John Cleese, one of the funniest individuals working in the entertainment industry today, was in Kansas City last night at the historic Midland Theatre where he entertained an audience of several hundred with stories from his life. Cleese was in Kansas City promoting his new biography, So, Anyway . . ., and an autographed copy came with the price of the ticket for each member of the audience. The comedian, actor, and author said that ninety percent of autobiographies are penned by ghost writers, but he noted that he personally had written every word of his.
Cleese shared the stage with a lady from the sponsor of the event, Rainy Day Books of Kansas City, who interviewed him as the primary engine of his monologue on his life and times.
Several times during the performance as he was telling stories, the author would say, "Well, let me read that part from the book." His recitations were funny, and they bordered on being hysterical when he started laughing at his own words - once to the point that he had to quit reading because he was laughing so hard.
The show in Kansas City was Cleese's third of the day, but in spite of that rigorous schedule, John Cleese seemed to really enjoy interacting with the Midwestern audience. My son, Tim, and I were sitting in the front row of the balcony, which gave us an unobstructed view of the stage as well as much of the audience on the ground floor. At one point a lady in the second or third row got up and clumsily made her way to the aisle, presumably to go to the bathroom. Cleese stopped his monologue and slowly turned his head to watch the lady exit. As she walked up the aisle toward the doors, he quipped, "That's alright. I've been watching her. She was bored anyway."
But I doubt that she was. I certainly wasn't.
John Cleese is sixty-nine-years-old. He commented at some length about his multiple ex-wives, but said that he has now found the right one - the "girl" of his dreams. They have three cats, at least two of whom are Maine Coons - and he said that one thing he would wish for is that the cats could talk. He would enjoy hearing what his cats thought about things.
The comedian talked about his family history, noting that he was the only child of older parents. His father was forty-six and his mother forty when John was born. I had heard him a few weeks ago talking about his mother when he was a guest on the Graham Norton Show. The lady died just a few years ago over the age of one hundred. She apparently had quite a sense of humor - perhaps out of necessity.
His family name, according to the comedian, was "Cheese" when his father was born. The dad changed it to "Cleese" when he enlisted for World War I, but apparently his comrades in arms converted it back to "Cheese" and made fun of him anyway. Cleese said that if it had been up to him, he would have kept the name "Cheese," and would have liked to have been given the first name of "Jack."
The world might be a bit more fanciful and entertaining if we all selected our own names.
Cleese, a founding member of the British comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus, discussed that long-running series as well as some of the movies that cast members appeared in. Religion was one of the themes that he touched on during the evening performance, noting that most religions, as they were founded, were good things - beneficial to mankind, but as they grew and aged the religions eventually became corrupted by their leaders. He said that the Python film, Life of Brian, was written to point out how religions become misinterpreted over time.
He also talked about A Fish Called Wanda, one of my favorite all-time movies. He was apparently instrumental in getting Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis involved in that film masterpiece.
My favorite John Cleese movie, 1971's The Statue, was never mentioned.
One other thing that John Cleese railed about, both in a film clip before the show and in his actual talk at the theatre, was football. He went on about how European football (soccer) really does involve using a ball and one's feet - whereas American football does not use a round ball - but something else entirely, and that the game involves very limited use of the feet. As we were leaving the theatre, two young men in front of us were talking about that, and one explained to the other that the American game is called football because the pigskin object used in the game, called a football, is exactly one foot in length.
That was news to Tim and me.
The show lasted about an hour-and-a-half, and then we all spilled out onto the cold and torn-up streets of downtown Kansas City - with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts. It had been a great evening - and I am anxious to read the book!