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Book Report: So, Anyway...

So… Anyway… Your Humble Blogger read the John Cleese book.

He's a funny man. No, really. He's still funny. It's a funny book.

Unfortunately, it's not an entirely funny book, and there are sizable chunks of the first half that are more or less of the form:

I remember I couldn't have been more than six or twelve when an entirely ordinary thing happened at the end of the school day. Much later, I told my therapist about it, and I still remember how the feelings came back to me, just as they had when I was nine, a feeling of overpowering ordinariness. Indeed, writing this, I can remember it now, even though things are very different, and different people annoy me in different ways. But at the time, it was like it was at the time. And so was my father, who was like that.

Except that he'll throw some bizarre oddity in the next paragraph to make my Best Reader ask what I was sniggerin' at. So that's all right.

The second half of the book covers his career in comedy up through the formation of the Pythons—well, it was clearly intended to stop with the formation of the Pythons, but he clearly wound up writing another chapter after that, which included enough discussion of the Python working methods that it took away from the structure of the thing, although of course I didn't mind—as I age, I find I am becoming more interested in reading about them and their work than watching episodes of the Flying Circus for the n=kth time. The evolution of individual sketches, or even of ideas of what works in a sketch, from his Cambridge Circus days through writing for David Frost and the two Ronnies, to sketches I know by heart.

Speaking of which, the bookshop sketch on Contractual Obligation was written for At Last the 1948 Show and has been done various times with various people; Wikipedia claims that Bob Hope performed it at one point, tho' I have not confirmed that fact.

It occurred to me, as I was reading the book, that many of my favorite Python bits, in particular many of the great Cleese bits, are essentially extended world's worsts. If you aren't familiar with world's worst, it's a one-liner improv game where the emcee throws out a prompt of the world's worst something, and the players come up with examples. Whether they started from that germ or not, there are sketches about the world's worst game show, the world's worst mountaineer, the world's worst Hungarian phrasebook, the world's worst food shop, the world's worst arts interviewer, the world's worst pet shop, etc, etc. The thing that makes them great, though, is the other guy in the sketch, who responds to the world's worst bookshop customer in some insane and hilarious way. That's the funny stuff.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Wow, they did it completely verbatim, not even changing the book of standard British birds to Audubon's Birds of North America.
Makes me speculate that doing the skit was Feldman's idea, that he's been wanting a chance to do it for years and Flip Wilson was willing to indulge his dream...

Actually, Jim, it turns out that role was written for Marty Feldman, which seems obvious in retrospect, and in At Last the 1948 Show I believe John Cleese played the John Cleese role, tho' I haven't seen that clip.

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