“There’s something sweet about the show because it is a conversation between two old friends who’ve known each other 53 years,” said Eric Idle of his tour with John Cleese, Together Again at Last … for the Very First Time. “It’s a sort of narrative about how we got to be involved [with each other] and when Python came in and then what things happened.”
Idle and Cleese have spent their lives tickling our collective funny bone. From the pair’s stint with Monty Python to Idle’s award-winning musical Spamalot to Cleese’s many film and TV appearances (Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, Will & Grace), the multitalented British wits have earned their status as comedy legends. Now they are taking it on the road, offering up a humorous retrospective of their life’s work. I recently spoke to Idle about the tour.
What would you like to say about the show you are doing with John Cleese?
It’s an unexpected delight [to be] over 70 [years old] on the road with an old friend talking about old times and performing material. … It started last October when John asked me if I’d like to go on tour in Florida with him, and I thought, “Sure, I’ve never been to Florida.” Then the show formed itself around conversation and performing, and then in March we took it to Australia and New Zealand, where we really got good. And so this is like the third time in a year; it’s amazing. I’m still kind of amazed — and delighted and looking forward to it. And so, being typically us, we’ve completely changed the second act so when we go out next week, we have something to be terrified about, which is very good. It’s important to have a level of terror in comedy [Laughs.] — you know, so you don’t mess up.
And also, then we will get up and surprise [the audience] by doing sketches which they don’t know — not Python but from that sort of era. Funny, funny sketches that we like to do, and then, you know, sing a few rude songs and show some funny clips also of things they won’t have seen. It’s a strange form, it’s a hybrid form, but it’s kind of relaxing to be in because you can’t forget your words. [Chuckles.] It’s not like a play; you can sort of go anywhere.
Are you going to play “Eric the Half-a-Bee?” That is one of my favorites.
Well, we’re going to! Because actually — oddly, oddly, oddly — John and I wrote that … It was written when we were both in drag. He was dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, which is quite a sight. And I was dressed as Little Red Riding Hood’s mother, and we had the lunch break, and we had a bottle of schnapps and got completely biddled. And I pulled out my guitar, and we wrote “Eric the Half-a-Bee” together halfway up a mountainside in Bavaria. We will show the clip of playing Little Red Riding Hood in Germany … and then tell the story of how we came to write the song, and hopefully we’ll sing it.
Will you be singing other songs?
Yes. We do “The Philosophers Song.” And it’s funny to have the entire audience singing along with these obscure philosophers. I’m amazed people know those words. I’m always perpetually amazed.
Don’t you know how devoted your fans are?
Not when you live in England. When I moved to America in ’94, [I saw] how everybody knew The Holy Grail — all the words, all the way through. And that struck me as amazing because in England, people are doing other things, and [Monty Python] isn’t on all the time, whereas in America, it was always on some channel … In England, it hasn’t been repeated in 30 years. So people remember it, but they don’t remember it as devotedly as Americans do.
So you guys have been practicing this show on the Australians and the New Zealanders, huh? Yes. They’re a lovely place to tour. I mean, it’s really lovely. Big spaces — you have to go by plane. At least we’re going by bus [this time]. Not Greyhound, you know. But yeah, we’re coming down from Canada in a bus, which is great, you know, at our age, when you need a nap and a cup of tea. A lie down.
Is it just the two of you, or are your families with you? No, it’s just the two of us, but I think there’ll be a tour manager and possibly some of the crew; I’m not quite sure. We try and keep them off, but you know … It’s a big, big tour. Thirty-four dates, and we end up in New Orleans … This is a nice excuse to dip in and see places. I’m looking forward to the Arlington. I think it’s a nice theater. And I hope that everybody that John owes money to comes out in Santa Barbara.
Eric Idle and John Cleese present Together Again at Last … for the Very First Time on Saturday, November 12, 8 p.m., at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). Call (805) 789-6684 or see thearlingtontheatre.com.