Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Did you attend Nazi Confectionary College?

If you've ever wished you could hire someone for a good argument, or dispute the health of a parrot, or felt the irresistible urge to get from point A to B via a funny walk, you can thank John Cleese.  His memoir So Anyway . . . chronicles his life from his upbringing in a small English seaside town, to his worldwide fame as a comedian in Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers.

Cleese was born when his parents were already in their 40s.  He describes them as overprotective and suggests this was the reason he was somewhat reserved and "unmanly" during his youth.  The family surname had started out as "Cheese" but his father changed it when he enlisted in World War I (although Cleese says this didn't stop him from being called Cheese during his school years).  His father was calm, patient and kind but his mother could be unpredictable, difficult and anxious.  Therefore, he had a hard time with his relationships to women throughout his life.

The book details his early days at a boys school, where he was a day pupil rather than a boarder.  Eventually he discovered a love and talent for cricket, which helped him find his place in school.  He eventually went to Cambridge, originally to study science but later switching to law.  Before he started his university studies, he taught history to elementary school boys, an experience he greatly enjoyed.  While at Cambridge, he became involved in the Footlights committee, a theatrical group, and really got his start writing and performing comedy.  He still intended to make a career in law, but  after meeting Graham Chapman, he changed direction.

He goes on to describe his years in television and his collaboration with other entertainment greats such as his fellow Monty Python actors, Peter Sellers and David Frost.  He also discusses his meeting and work with his first wife, Connie Booth, known to TV audiences as the long suffering maid Polly in Fawlty Towers.  The book basically ends as Monty Python gets started, but there is an afterward where Cleese discusses the reunion shows that the surviving members performed in 2013.  They were unsure of the reception they'd receive, but the fact that they were able to sell out all the shows is a testament to the enduring fondness the public has for the zany antics of the Python crew.

This book is an interesting look at how a comedy legend got his start.  It is told in an amusing, self-depreciating way, and is quite entertaining. Perhaps the details of his career leading up to forming the Python group are a bit too long, but overall, for anyone who is a fan, this is a pleasant visit with someone who feels like a somewhat eccentric uncle.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of So Anyway . . . from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

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