John Cleese, the minister of silly talks, sure has a big following

Famed comedian is giving eight performances in Victoria and they're all sold out

John Cleese

Where: McPherson Playhouse

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When: Oct. 11 to Oct. 23

Tickets: All shows sold out

The good news: John Cleese will give eight performances of his solo show, Last Time To See Me Before I Die, in Victoria.

The bad news: the entire run is sold out.

Fans of the British comedian who missed their chance must content themselves with trying to catch a glimpse of him walking our streets. After all, he’s here for two weeks. And the long-legged Cleese, at six-foot-five, is hard to miss.

Cleese, 73, is best known for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which ran on BBC television from 1969 to 1974, and his comedy series Fawlty Towers, broadcast between 1974 and 1979. He acted in such films as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian as well as non-Python flicks such as Clockwise and A Fish Called Wanda.

For Last Time To See Me Before I Die, Cleese will entertain with stories and film clips from his long career, which commenced half a century ago with the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (where he met future Python member Graham Chapman). This will be capped by an extensive question-and-answer session with the audience.

Canadian critics seem pleased with Cleese’s performances. The Toronto Star said the comedian/writer “piled up remembrances in an occasionally raspy voice.” These included memories of his wartime childhood and an eccentric mother who feared albinos and goats. Early TV clips were screened, showing the beginnings of what would blossom into Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The show continued with a discussion of black humour and more clips, including the Black Knight sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the fish-slapping dance in which men whack one another with dead fish. Cleese also showed a video of his speech at the funeral of his friend Chapman, in which he jokingly eulogized: “Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard.”

“That’s the very definition of black humour,” reported the Star, “and there are few as good as it as John Cleese.” The Edmonton Journal wrote that he “regaled fans with hysterical, erudite and weird tales of his life and career.”

Cleese has stated, perhaps jokingly, that he is touring to help pay alimony owed in his divorce from the American psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger. The couple split in 2008. He is now married to his fourth wife, Jennifer Wade, who is 31 years younger than Cleese.

Last month, it was reported that Cleese was selling off most of his valuable art collection. He was quoted as saying he needed the money to cover the cost of his divorce. As well, Cleese reportedly said many of his artworks didn’t appeal to Wade, who prefers “modern pictures.”

Monty Python was groundbreaking for the daring absurdity and anti-establishment sharpness of the humour, in turn influenced by Britain’s Beyond the Fringe, with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Cleese is one of the most admired and recognizable members of the Monty Python troupe. He often portrayed authority figures who suddenly erupted into a rage. In one skit, he played an easily angered self- defence instructor teaching people to defend themselves against attackers armed with fresh fruit. Cleese is also famous for playing a bowler-hatted, ludicrously high-stepping civil servant in the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch.

His talent for finding humour in maniacal anger surfaced again with Fawlty Towers. One of the show’s most celebrated sequences finds Cleese, as Basil Fawlty, flogging his car with a branch because it won’t start. “Right, this is it!” he screams. “I’m going to give you a damned good thrashing!” The scene became so famous that Corgi released a toy model of the red Austin 1300 along with a Basil Fawlty figure.

This tour, Cleese’s first in Canada, kicked off Sept. 13 in Halifax. Cleese performed Last Time To See Me Before I Die in Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary before arriving here.

Cleese will conclude the tour with sold-out performances Oct. 26 and 27 at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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