Monday, 28 November 2011

John Cleese is a comedy legend. Discuss.

This originally appeared in the Batrh Chronicle on November 17 - the night John Cleese switched on the Bath Christmas Lights

Tonight, thousands of people will line the streets of Bath to see the comedy legend that is John Cleese officially kick off Christmas in the city at the lights switch-on.

It is easy to throw around the word “legend” but I think the instantly-recognisable Mr Cleese deserves the term because he has genuinely touched everybody’s funny bone at some point in his career. And with comedy being every bit as subjective as music and art, that is no mean feat.

For many of us, of course, Mr Cleese will always be the tall spindly-legged one from the greatest comedy team ever assembled – Monty Python. Legions of teenagers have discovered Python and made a lifelong pact with them, and few groups of men of a certain age cannot do verbatim impressions of pet shop owners selling parrots, Yorkshiremen explaining how tough their lives were or people trying to stay optimistic while being, ahem, crucified.

And yet not everyone got it. No siree. For every Python devotee you can always find a nay-sayer, a non-believer for whom the knights that say Ni were just, well, silly (which, of course they were, which is the whole point). But silly without being funny. And from my experience (limited I grant you but stick with this) most of them were female. Monty Python is, I believe, predominantly a male manuscript of funny. And if you don’t agree with me I will hit you with a big fish while standing next to a canal.

So, to some heretics Monty Python wasn’t a feast of hilarity, so Mr Cleese & Co couldn’t be “comedy legends”. But then came Basil Fawlty. Trying to find someone who didn’t find that funny should be as hard as finding someone who thought a rat was a hamster or a chef who is fresh out of Waldorfs. Often voted the best sitcom of all time and repeated as often as the weather forecast, Fawlty Towers made our light switch-er-on-er a national treasure.

Our man’s status as a comedy legend was therefore sealed in that Torquay hotel reception – but if you are still not convinced then I give you the films. Aside from Python’s big screen outings (which are their best work anyway) I offer you the twin peaks of A Fish Called Wanda and Clockwise, two beautifully crafted, expertly written movies that were both funny and intelligent – something sadly which is often mutually exclusive.

Among all that – and I haven’t even mentioned the books, tours, film cameos or, er, AA adverts – there is something for everyone and that is why I feel we have something quite unusual in front of us tonight – a man that has probably made every single one of us laugh at different times. And how many other people, past or present, can we truly say that about?

Of course, I am sure none of this debate about his status means a fig to Mr C and he is just happy that he can still make people smile. But in a world where none of us seems to agree on anything, to have someone do their bit for Bath who is so universally admired and respected and whose work will be making people laugh when we have all sang our last Always Look On The Bright Side of Life chorus, should give us all a warm feeling, no matter what the temperature is tonight.

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