Award-winning, student-run, weekly campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, Springfield

The Observer

Award-winning, student-run, weekly campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, Springfield

The Observer

Award-winning, student-run, weekly campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, Springfield

The Observer

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

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“No I’m Eric Idle, Stop confusing me with the Cheese Guy.” | Photo Credit: Monty Python: The Meaning Of Life

Funny thing, time – our lone companion as we traverse the bounds of life. Always moving, never ceasing to be an annoying rat gnawing at our limited minutes. It is a fear we face every day, sometimes consuming, sometimes the push to get out of bed and make something of ourselves. It’s a recurring nightmare that becomes a problem when we notice the moments ticking down. Only when we bring ourselves to find something worth accomplishing do we spit in time’s face and smile while looking down the barrel of death. This is what was given to several hundred ticket holders wanting a glimpse of one of the most prolific English comedians ever to live—Eric Idle? Wait, that’s not right. Oh yes, Stephen Fry? No, that’s not it either. Who’s the guy with the mustache? Ah yes, Simon Pegg, always got them mixed up. What? Still not him, really? John Cleese? Isn’t he dead? But that is what Cleese keeps telling us. Are you sure? Whatever. You know his last name was Cheese at one time.

John Cleese was at the tail end of his “An Evening with the Late John Cleese” American tour dates. These spanned from Oct. 18 to Nov. 19, giving a month for American audiences to see the Monty Python alum. Sandwiched between stops in St. Louis and Nashville was a one-night event at the Sangamon Auditorium. As people gathered in the lobby to meet with friends and collect tickets, there was a table with several blue cards where an audience member could write down a question for Mr. Cleese during the second half of the show. This humble reporter wanted Mr. Cleese to say, “Bow-Chika-Wow-Wow,” but sadly was denied. Surprisingly, there was no merchandise stand as was promoted in earlier shows on the tour. It should be mentioned that this reporter’s ticket was purchased through a friend and bought at a cheaper rate, so thanks to him for the chance to see Mr. Cleese.

When walking into the auditorium, the atmosphere was a little disappointing, to say the least. There felt more pressure on the ushers to perform well, than there were people trying to find their seats. In fact, in this reporter’s best estimate, only a third of the seats were taken that evening, with several sections empty specifically on the floor level leading up to the stage. It wasn’t surprising, given the lack of event promotion—only Twitter/X and Facebook mentions from John Cleese’s official account. One would also factor in the age and time displacement of Mr. Cleese, being from an era where the term woke did not apply.

Around 7:40 the lights went down and, as customary with comedic acts, the audience had to endure an opening act. However, this time it was different, as Camilla Cleese, Mr. Cleese’s daughter, came out to enhance the atmosphere. Most jokes either landed as deprecation of gender, making fun of her dad, or talking about events in relation to dating life. How she was over six feet tall and would be harder to kidnap due to her stature. Ms. Cleese was on the nervous side, taking several breaths trying to find her footing, yet she was able to push on through her 17-minute set in style. It was an exceptional effort, making fun of everyday life while being able to navigate an older crowd with cheers from all around – but not the typical laughter that brings the house down, which might have been more appealing to a younger audience (though maybe not given Cleese’s stance on wokeness).

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However, the applause did rise once the dead old Englishman began to waddle his way out onto the stage, physically implying “I’m too old for this.” Yet, when he sat down, the old Python kicked it into high gear, well his gear being one, but still a gear nonetheless. Mr. Cleese sat on a simple chair, next to a round table. It had a box of tissues and a glass of water. His first task of the evening, explaining how he was still alive. Well, the secret is that (Redacted Information). Even God would be jealous of his powers. Regardless, he talked about the benefits of age, finding it nicer to ignore the annoying sounds around him and live in bliss. That there was no point in worrying about death, as basically he was a walking Frankenstein’s monster.

Now came the nostalgic part of the evening, where Mr. Cleese would revisit some of his Monty Python days and watch it with the crowd. It is interesting that Mr. Cleese would do this, but not at all surprising. This was the stuff that most of the people in the audience were attached to and wanted to see. The memory of the films and episodes that brought fame to Cleese’s name. The most famous of which was the Black Knight (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)) who had all his limbs cut off yet called it a flesh wound. We as a society are beginning to look back at what is considered the good times. Times when we could laugh at someone’s misery and not be shamed for it. It is that notion Mr. Cleese brings up, not only in age but in spirit.  He sees society as no longer able to laugh at oneself, everything is too serious. That laughter allows us to forget about our issues and the diminishing seconds of life, to simply breathe and live. It’s the irony of an old man, with decades of entertainment stuffed into his back pocket, needing to subvert the reality we see ourselves in, and asks us to just take a piss on it and laugh at the insanity that life brings us.

It was there that he segued into just that, making fun of different countries, religions, beliefs, Cleveland (a running joke used by every comedian), and much more. However, he does this in jest without the intent of harm, which is one of the reasons laughter is lost. The lines are blurred today as people in general are desensitized to a majority of the world’s problems. Unless we make fun of the idiocy of our past, what good does that do for the future? Then he related a tale of his fallen fellow Python alum Graham Chaplin that would most certainly cancel him today but brought the house down during intermission.

After intermission came the Q & A portion of the show that featured Camilla Cleese returning to the stage as the moderator. This entire section of the show was the funniest, but also the most disappointing. Most of the questions asked led toward seemingly predetermined answers by Cleese. It’s unsure if they were pre-written as Camilla Cleese went through the cards on stage while Mr. Cleese was telling the story of how George Harrison saved The Life of Brian. Perhaps the Springfield audience didn’t have anything better than Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow, but one question did stand above the rest. Someone asked if Majorie Taylor Greene weighed more than a duck to which the audience fell down with laughter. In the end, it didn’t really matter as the audience was having fun while listening to insane stories of how Monty Python nearly got a tour of a concentration camp. These questions all built up to one final clip of Monty Python and the legacy that Mr. Cleese and his fellow entertainers created many years ago, one that left the crowd speechless in laughter.

Mr. Cleese gave his final thanks to the crowd making the excuse that he needed to take a nap, and shuffled off like an old man who had no business being as funny as he was. John Cleese, while not being in the higher plane of known comedians that have walked the face of Earth, was someone who understood laughter and, above all, time. A person can see many things within an 84-year lifespan, but Mr. Cleese has managed to grasp the reins of time and refused to have it stop his love of performing. For one night, people could remember the old times as well as the new, taking a breath that we all need in this day and age. Sometimes we forget that laughter is the best medicine for sour spots in life, and if an old and dead Englishman can do it, who’s to say we can’t? Now stop reading this article and go look at some cat videos or something. Don’t let time slip away.

Time to take a nap | Photo Credit: Allen Schmitz

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