Happy Birthday, John Cleese!

John Cleese is 74 today! We’re celebrating with an excerpt from If You Like Monty Python… and a hilarious clip from his television special, How to Irritate People.

A regular recurring theme of British comedy is the effect of annoying personalities on the typically reserved, decorous English psyche. Brits have a cultural obligation to face every difficulty with a stiff upper lip, miles of calm, and a patience so wooden you could build a bridge out of it. While this can be effective in most social situations, difficulty occurs when a true irritant arises: someone so pushy, so persistent, so aggravating that he can’t be ignored, and yet simply punching him inn the face would be considered bad form. A fair amount of Monty Python’s humor came from such a conflict, and John Cleese’s classic farce, Fawlty Towers, is practically the definitive statement on the topic. It’s worth it, then, to see the seeds that would eventually bear such marvelous fruit: Cleese’s 1968 television special How to Irritate People. 

The slightly-over-an-hour-long show is compromised largely of sketches demonstrating various principles of the process of irritation, with Cleese introducing each sketch with a brief monologue explaining the central idea. There are irritating parents, irritating restaurant hosts, irritating party guests, irritating boyfriends, irritating garage mechanics, irritating elderly women, and so on. The special is hit-or-miss, as many of the sketches (especially early in the show) take the main premise too literally, demonstrating actually annoying individuals and behavior without providing much in the way of laughs. It gets better as it goes, however, and How to… is still worth seeking out, for a number of reasons. There’s Cleese himself, who occasionally looks a little stunned during his hosting duties (though this may be intentional), and the presence of Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Connie Booth makes this a sort of embryonic Python presentation. Plus, some of the sketches work very well, especially a bit about airline pilots near the end, which has Cleese, Chapman, and Palin all working together.

 

If You Like Monty Python…

From their perfectly insane television show to their consistently irreverent and riotous movies, Monty Python has owned the zany and absurd side of comedy since their debut. Their influence can be felt in every comedy show that followed them, from Saturday Night Live andSecond City television, to The Kids in the Hall, not to mention all the laughs writ large on the silver screen, where their brand of absurdity opened the doors for such people as Jim Carrey who made a name for themselves by pushing the funny even further.

This is the first book to look at everything influenced by the Pythons, but also at those who came before them – from the classic British comedies to the Marx Brothers, and everything in the Python universe, from Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda to Spamalot and BrazilIf You Like…Monty Python is a book for any fan who has graduated from the Ministry of Silly Walks and wants more.

Zack Handlen, an interview

Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Zack Handlen chats with Off the Meter host Jimmy Failla about Zack’s book If You Like Monty Python… (Limelight Editions).

>>> LISTEN HERE <<<

This is the first book to look at everything influenced by the Pythons, but also at those who came before them – from the classic British comedies to the Marx Brothers, and everything in the Python universe, from Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda to Spamalot and BrazilIf You Like Monty Python… by Zack Handlen is a book for any fan who has graduated from the Ministry of Silly Walks and wants more.

Q & A with Zack Handlen

The Portland Press Herald has interviewed Zack Handlen, author of If You Like Monty Python…. Here’s a little taste of the interview. Then check out the full Q & A on the Portland Press Herald’s website.

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Where does Monty Python’s humor come from? What were some of their influences?

They’ve talked a lot about “The Goon Show,” which was a British radio show with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers and others. It’s available on iTunes. It’s terrific. Each episode does a long-form sketch, with self-referential humor and word play. They also talk a lot about “Beyond the Fringe,” a theater revue that Dudley Moore and Peter Cook and others did. It was very much like prep school humor, intellectual.

Do you have a favorite Monty Python sketch or film scene?

It’s hard to say. My favorite film is “Life of Brian.” I think it’s the best “movie” movie they made. But I love “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” too. For sketches, there’s this very early sketch, I think it’s in the first or second episode (of the TV show), about the world’s funniest joke. If you hear it, you die laughing. So people keep dying and the government gets a hold of it, during World War II, and starts using it for military applications.

Keep Reading this Q & A on pressherald.com

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If You Like Monty Python… by Zack Handlen (Limelight Editions)

This is the first book to look at everything influenced by the Pythons, but also at those who came before them – from the classic British comedies to the Marx Brothers, and everything in the Python universe, from Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda to Spamalot and BrazilIf You Like…Monty Python is a book for any fan who has graduated from the Ministry of Silly Walks and wants more.

If You Like Monty Python… is available on Amazon, B&N, independent bookstores, and from limelighteditions.com.