Say No More…

One of the great things about being a Monty Python fan is watching references turn up in all sorts of places. For example, in a Law 360 report of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s appeal of his prison sentence:
In the appeal, Blagojevich had contested many elements of the convictions on 18 counts in two trials, but the court brushed off the majority of the protests. For example, it rejected Blagojevich’s argument that his language on other counts didn’t qualify as extortion.

“ ‘Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you know what I mean’ can amount to extortion under the Hobbs Act, just as it can furnish the gist of a Monty Python sketch,” Easterbrook said.
Nice to know that Judge Easterbrook is a fan. And, thanks to my old pal and current legal wiz Pat Cotter for calling my attention to it!
@ericidle #montypython @montypython
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PythonProv

It could have been a disastrous afternoon.

I was going to be teaching the very first PythonProv workshop at the iO Chicago, at the intersection of Monty Python and improvisation. I’m sure I was more nervous than my students. After all, how do you teach someone to improvise in the style of Monty Python?

I had a few reasons for optimism. If you can improvise Shakespeare, surely you can improvise Monty Python, and Improvised Shakespeare is one of the iO’s most successful shows. And, all modesty aside, I don’t know anyone who knows more about Monty Python and improvisation. (The glorious results of a misspent youth.)

But then, even the Pythons don’t improvise. They are meticulous writers, but the only improvisation they do is in the writing room.

So I had to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew, promising these students I could teach them how to improvise in the style of Monty Python.

And as I headed to the theatre this morning, I further realized that these students were part of the iO’s annual summer intensive, so I would be facing students from all across the country who had never improvised together before.

But when they started to arrive, I realized that I was wrong. True, they had never improvised together. But they were not from around the country. They were from around the world. So in addition to students from Pittsburgh and San Diego and Savannah, there were also students from England and Norway and Australia and Scotland. One of my students helped start the first improv group in Bulgaria!

But then we got down to it. It reminded me of one of my early classes with my pal Del Close. Del didn’t always know how things were going to work, but with the Baron’s Barracudas and his other students as his lab rats, he managed to figure it out. And, more often than not, he was right.

This time, I had a whole group of international lab rats to help me find our way through the process. We didn’t succeed with every scene, but more often than not, we managed to figure it out and learn how to keep improving. Even the students who weren’t as familiar with Monty Python were happy with the techniques they learned that could be applied to their more mainstream improvisation.

And by the end of the three hours, they were doing some excellent work, and I was starting to see the pathway to developing real PythonProv for performance.

And so, PythonProv is a thing, and not a disaster. Keep watching for more–I’ll be scheduling some full-length 8-week classes soon with the iO Chicago.

This is the beginning.

Best Movie of the Year (so far)…

…doesn’t have dinosaurs or superheroes or any of the usual superstars. Nevertheless, I HIGHLY recommend that you see Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic starring both Paul Dano and John Cusack as the leader of the Beach Boys. I thought I knew the whole story, but I never thought it could be told as well as this. It’s not likely to be in theatres very much longer; it’s drawn great reviews but small crowds, but it’s well worth going out of your way to find. You will thank me.

loveandmercy

Cleese and Idle…together again for the first time!…

When I saw @johncleese recently, he told me that he would be touring around Florida this fall with @ericidle. And now, the official announcement has been made here. If you saw John and Eric in LA last November, you know this is not to be missed. Say no more.

Christopher Lee R.I.P.

imageI only met him once, but for this Famous Monsters of Filmland, horror loving kid, my mind still reels.

I was in England, writing for one of Jim Steranko’s magazines, and visiting a number of movie sets. Most of them were at various British studios, but one was being shot on location at a castle, out in the British countryside. It was a genre movie called House of the Long Shadows. When I learned who was in the cast, I would have paid Steranko for the opportunity.

Because who wouldn’t have loved to be on a movie watching Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Vincent Price work together? (The fourth star–John Carradine–had the day off.) Outside it was uncharacteristically bright and sunny, but the interior of the castle was appropriately creepy, and the stars fit it like a glove.

Christopher Lee was tall and could certainly be intimidating (as anyone who ever saw him as Dracula, Scaramanga, or even, much later, Saruman, could attest). But off-screen, he was the model of a warm, cultured English gentleman, and even if I hadn’t known their history, it would have been easy to tell they were old friends and colleagues. When the director shouted “Cut!” they dropped their characters instantly and began enjoying each others’ company. At one point, I remember being engrossed watching Lee and Cushing walk through a scene, realizing how many great Hammer films they had made together, and being slightly annoyed because I was suddenly pulled away from the scene by Vincent Price because he was ready to do our interview. (I quickly realized I didn’t have much reason to be annoyed.)

The entire cast and crew eventually adjourned to a nearby pub in the English countryside for lunch, and I ended up sitting near Lee, Cushing, and Price. They were in great spirits, and I remember at one point their discussion centered not on Dracula, but on Russian art and their favorite museums. One of their other co-stars, Desi Arnaz Jr., mentioned that he had never had a scone, and so they all made a great show of ordering and presenting the young actor with his very first scone.

Somewhere I still have the tape of my interview with Christopher Lee (as well as Cushing and Price). I’ve visited a lot of film sets, but few as memorable as that day, for which I have to thank Steranko and his then-assistant and my long-time editor and pal David McDonnell. From serving in WW2 to starring as Dracula, all the way through to Saruman–well, amazing is the word that comes to mind. We hear a lot of “end of an era” statements, but to me, Christopher Lee’s passing is just that. Thanks for everything #christopherlee

For those of you who have been asking what some of my incredibly talented classes have been up to: well, this is what some of my incredibly talented classes have been up to.

Yes, the next step for my Python Process class at the iO Chicago appears to be videos, specifically, writing sketches and then recording them. My class is called Sketch to Video, and signup is about to begin. Get ready…

Personal Python Process…

Big thanks to dear Terry Jones for saying hello (via long-distance) to my Python Process class at the iO today. Nothing motivates a group of young writers (and Python fans) like a word of encouragement from Mr. Creosote, Brian’s mum, and Sir Bedevere!

Mandy

Absolutely Anything…

…is the name of my pal Terry Jones’ new movie, which stars Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, and the voices of Robin Williams and most of the Pythons. The US release date hasn’t yet been announced, but the trailer is out for the rest of the world, and it looks great. Take a peek.