The return of Monty Python, today facing the media, getting ready for a gig at London's O2 next summer. The five (out of six) remaining members (the tour is called 'One Down - Five To Go') stroll casually into the room where the eagerly awaited press conference is being held, amble towards the front of the stage and then start talking to the world's media very loudly (and at the exact same time) about their own latest projects, nothing to do with Python; five chattering fools talking undecipherable, randomly brilliant madness that doesn't make any sense.
The chatter ends abruptly, they all turn almost as one - and sit down in the wrong seats of course; the name cards not matching, no doubt confusing those not in the know or even those who only have a limited idea of who they all are. The team carry the gag gamely on by answering questions on behalf of whichever Python member (whose seat they've stumbled into as if from a game of madcap musical chairs) they've stolen the identity of, for as long as they can milk it dry - or until they start to confuse even themselves (Cleese and Gilliam look like it's a gag they've been paid not to appear in, while Idle - who seems to the only Python really behind the skit - effortlessly slips into answering, on behalf of Cleese, why he won't be doing the silly walks now he's getting on a bit, with undisguised glee).
There's a lot of prickly banter to be had: Terry Gilliam later tells us, with something of a growl, that there will be plenty of singers and dancers in front of his new Python animations to make them more funny, (pause) .. and singers and dancers in front of the rest of the team's comedy sketches to make them more funny too (a wry comment on the recent success of the Python musical SPAMALOT perhaps?).
|The press invitation suggests something more like a funeral!|
Talking about their advancing ages, Eric Idle offers a quietly wonderful, touching aside (not picked up on by the other Pythons, possibly deliberately) that Graham Chapman (who died, aged 48, but who will still be a part of the new show, we are told, Idle adding that he's put a good word in with God) is now "the youngest" of the team, never ageing like the rest of them cruelly, clearly, are - a surreal, deliberately pitiful little snigger at death from the back of the class, like the Python's BBC series often was. Chapman would have loved it. . . or he'd have told Eric to fuck off. And head back to the pub that lunchtime, to write something, probably the next morning.
Carol Cleveland, the unofficial '7th member' of the Python team is back for the new show too, well - probably. She was in the front row at the press conference and did a twirl when her name was mentioned. When asked if Cleveland will be in the new show, the team wonder who they should get to play her, overlapping chatter follows: "I know, why not get the real Carol Cleveland to play Carol Cleveland?"/ "Yes, that's a good idea". Terry Gilliam then admits they probably will bring her back: "as she's so much cheaper than the original". I don't think he was joking.
I can't see the Pythons are going to make all that much of a rumoured fortune from this one-off reunion, not as much as they (and the doubters) say they will: "We're all doing this to pay for Terry Jones' mortgage" says Eric Idle, and Terry Jones seems to nod his head in agreement. The new production is promised to be a spectacular, more like a musical stage show: a lot of money will be going into this. With Python fans still thrilled by the visual excess of SPAMALOT, they'd probably expect nothing less.
The tickets range from £27.50 - £95, (Cleese says they've made sure all the tickets stay under £100) and Idle says they will be advertising this as: "Still £300 cheaper than the Rolling Stones". The questions from the world's media mainly centre on whether the tour, if it becomes one, will head anywhere else. Palin jokes that he's already been all over the world for his BBC series ("books still available") so he'd be game, and there's a few places he'd like to go back to. One member of the press urges them to go to her country as there's lots of skiing. Even the Pythons are confused by the surrealism of that one.
|The Pythons who aren't dead, reunited at the press event!|
The London gig will probably be the Python's final fist-clenched farewell whatever, and the tickets go on sale from Monday. It could be worth a punt, but you'll be lucky to get one, the tickets are expected to sell out straight away. All the stars of the show may even all be dead by this time next year, we are continually reminded, almost as a disclaimer - or we could certainly lose one or two. The team tell the press that they've even got alternative names for the reunion in the event of sudden death: "Two Down - Four To Go," says Palin.
Cleese tells us that his money's on Terry Jones (coughing and spluttering throughout) to go first. I must admit, he doesn't look too well and one point he answers a question with such unexpected enthusiasm (having remained near silent the rest of the time) it's as if a battery has recharged. Even the other Pythons recoil and stare back at him in shock: "We forgot you were still here," says one. Terry Gilliam says he thinks the order of death will be alphabetical. Cleese looks down at the table: "In your dreams Gilliam," he mutters, having also just reminded the press (and backing up Idle's previous answering about this prickly subject on Cleese's behalf) that he won't be doing any of his famous 'silly walks' again as he has an artificial hip and knee now. I'm beginning to wonder whether The Grim Reaper, one of the best-loved characters from the Python movies, may well be turning up at some point in the reunion too, an unpaid cameo; "Surprise! Look, here's Graham. . ."
Eric Idle apparently made a fortune out of writing hit stage musical SPAMALOT, based on the 1975 film 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' that they all wrote together; the other Pythons are still thought to be prickly about getting far fewer royalties than Idle now gets (although Idle was often shunted out of the writing process by the other Pythons in the team's earlier work so the fact it's Idle now, more than anyone, keeping the Python spirit alive and well, is the most perfect irony of all). But Python works as a team, and without each other (even when only in spirit or incentive) they would be without backbone.
The fact nobody jokes about a possible early demise for Idle though (and everyone else gets a turn on having imminent death predicted) is perhaps the most telling moment of all. He's directing the new show - they have to be nice to him, while clenching a red hot poker behind their backs for when the curtain falls.
A horrible death plotted by your fellow comedy writing team of a red hot poker up the bottom while singing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' one last time; it's entirely the Python way.
Words: Mark Gordon Palmermarkgordonpalmer@aol.com
"Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody." J. D. Salinger THE CATCHER IN THE RYE