When he made his last official Colorado appearance, there was a believable buzz that the five living members of the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe might finally reunite for a tour.
The troupe was honored at the Aspen Comedy Festival two years ago, and soon afterward an announcement was made that John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Giliam and Eric Idle would tour together.
"I worked on it for a while," Idle told the Indy during a break from rehearsing his first-ever comedy tour. "Then people just changed their mind and said no, they didn't want to do it. At that point, I knew, effectively, that it wasn't going to happen. ...
"Does that mean we never have to do it until we're dead? Hence the show, really." Rather than bury the bits along with the disbanded group, Idle decided to resurrect some of his favorite songs and sketches and bring them out on the road with a new troupe backing him up.
The show revives the old of comedy review that Idle and his mates first excelled at in their college days. Idle, Cleese and the late Graham Chapman were all members of the Footlights Club at Cambridge University. Meanwhile, Palin and Jones were at Oxford. "We'd see them during the Edinburgh Festival where we'd do the Cambridge Review and they'd do the Oxford Review. We'd check each other out."
It's been nearly 20 years since they last worked together. Since then, Idle recently returned to television in Suddenly Susan and took a turn as Ko Ko in the English National Opera production of The Mikado. "That was fun," he recalls. "It reminds me of the joy an audience gets when you do song, sketch, song, sketch. That's what [Gilbert and Sullivan] is. People don't do that any more. It's all Andrew Lloyd Weber, tragic kind of [musical theater]. Whereas, I think the audiences love that the most. You tickle them here, then you tickle them there," he laughs. "Keep moving."
The mantra to keep moving brought Idle to the role of novelist with Hello, Sailor! (1975) and The Road to Mars (1999) to his credit. "I like writing, because you get final cut, and people don't get in the way. It's up to you how good or bad it is. Nobody else comes on and says 'I'm sorry, you've got to stop now, we've run out of money,' or 'we really can't say that because our sponsors won't let us,' or 'we're altering it because Bruce Willis needs to wear a T-shirt.' "
He also wrote The Owl and the Pussycat(1996) for children, and his audio recording of the book was nominated for a Grammy. "I didn't win, because they gave it to a dead guy, which I think is not fair. I think you should be alive to win awards, don't you? I mean, otherwise Mozart wins every time."
Ultimately, however, Idle's identity is enescapably linked to Monty Python, and he seems ecstatic to finally return to the source.
"It's a joy to revisit the material," Idle exclaims. "If you can think about what it's like, I've answered questions about Python for 25 years, but I've not been able to do it. So this is like, hey, there's also this good side to Python. It's about doing the material. And it's the joy of that that I've found really fun."
The show has girls singing and dancing, hundreds of costumes, lumberjacks, the Spanish Inquisition, and special surprises like a Clint Black video appearance, stemming from Idle's guest slot on Black's Vegas gig at Caesar's Palace, where the two played "The Galaxy Song."
"We do things like play Spot the Looney, which has never been done. We go into the audience, and anybody who's stupidly dressed or insanely dressed, we bring them on stage and we ask them if we can have their liver. So we do a live organ removal during the show. It's playing with the crowd in a Python way, which is something that we only achieved when we did the few stage performances, which were only ever seen in New York or at the Hollywood Bowl."
"God appears. Pavoratti blows up," Idle continues, noting the pleasure in making new discoveries during rehearsals. "When you rehearse, that's the process of discovering where the funny things lie. We do the "Brian Song" from The Life of Brian with dueling divas. The Barbers of Seville battle for the microphone. ...We've got cardinals and nuns dancing and singing "Every Sperm is Sacred." Other new bits include a "Nudge" rap and "Liverdance, the Song," which Idle describes as a cross between the live organ removal and Riverdance.
Although the show returns to some of the most celebrated comedy material of the era, Idle also promises something completely different from anything currently out there. Colorado boasts two shows on the tour, and Idle assures us that we're "very, very lucky." If we're as looney as we are lucky, they'll be no stopping the insanity.
-- Owen Perkins