John Cleese isn’t really a popular figure within the current political climate but his contributions to the world of comedy are still fondly remembered by fans all over the world. Through outrageously hilarious projects such as Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, Cleese made millions of people laugh while inspiring future generations of comedians.
During his university years, Cleese explored his comedic talents through writing and he worked as a screenwriter while slowly developing his sensibilities. In an interview, the comedian was asked to speak about some of his formative influences and he pointed out one particular radio comedy show as a chief source.
Cleese said: “The biggest influence was The Goon Show. Kids were devoted to it. It was written by Spike Milligan. It also had Peter Sellers in it, who of course is the greatest voice man of all time. In the morning, we’d be at school and we’d discuss the whole thing and rehash the jokes and talk about it. We were obsessed with it.”
Created by Milligan, The Goon Show was a unique comedic experience since it treated wide-ranging sociopolitical subjects such as the education system, military, economics and others with completely surreal humour and wacky sound effects. It left a lasting impression on the mind of Cleese who later used that approach in his own projects.
While explaining the genius of The Goon Show and why it was so effective in inspiring him at that early age, Cleese elaborated: “It was absurdist. It didn’t try to be intellectual, yet it at its core it still was. I always had an affinity for the silly, and the humour of The Goon Show was just that. It was also very subversive.”
Milligan’s creation became an important part of popular culture and it inspired many artists beyond Cleese, including the Beatles who found it hilarious. Since they liked The Goon Show, it was only natural that the band members also enjoyed Monty Python and John Lennon even called Fawlty Towers one of the greatest shows ever made.
“That anti-authority really spoke to us [in Python],” Cleese added, commenting on the parallels between the two. “People used to ask us to describe what sort of humour Monty Python was because they didn’t know how to categorise us. We’re just silly. Other people who come across us can give us labels if they want.”