe assembled onstage at the Beacon Theatre on Friday night after a packed Tribeca Film Festival screening of their 40-year-old classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail and showcased their particular brand of silliness.
Moderator John Oliver attempted to engage the Pythons in a discussion, but John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin were more interested in playing a version of musical chairs.
There were hints of the zaniness to come when the Pythons made bizarre sounds into their microphones at the beginning of the chat, which Oliver dubbed “comedic beat-boxing.” A few minutes into the talk, Cleese stood up and walked offstage. Oliver quipped, “You’ll never see him. He’s walking down Columbus Avenue speaking into the microphone still.” But sure enough, he hadn’t left, with Cleese’s hand popping out from behind the curtain on the right side of the stage a few minutes later. He then returned to the stage with yet another chair, which he inserted into the line of seats on stage, moving his chair to the end. That’s when the craziness really began, as many of the Pythons got up and switched seats and began turning their chairs around to face the back of the stage, which Oliver did as well, as he masterfully kept up with his fellow Brits. Shortly thereafter, many of them moved their chairs so they were crowded around a small table next to Oliver, after claiming they couldn’t hear Oliver’s questions.
As the Q&A went off the rails, Idle told Oliver, “John, I’m sorry about your career. It was going so well. You were doing so f—ing great until you fell for this offer.”
Oliver replied, “I always knew it would end like this.”
Later Cleese snatched a piece of paper containing questions out of Oliver’s hands and asked Oliver if he loves him.
“It’s a very aggressive come-on line. I love you. I respect you,” Oliver told Cleese. “That’s the best kind of love isn’t it. It’s what any dysfunctional marriage is built upon.”
Cleese then knelt behind Gilliam’s seat and started making fart noises. Oliver warned “Don’t go down, you won’t be able to get up. You’re writing checks your age can’t cash, John.” But Cleese was able to get back up and make a few “nip” sounds, which sent Oliver into a giggling fit. Cleese walked offstage and back on a couple more times in the exchange, pausing in his strolls to stick his hands out from underneath the screen. Once Gilliam joined him in walking offstage and when they returned, Gilliam was crouched behind Cleese.
At one point Cleese jokingly barked at everyone to shut up, leading another one of the Pythons to quip, “This is why we don’t get along.”
The Pythons occasionally answered questions about the making of the movie, other memorable gags and the group’s influences.
Oliver began the Q&A by asking the group, minus original member Graham Chapman who died in 1989, why Holy Grail has lasted so long, “besides being f—ing great,” as he put it.
Palin replied, “That’s probably the only reason. Just f—ing great. Just about enough f—ing great.”
Oliver pressed on, asking, “Is it because silliness is basically timeless, in a way?”
Idle replied, “We thought we were being serious.” But in all seriousness, Palin offered, “The thing that works well is it’s a historical context, but the kind of humor that carries on today. Pompous men and greedy people wanting to marry their sons off and that sort of thing. That’s present day, so it’s actually a topical film set 400 years ago. … It’s where the world is.”
On the question of influences, Idle said he was inspired by Beyond the Fringe, which he called “the most extraordinary show.”
“For the first time they were parodying the queen, the army, the prime minister, political powers onstage,” Idle continued. “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that. It changed certainly my life.”
Later, Idle shared the current, American comedy he finds funny. He first said Oliver, which the moderator interjected “doesn’t count” despite cheers from the audience. Idle went on to cite Silicon Valley and Veep as American shows he thinks are funny.
Fans were invited to submit questions via Twitter but Oliver dispensed with those after a few disappointing inquiries, saying the tweeted questions “were shit.” In search of better queries, he turned the Q&A over to the audience, climbed offstage and ran through the aisles, going “full Montel [Williams],” as Oliver said at one point.
But that initially proved fruitless as well. After a few bad questions, Cleese and Oliver urged the audience to do better.
“You’re letting the country down,” Oliver said. “This is embarrassing. America is better than this. I can’t believe you just made me say that out loud.”
But that wasn’t the only joke about British-American relations. When Oliver noted that a tweeted question had come from “@RedSoxFan,” the New York audience started to boo, but Cleese swiftly stopped that.
“Oy!,” he said, with his finger raised.
“There is an innate authority in the British accent still,” Oliver added. “You can still quash an American rebellion. If you’d been alive in 1776, this would have been ours, John.”
Indeed, Friday night the Brits had taken over.
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