Belfast Telegraph

John Cleese: I worry about trying to write comedy now

He says the Pythons would probably be “lynched” if they made religious satire Life Of Brian now.

John Cleese says he worries about writing comedy now because he cannot get to grips with the modern world.

The Monty Python and Fawlty Towers star, 77, says a lot of contemporary life is lost on him.

In the TV series In Conversation With, Cleese tells fellow comedian John Bishop he would not know how to set Oscar-winning 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda, which he penned as well as starred in, in the present day.

“I worry sometimes about trying to write comedy now because … I don’t understand so much of the modern world,” the funnyman says.

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John Bishop

“If I had to do a rewrite of A Fish Called Wanda it would all change because of the mobile phone, do you see what I mean?

“If I was trying to write something modern now, I just … I don’t understand enough of how it works.”

Making TV comedy “nowadays (means) you have lots of people saying, ‘Well, you know, let’s try and get sort of the young 20s in here’, and it’s got to be multi-racial and all this stuff” whereas on Monty Python “we just did what made us laugh”, he adds.

He tells Bishop the Pythons would probably be “lynched” if they made religious satire Life Of Brian now.

The comedian, who has previously revealed that he turned down a CBE because it would not make him “Commander Cleese”, wants to “stir things up a bit”.

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“I want to see people getting a bit angry … about the fact this society doesn’t work properly and it rewards the rich and powerful far too much,” he says.

“And it’s not the decent society that we used to have a long time ago, which was a mess … but there was a certain degree of fairness to it.”

The comedian also talks on the show, to air on TV channel W later this month, about his sense of humour, revealing the unusual way he cheered up his depressed mother.

“One occasion, she was literally listing the reasons that she didn’t want to go on living. She was in a home, she was in her late 80s, all her friends had died.

“I understood this, but you don’t want your mum to be unhappy, you want her to be happy.

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Jennifer Wade (Ian West/PA

“And I thought, what can I do? You know, I was thinking, oh God, and I said something out of the blue, my greatest creative moment, I said, ‘Mum, I have an idea’.

“She said, ‘Oh, what is that?’. I said, ‘I know a little man who lives in Fulham, and if you’re still feeling this way next week, you don’t wanna go on living, I could give him a call if you like, but only if you like, and he could come down to Weston-super-Mare and kill you’.

“There’s startled silence. And then she cackled with laughter. It was absolutely wonderful.”

When the boyfriends of his two personal assistants both died in the same month, Cleese “walked into the office the next … Monday morning and said to them, ‘Anyone dead today I should know about?’.”

The star, who has been through three marriage splits and is now married to Jennifer Wade, said he lost his Basil the rat model from the famous Fawlty Towers episode in which a health inspector visits.

“Manuel’s rat … it was wonderful as a model, that rat,” Cleese says.

“Would you believe in the course of my various divorces I lost it? I had it up there on the mantelpiece in a place of honour. It was very clever ‘cos it had a little revolving head.”

:: John Bishop: In Conversation With John Cleese airs on W on Thursday October 19 at 9pm.

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