Monthly Archives: January 2014

It Was 45 Years Ago Yesterday…

It was January 30, 1969 that the Beatles last performed in public, a 20-minute concert on a London rooftop.
I’m sure that LET IT BE, the documentary film, will eventually be re-released to theatres and DVD. There are some who say that Paul and Ringo aren’t in any hurry, as it was filmed during what became the final breakup of the group. But just about everything else they’ve ever recorded is out there or likely to be, so we can only hope that this is in the queue. In the meantime, this is the best we can do.


An iO Python Winter

If you live in the American Midwest and you have any sense, you probably stayed someplace warm Monday night and didn’t bother to venture out in the sub-zero temperatures.

But the dozen brave souls who were students in my Python Process writing class at the iO Chicago and I had a more interesting time.

You see, when I started teaching this class, the idea was to use the Monty Python writing process (and showing them a lot of Python-related film clips and talking about my own personal experiences) as a sneaky way to teach them about re-writing and collaborating.

I thought about postponing Monday night’s class, but when I heard that one of the students was driving in–from Michigan, no less–I figured I’d better give it a go. And in fact, the interstate roads were mostly dry and clear, and the trip was surprisingly easy.

And I was glad I did. What started as a group that liked watching Python clips, is doing some terrific writing work, producing some very funny material, and making it better by allowing other groups of students to re-work it. It’s a great group, although I’m not sure why I’m surprised that Python fans would make good sketch writers. And now, my only regret is that it’s just a four-week class, and it’ll be over just as they’re hitting their stride.



All My Birthdays

Happy birthday wishes to my old pal and co-producer Walt Willey! You may know him from his standup comedy, you may know him from his portrayal of (fellow LaSalle County native) Wild Bill Hickok, you may know him from his new web series Thurston. Who knows? You may even know him from his 25 year stint playing Jackson Montgomery on All My Children. But of course, I know him from Mrs. Finkeldye’s first grade class, and a lot of classes after that.

For the past several years, we have kept busy reviving community theatre in our hometown of Ottawa, Illinois, co-producing and acting in an annual summer play with a spectacular cast, including All My Children guest stars like Jill Larson, Julia Barr, Taylor Miller, Kale Brown, Vincent Irrizary, and Bobbi Eakes. If you’d like to keep informed, check in here and here, and even right back here.  

And hey, Buddy-Boy, I’d tell you to relax for your birthday, but I know you too well for that. Have a great birthday! 

Python Rarities

Some rarely-seen inserts are making their way onto Youtube. This one is from Show 9, though the clapboard indicates that most of these were apparently planned for Show 7. This may not be a mistake, as the order of the shows (and some of the contents) changed before broadcast. The most interesting bits are inserts from “The Barber/Lumberjack Song,” things I’ve never seen before. A fascinating, behind-the-scenes look behind the scenes at Flying Circus. I don’t know how long this will be up, so have a look in case it’s removed from the web…

My Favorite Book of 2014 (So Far)

And no, it’s not one of mine.


Beyond Reach  is an action adventure that you won’t be able to put down. It opens with one of the most terrifying real-life scenes I’ve ever read, as a rescue diver tries to recover a body deep within an underwater cave. And from there, it never lets up until the last page.

Did you know there is a subterranean system of caverns that extends underground from Florida to the Midwest. I didn’t, until I read this book. Do you know what it’s like to explore a cave? I didn’t, until I read the incredibly detailed, claustrophobic, terrifying passages here.

The characters are engaging, and the mystery is absorbing. There’s even a paranormal twist that I didn’t see coming.

I hesitated to write about Beyond Reach because I’m married to the author, but even if I wasn’t, it’s simply too good a book to miss, all prejudice aside. It’s the first in the Deepview series of adventures; it’s just been released as an e-book, but a print version will be coming soon. Here’s the link, and you can thank me for it later.

Early Pre-Python

This is one of the sketches I may be showing my iO class in the coming weeks. Known variously as “The History of Slapstick,” “The History of the Joke,” “The Custard Pie Sketch,” and probably by a few other names as well, this is probably the oldest sketch that ever made it into any of the Monty Python shows (the runner-up: probably “Four Yorkshiremen”). Written by Terry Jones and, I think, Michael Palin, long before the Pythons ever got together, it was eventually incorporated into the Python stage show, in part because the Pythons wanted to include some sketches that most of their fans hadn’t seen before. We’ll find out in July if they will include it in the O2 shows…
This version is from one of the Amnesty International Benefits. Enjoy.

Remembering Harry…

It’s hard to believe that Harry Nilsson has been gone for twenty years this week.


When I think of Harry, I think of a big, gregarious teddy-bear of a man, always smiling, always happy to see you. It’s hard to describe Harry to someone who doesn’t think they know who he was, because he did so much music that’s ubiquitous to our present-day culture. His was a quirky career, just as Harry was a man who embraced quirkiness. His best-known songs were not written by him (“Without You,” “Everybody’s Talkin'”), while the best-known songs that he wrote were not recorded by him (including Three Dog Night’s “One”).

I first met Harry when he hosted a party following the final night of Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. My pal George Harrison first introduced me to Harry. [The previous sentence is one that I try to use as often as possible.] Harry wrote the introduction to my third Monty Python book, Life Before (and After) Monty Python. I’m pretty proud of that book, but the introduction by Harry may be the best thing in it.

We were able to get together the few times Harry was in Chicago or, at the time, the few times I was in L.A. He had quit drinking and cleaned himself up admirably in the years before he left us. Recently, he’s been the subject of a biography, a documentary, the reissue of most of his albums in a boxed set. I’ll write more about Harry later. I miss him, but it’s good to know his music lives on.

If He Could Build a Nuclear Reactor Out of a Coconut…

…Why couldn’t he build a boat and get them off the island?

GilliagnAnother piece of my childhood has slipped away with the passing of Russell Johnson, who will always be The Professor to anyone who ever saw Gilligan’s Island. I didn’t know him (and no, we’re not related), but I did have the opportunity to interview him once, along with Bob Denver and Dawn Wells (Gilligan and Mary Ann, to the uninitiated). He was nice, funny, and everything else you would hope him to be.He did a lot more than Gilligan’s Island–including roles in This Island Earth and Twilight Zone–but he knew he would always be remembered for Gilligan and, unlike others, was perfectly happy with that.

Oh, and he did supply me with an answer to that question: “If I’d gotten them off the island, the show would have been over.”

Rest in peace, Russell Johnson.