In October of 2015, I interviewed John Cleese for the Boston Globe in advance of a local stop on his book tour for So Anyway…, his fantastically funny memoir. There was plenty of material to ask about in the book. Cleese covers a lot of ground, especially concerning his formative years before he even knew that being funny for a living was an option for him. And I’ve been a fan for most of my life, having loved the movies as a kid, and studied Monty Python’s Hollywood Bowl show with at least as much intensity as I applied to anything I was doing at school. But that can work against you. Cleese’s work — from Python to Fawlty Towers to A Fish Called Wanda — has been analyzed and quoted and parsed over decades. So how do you engage someone like that in an interview? What do you ask him that he hasn’t already talked about dozens or hundreds or thousands of times? I acquitted myself fairly well, I believe. But I started the interview asking him what questions he was tired of answering.
Later in the interview, we talked about why no one has ever been able to remake Fawlty Towers effectively as an American show. Cleese writes about it in the book, saying there is a fundamental misunderstanding about Basil Fawlty’s anger, and what drives the character. In a larger sense, Cleese blames a lack of writing talent.
“There are very, very few people who can write really good comedy,” he says. “Tiny number. That’s why they can’t write Basil Fawlty. But they certainly don’t understand how to make the character funny.”
If you enjoy this interview, you should definitely read So Anyway… It’s a must for comedy nerds, and anyone who enjoys a smart, funny memoir. Also, please consider subscribing to the Department of Tangents Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever quality podcasts are kept.