This review has taken me awhile to write and publish: I quite simply do not wish to stop reading the book.
One of the taller of the founding members of Britain’s “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and an accomplished writer of sketches and screenplays, Mr. Cleese takes a very entertaining life and makes an even more entertaining autobiography out of it.
Cleese has lived a life with humble roots and has never been reluctant to acknowledge he’s spent as much time in a therapist’s office as anyone. In fact, he spends a fair amount of time in the first several chapters examining the dynamics of his parents’ relationship and considers how that may have impacted how he became the individual he is.
The result is a book that illuminates the writer himself even as it surveys the various milestones any person experiences in their life.
Even better, as an accomplished writer of funny sketches, revues and screenplays, Cleese entertains his audience even as he informs. And within the opening pages, one begins to hear his trademark voice and style of delivery. It’s a great way to make the experience even more intimate and real.
And the anecdotes! If you are somehow unfamiliar with the unique brand of comedy that has since come to be described as “Pythonesque”, you’ll likely laugh out loud at some of the author’s recollections and observations.
Take this example, in which the author contemplates his family’s change of residence immediately after they experienced a German Air Raid …
Mother told me once that some Westonians privately criticized Dad for retreating so soon. They apparently felt it would have been more dignified to have waited a week or so before running away. I think this view misses the essential point of running away, which is to do it the moment the idea has occurred to you. Only an obsessive procrastinator would cry, “Let’s run for our lives, but not till Wednesday afternoon.”
Cleese’s revelations run the gamut: he was more than 6 foot tall by the time he turned 12 years old and one of his teachers described him as “six foot of chewed string.” He was an only child and sheltered by a frequently over-protective father even as his mother was wracked by a form of anxiety that surpassed anything that might be described as “clinical”:
“I once proposed to Dad that we should purchase a large hamster wheel for her, so that she would find it easy to remain active all day, instead of having continually to invent non-essential activities like polishing cans of peas, or stacking cups, or sewing borders on handkerchiefs, or boiling knitting needles, or weeding the carpet.”
Yes, of course it’s funny… but it’s also got that telltale ring of truth to it as well. Cleese’s writing is as delightful as it is illuminating. For example he describes one of his his school teachers as “not exactly the brightest lighthouse along the coastline.”
His observations of his favorite writing partner, Graham Chapman, his erstwhile professional benefactor, David Frost, and British comedy luminaries such as Peter Sellers make for fascinating reading. He also rewards the devoted fan base with tales of some origins for such things as the name “Fawlty Towers”, the “Cheese Shop Sketch” and what may be one of his most classic bits of Python comedy, the “Dead Parrot Sketch.”
Fair warning: the book includes a few sprinkles of profanity, but if you’ve ever seen the Python comedy films, you already know to expect that.
Extremely highly recommended, especially now that it’s available in paperback (Five out of five stars).
Here’s hoping he’ll be reading the audio book version in the not-too-distant future.