David Lister: John Cleese's comic genius has gone the way of his marriages

The Week in Arts

Share
Related Topics

'Don't mention the war!" was probably the phrase most associated with John Cleese. Somehow that has turned into "Don't mention the wife!".

There's something that I find rather sad about John Cleese's alimony tour which began on Tuesday in Cambridge.

The 71-year-old one-time comic genius had an inordinate number of film clips and, according to most of the critics, wasn't terribly funny. The tour is, as it says on the can, designed to raise money to help to pay off the £12.3m divorce settlement that was awarded to his ex, the psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger, a woman Cleese now describes as a cross between Bluebeard and Heather Mills in a show he has dubbed "Feeding the Beast".

One film clip is of Ms Eichelberger at an ATM. Cleese comments: "She is helping herself to my money." Python and Fawlty had better lines.

Oh dear, this sounds like a comedian in a time warp. Cleese, once one of the most innovative entertainers in the world, has not realised that the world has moved on since the 1960s. We don't think of it any more as your money that she is taking from the ATM, John. When people are married it is their joint money. Even after they are divorced, what she is awarded is hers. He also divides the divorce settlement by the 16 years they were married to conclude that she has "earned" $3,500 a day from the marriage.

How could someone once so brilliantly funny not realise the gaucheness of those remarks? How could someone, who with Monty Python and Fawlty Towers created characters, situations and jokes that are immortal, be reduced to little more than a stilted, illustrated lecture tour of his greatest hits?

At one point he confesses to the audience that he "hasn't done anything of interest" since the film A Fish Called Wanda in 1988. In that case, this was the chance to do something of interest, to reinvent the stand-up comedy spot, just as he reinvented television comedy.

I wonder if Cleese has had a look recently at what his fellow ex-Pythons are up to. This very week Terry Gilliam was directing an opera for ENO; Terry Jones has just written a libretto for the Royal Opera; Michael Palin continues to be prolific in print and on television; Eric Idle has given a new twist to the Python story with the colourful and hugely funny stage show Spamalot. How odd that the funniest of all the Pythons seems to have become the least inventive, a touch too curmudgeonly, a tad too retro.

But perhaps it's the wrong marital partner doing the post-divorce tour. The show I would really like to see is a stand-up routine from Alyce Faye Eichelberger. What was it really like being married to John Cleese? Now there's an evening which wouldn't be short on laughs.

David Hare's inside track on Bin Laden

An awful lot of people have had things to say this week about Osama bin Laden this week, but the person who might have the most interesting point to reveal is the playwright Sir David Hare. In his 2004 play Stuff Happens, about the build-up to the Iraq war, it was stated that Bin Laden had actually been surrounded by British troops before 2004, but they had to withdraw as the Americans wanted to be the ones to take him.

Pure fiction, one would suppose – except that the play was not a work of fiction; it was based on meticulous research at very high levels by Sir David. So who gave him this information, and why have there been no denials from the military or from politicians about this scene? The arts have not really figured in all the column inches devoted to Bin Laden in the past few days. But one of the country's most important cultural figures could make a significant contribution by discussing one of his most significant scenes.

Don't change your voice, Cheryl, pet

Cheryl Cole is to be a judge on the American version of The X Factor, and not surprisingly there are mutterings that Americans will be confused by her Geordie accent and Geordyisms. Indeed, she is said to be visiting a voice coach, and has been warned not to use words like "babe" and "pet" as they have different meanings in America. I'd have thought a bigger problem might be that Americans won't have a clue who she is, as she has not had any career to speak of over there at all.

I think Cheryl should refuse all speech lessons and all attempts to stop her using her own vocabulary. If you're not going to be yourself, you will simply come across as characterless. The bigger point is that the American X Factor has chosen the wrong girl. For charm, looks, incisive comments and an ability to spot talent, the clear choice has to be Cheryl's fellow judge on the British show, the wonderful Dannii Minogue. And even those ultra-nervous souls, American TV producers might have coped with an Australian accent.





React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Year 5/6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Permanent Year 6 TeacherThe job:This...

KS1 & KS2 Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: KS1+KS2 Teachers required ASAP for l...

Year 2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 2 Teacher The position is to wo...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: Waking up to my 4am witching hour of worry

Rebecca Armstrong
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past