The Last of the Last Night of Monty Python

 The scene after the show ended on the Last Night of Monty Python was–well, it was chaotic in a good way, but chaotic nevertheless.

 
My son and I made our way backstage very slowly, weaving through the crowd and making our way through the hallways. Camera crews were everywhere, blocking any convenient access, so we made our way back into the Green Room. It was packed with people I didn’t know, many of them apparently from the same group that was there for the live TV pre-show broadcasts, and a small band was setting up. They began playing very loudly in the rather small room, and I quickly realized that there was no way that John Cleese would ever, ever show up in this room. 
 
We waited a few more minutes, during which time I saw Eric Idle enter and wade through the crowd. The crowd showed no sign of letting up, so we decided to take our chances in the hallways. 
 
There were apparently several levels of backstage passes. We wore VIP passes, which were apparently second-highest only to the coveted AAA (all-access area). But it was difficult to discern what they actually meant. We would walk down one hallway and be turned away, and be welcomed when we came back two minutes later. We tried to enter what was apparently a small pub inside the larger pub in search of John Cleese, but were told it was over capacity and we would have to wait until some people left. So, we walked down to the Family Hospitality Suite, where Terry Jones was greeting everyone (and, appropriately, his family was in attendance; and I caught up with his son Bill).
TJ Bill HJ
We had drinks and visited, meeting new friends and old. The crowd didn’t seem to dissipate, so we walked down to the pub-within-a-pub to say hello to John. He had apparently left, but the Gilliam family was well-represented, and I walked past Terry to say hello to Prof. Stephen Hawking. I introduced myself to him and explained my Python connection to him and his assistants. Then, I said hello to Maggie Gilliam, who was astonished at the size of my now-19-year-old son, and I re-met their son Harry, who was just as tall as my son. As Eric Idle told me, “You’ve got to stop feeding him!”
 
I had a chance to catch up with the always delightful John Goldstone in the hallway, and he mentioned that the Pythons had all been called away for a final round of photos. It was getting late, and it was perilously close to the times for the last trains, so we reluctantly said goodnight and headed out. As we were walking around the darkened O2, heading for the exits, we heard some talking behind a partition that was now blocking the huge dead parrot from the public areas. I knew those voices, so we walked around in time to see the Pythons leaving, their final photo obligation finished. John called out to me and we all had a few minutes together before we had to leave. We missed the last trains of the Last Night of Monty Python, of course and had to pile into the buses, but it was worth it. 

 

 

First Month Without Monty Python…

It was one month ago that we witnessed the Last Night of Monty Python. If you’ve been going through withdrawal, here’s a one minute and thirty-three second taste of the final week:

And yes, I know I haven’t finished my own story about the Last Night of Python. Soon. Very soon.

Python Talk…

…Local reporter Mike Murphy has interviewed me many times about my various comings and goings. He did it again last week, and the result is another well-written piece that makes me sound literate, organized, and knowledgeable, and even plugs my latest Python book. Thanks Mike!

Robin and Mr. Winters

I did a radio show with my dear pal Michael McCarthy Tuesday, for Justin Kaufman on WBEZ-FM in Chicago. We were discussing why many folks with mental illness seem to be drawn to comedy, or why comedy seems to draw many people suffering from mental illness. Not everyone suffering from mental illness is in comedy, and not everyone in comedy is mentally ill, despite how it may seem at times. 
RW JW
It was, of course, a way to help process what seems to be so difficult for many of us to process: why someone as successful and famous and wealthy as Robin Williams couldn’t bear to go on living. I’ve always said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And I think that’s true in most cases, but to someone suffering from major clinical depression–well, I’m not so sure they can see it as a temporary problem.
 
The question seems to be how we each process it all. I can’t help thinking of Jonathan Winters, whom I’ve written about in the past, and who was idolized by Robin Williams. I can’t imagine how Mr. Winters was able to make it through life without performing–whether it was on national television, or for someone who approached him on the street. (And I’ve seen both, and I’m not so sure he wasn’t at his funniest when he was talking to a waiter or a group of tourists.) Because when he wasn’t performing, he got into a dark place very quickly, and it was very difficult to get him out of it. He always blamed his father and his upbringing, but there was little doubt, to me, that the demons seemed to come from the same place as those that plagued Robin Williams.
 
Both men seemed to try to exorcise their demons through comedy, and both seemed to be successful for a while. But Mr. Winters was able to stave them off, Robin wasn’t. Why, we’ll never know. All we can do now is hope we can find a way to help the next generation of Robin Williamses from succumbing to the darkness. 

Robin Williams…

…I don’t have much to say except that it’s a great loss, and very sad. I had a few encounters with Robin Williams, the first of which was at a party at Harry Nilsson’s house after the final night of Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. At that time, Mork and Mindy was one of the biggest shows on television. I noticed him walking around the back yard in the near-dark, alone, and decided to approach him, as we had a mutual friend who worked on that show. It quickly became apparent that he was in a much darker place than that back yard, and I quickly excused myself. When his substance abuse problems first became public, I was not surprised.

Robin

I had a much happier memory of Robin several years later–oddly, it was when Del Close was dying. I know that Robin and Del knew each other by way of The Committee in San Francisco, of which Robin was a huge admirer (Del never actually taught him, but always called him his “grand-student”). I thought Robin should know that Del didn’t have much time left and might appreciate a call, so I asked Eric Idle to pass on the news. To my surprise, I got a phone call shortly afterward, and we chatted for a while; I filled him in on Del and he was effusive in his praise of Del. He apparently had trouble connecting with Del at the hospital–I’m still unclear whether they were ultimately successful, but if not, it was not for lack of trying. He called me several more times that week and I gave him regular updates. I remember him asking me about a couple of science fiction stories that he was considering doing as films; at first it seemed a little odd that he would ask me, a near-stranger, but then I realized that he knew that I was friends with Del, so I would almost certainly have to be SF savvy!). We had some nice chats in which he felt no pressure to perform or entertain for me over the phone, and I felt like I was talking to the real person. I liked him enormously.

There were other encounters. I can recall an elevator ride late one night at Rockefeller Plaza, after a Saturday Night Live broadcast. I found myself riding down with Robin Williams and Tom Petty, the former as animated as one might expect, apparently in an effort to entertain the latter.

It’s all very sad, sad for his family, his friends, and for comedy lovers. I’m particularly saddened for Eric Idle at the loss of his close friend. And Robin had just finished a film for Terry Jones, Absolutely Anything, in which he recorded the voice of the dog; Terry recently told me how much fun he’d had in the studio with him, and the many versions of the character he delivered. Now it’s going to be a much more poignant experience.

Last Night of Python Part One

July 20 had a much different feel to it than the previous night.

 
We took an earlier train to the O2 than we had on Saturday, but it seemed more crowded. I noticed a familiar-looking face in our car, about half a dozen seats away, and could swear it was Steve Coogan, who I last saw a few months before on the Academy Awards telecast. Funny who you see on the Tube…
 
Most of the passengers disembarked for the O2 and made their way through a light rainfall. My son and I picked up our tickets and passes and went inside, making our way to the green room. Along the way, we passed the 50-foot-long Norwegian Blue, which already had about a dozen fans queued up for photos with it. I picked up a few souvenirs, and we walked past a waiting crowd and stepped into the green room.
 
To our surprise, the room had been transformed from a low-key lounge and bar into a shrine to Python, complete with cages filled with dead parrots, and a pair of couches and cameras and lighting equipment at the far end. There was obviously going to be some sort of broadcast (I later found out that there was a live broadcast for British TV, hosted by and featuring a few British TV personalities). Eddie Izzard came out of the hallway with the dressing rooms; we said a quick hello and he went off to be interviewed by a roaming camera crew.
 
The crowd of people who had been held outside the green room were then allowed in; they were obviously background players for the broadcast. It was getting uncomfortably crowded. And then, someone who was obviously NOT a background player was wheeled into the room, accompanied by a pair of assistants. There was no mistaking Prof. Stephen Hawking; everyone respectfully deferred to him as he came to a halt near us behind the couches. A trio of girls in low-cut dresses swarmed around the good doctor for a few minutes, and my son had the chance to speak to him as well, mentioning his high school and the Nobel-Prize-winning doctor who founded it, and I snapped a picture of the two of them.
 
MJ Hawking
 
Most of the celebrities were British, and I didn’t recognize them. But I did recognize Warwick Davis and his family, who was also a center of attention. He stood near us and introduced himself to Prof. Hawking. I complimented him on his work at the Python press conference that had started the whole reunion, and we had a nice chat. And it was time to take our seats for the final show…
 
 

The Penultimate Night of Monty Python

The scene backstage after the July 19 show was one of subdued excitement.

Python live photo op
 
Many of the folks in the green room had already seen one or more of the reunion shows, and were just enjoying the afterglow. Eddie Izzard, who had just seen his sixth show was at the bar, apparently being interviewed. It was his first time as the onstage celebrity during the Blackmail sketch, though, and he seemed to have really enjoyed his time up there with the Pythons.
 
After a few minutes, Terry Jones entered the room, and made a beeline to my son and me.We discussed the show, and Terry again marveled at how their audience just lifted them up and made it such a special event. Not long after, John Cleese entered and headed straight for us. I secretly enjoyed noticing that Eddie Izzard watched both John and Terry make a point of greeting me immediately, and he seemed to decide that I was someone worth noticing… Eddie joined us, and he gave John a couple of suggestions (undoubtedly solicited by John) about a couple of moments. I asked John if, during a couple of moments when lines were shaky, he had done what he had done in other live shows–leaning over and asking the audience “What’s the next line?” He said that no, he hadn’t, but might well utilize it the next night if the situation arose. 
 
The rest was a blur. Terry introduced me to Ian Davidson, a familiar name to Python fans but someone I had never before met. Carol Cleveland walked through the room in showgirl costume, too far for me to get her attention. Michael Palin came over and said hello, and we were able to catch up for a few minutes. Then he begged off, explaining that they had to do a meet and greet, and I told him that John had invited us along if that was okay. He was very happy to have us along, and so our group, the five Pythons and a few of us stragglers, tailed by a camera crew, made our way through the hallways of the O2, and finally came to a freight elevator. We all piled in–the five Pythons, my son and I, Eddie, their manager, the promoter, the camera crew, and a couple of other miscellaneous folks, all crammed inside. I think we went up several floors, though we may have descended–I’m not really sure, that’s how crowded and hectic it was. We got off in a large darkened storage area and headed toward what turned out to be a working pub crammed with fans who had opted for the meet and greet opportunity.
 
While the Pythons were being miked, Eric Idle noticed me for the first time, greeted me warmly, and asked how my little boy was. I pointed out that the young man towering over both of us was the little boy that he had remembered.
 
They entered the room to a rousing response, and fans who had literally come from around the world. They asked questions and Eddie moderated, and all seemed to have a great time. After about a half hour, the Pythons and the rest of the group headed back the way we came, down the elevator, and back to the bowels of the O2. Terry offered us a ride back to our bed and breakfast, which we gratefully accepted, and we had a drink in the Family Reception Room while he ran back to his dressing room for his bag.
 
As we rode back to North London, Terry explained that after the first show, as an experiment and at their promoter’s behest, they did an extensive meet and greet with fans, posing for photos and signing autographs. Unfortunately, it took them over two hours, and they were totally exhausted afterward, so from that point on, they did the up-close-and-personal Q&A sessions instead–otherwise they’d probably have been too exhausted to make it through the weeks of shows. I asked question after question–after all, we hadn’t seen each other in nearly five years–but it wasn’t long before the adrenalin wore off, and we were all longing for bed. We thanked Terry again as the car pulled up in front of our inn, and promised we’d see him tomorrow night for the Last Night of Python. 

Post-Python Live

I didn’t have much of a chance to connect and blog while I was in London. Now that I’m home, I no longer have that excuse, so I can start writing about the Python Reunion.

And what a time it was for my son and me. The day we got in was a rare night off from the Python shows, and so we were invited to dinner by Terry Jones and his family. He escorted us from a nearby pub (past Terry Gilliam’s house) to his beautiful home in North London. Terry is the consummate host–and not a bad chef, either! He filled us in on how much fun they were having on stage, and there was real regret when he discussed the imminent end on Sunday night. He clearly would have loved to go on and on with the show, but was obviously enjoying the time remaining. 

We arrived at the O2 Arena Saturday evening with the trainloads of Python fans that were pouring in (“there’s a multitude out there!”). I reported to the Will Call window to collect my packet and ran into Andre Jacquemin, followed immediately by Ray Cooper, who was having trouble locating his tickets (fortunately Andre was able to help, and I saw Ray on the inside shortly after).

My first visit to the O2 did not disappoint. It’s a huge place, filled with restaurants and movie theatres as well as the huge arena that would be doing its best to contain the Pythons. We walked around a bit, past the giant dead parrot (where scores of people were queueing up for photos), and reported to the Green Room. There were surprisingly few people mingling around the room and at the bar less than an hour before the show. I said hello to Eddie Izzard, who clearly did not remember me (though to be fair, there’s really no reason that he should have, as I had only met him a couple of times prior to that). Helen Palin came through the room trying to locate some friends, we said hello briefly but she was clearly on a mission. 

MJ at O2
We took our seats in the massive O2 Arena, impressed at the scale of it all. This was a far cry from the City Center in New York, where I had first seen the group perform live in 1976. The stage and proscenium were huge. While I was close enough to see the group members on stage without the three giant screens, I figured I would need them to see the expressions on their faces during some of the more subtle moments. I saw some of the dedicated fans in the far reaches of the balconies, fully appreciating my own seats and and knew that these fans were hardcore enough to turn up even though they would have to watch most of the sketches on the large monitors overhead.
 
Terry J told me something a couple of nights before–something that the others would reiterate later–that I didn’t appreciate until the opening moments. “The audience is amazing,” he said. “They just lift us up when we’re performing.” As the lights dimmed, the opening clip rolled, and the guys stepped out onto the stage, I knew what he meant. The energy of the audience raised it all to the next level, and the Pythons basked in it despite themselves. It was a transcendent beginning to a show that kept up that energy throughout.
 
So many other people have written about the show itself–the running order, the performances, the production numbers and the video–that there isn’t much more I can add, other than a few impressions of my own. I thought the performances were incredible–I was tempted to say “for their age (they’re obviously all in the 70s),” but they were incredible for any age. I understand that some fans grumbled about the quantity of the video clips, but I thought they were fine. The production numbers were, I understand, divisive, with some audience members loving them, and others not very interested. The most enjoyable aspect of them for me was watching Eric take charge of the stage in a way that he hadn’t when he was younger. Of course, one of his finest moments was performing “The Galaxy Song,” without singers or dancers (except for a brief turn with Carol Cleveland).
 
It was great fun watching John and Terry J perform several sketches together. I hadn’t really thought of them working together a great deal during MPFC, but they seemed to be having great fun, despite (or maybe because) of Terry’s occasional lapses of memory. Of course, watching John and Michael work together had a wonderful, adventurous “anything can happen” feeling to it (and it usually did). And Terry Gilliam had some wonderful turns, including a featured role as Mr. Gumby and his always enjoyable moments in “Crunchy Frog.”
 
It’s hard to think of any negatives. The only thing I had a hard time with were a couple of moments when a pair of non-Python actors filled in for Graham in “Spanish Inquisition” and the second part of “Christmas in Heaven.” I really enjoyed seeing the other Pythons occasionally play one of Graham’s roles, and it would have been nice to see them continue that throughout. Otherwise, there were some wonderful Graham clips, and he was certainly remembered warmly by the Pythons and the audience.
 
More to come…