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John Cleese On Comedic Timing And Coming To America


by Stephen Becker 4 Dec 2019

The Monty Python co-founder stopped by KERA to talk about his life in comedy. As it turns out, his walk wasn’t that silly at all.

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John Cleese is in town today to accept the Ernie Kovacs Award from VideoFest. And before tonight’s festivities, he stopped by KERA to talk with Krys Boyd about everything from the founding of Monty Python, to what it takes to recite dialogue while hanging upside down, to the role KERA played in getting “Flying Circus” on in the States. Tune into KERA 90.1 Friday afternoon at 1 to hear the complete interview. But until then, here are some highlights from the conversation:


John Cleese on …

… comedic timing:

“The thing about a certain type of comedy is it has to be played fast, and that means you have to learn the words. And that means a lot of actors don’t really want to learn the words, particularly if they have a five-day turnover in a series. To learn those kinds of words is a real commitment of time.”

… on tricks of the trade:

“The first thing to do is to start doing it as fast as you can. And then you see where the connections go. Oh, I always forget it at that point – so then you concentrate on the last phrase of the line before and see what mental associations that’s got and then try and associate that with what’s coming up.”

… on why Americans embraced Monty Python:

“I always think of all the people who said, ‘It got me through college.’ All the people who loved that kind of humor. It’s more graduate humor – it’s also kids get it immediately. But even when I’m doing a show and I show a clip, from the light of the screen I can see the front three rows. And there’s always somebody sitting there with his arms folded – almost always a man – trying to understand it.”

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