In 1969, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam would make comedy history and introduce Monty Python to the world in the form of the TV series Flying Circus. A comedy troupe whose influence has branded itself into the very identity of British culture as well as the records of film history, Monty Python is a monument to the joys of foolishness and absurdity.
Together with Terry Gilliam’s zany, surreal animation style, Monty Python would help to introduce a new strain of comedy equally absurd and delicately subtle. Having inspired the likes of Seth MacFarlane, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Matt Groening, the comedy troupe have helped to shape the landscape of modern comedy, encouraging an altogether more surreal take on the contemporary genre.
The influence of the troupe would extend far beyond the limits of the British isles and would become suffused with the revolutionary identity of The Beatles who were taking the world by storm throughout the 1960s. As writer Neil Gaiman comments, “A strange combination of individuals gave us Python. And you needed those people, just in the same way that with the Beatles you had four talented people, but together you had the Beatles. And I think that’s so incredibly true when it comes to Python”.
Catapulted into success, the likes of John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam each managed to find great success following the demise of Monty Python in 1974, granted acting roles, book deals and filmmaking opportunities respectively. Today, John Cleese remains a figure of considerable cultural stature, still holding the same relevance and comedic influence as he did in the 1960s.
Strongly opposed to so-called ‘woke comedy’ and political correctness, Cleese is now perhaps better known for his social commentary, with the actor even due to appear in a documentary about cancel culture named John Cleese: Cancel Me in the near future for Channel 4. Whilst he may have put his own comedy career on the back burner, it is clear that the actor still cares passionately about the medium.
Speaking to Time Magazine John Cleese discussed his career in the comedy industry, along with five of his very favourite sketches, noting that it “would not be terribly interesting” to go with his best-known works. Just one of these unlikely sketches appeared in the 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin, in a scene John Cleese called, “one of the funniest things I wrote”.
The scene in question shows Michael Palin’s Ken Pile being tortured and hilariously mocked by Kevin Kline’s Otto, sticking two chips up Palin’s character’s nose before proceeding to eat his goldfish. Just one of the many moments of comedy in A Fish Called Wanda, the film remains one of the finest offshoots of the Monty Python brand, starring original members John Cleese and Michael Palin, as well as good friend Stephen Fry.