Monthly Archives: February 2014

Terry Jones Progress

The latest news is that Terry Jones’ new film, Absolutely Anything, is coming along very well. Kate Beckinsale has now signed on to the sci-fi comedy, which will star Simon Pegg and the voice of Robin Williams, along with Eddie Izzard and the voices of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam. Shooting is set to begin in London on March 24, and there’s more information available here

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And after he wraps, he should have just enough time to head over to the O2 Arena for the Monty Python reunion!

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Bill Hicks:

I never knew Bill Hicks until after he died.

But whenever I see a list of the top standup comics of all time, I know I can disregard it if I don’t see Bill Hicks listed on it.

Whenever standup comics hang around talking about the great ones, Bill Hicks’ name eventually comes up.

When I was working for John Cleese, we were discussing the same matter. I had heard of him but somehow had never seen any of his performances, and told John that I didn’t think there was ever a full-length Bill Hicks performance on video.

“Oh, but there is! I’ve got it!” he told me, and retrieved the bulky videocassette, then insisted I watch it. And he was right. Like all great comics, he spoke truth to power, with a righteous indignation and anger that was also extremely funny.

Why haven’t most people heard of him? Well, Bill Hicks passed away on February 26, 1994, twenty years ago this week, of pancreatic cancer. He was 32 years old.

During a week when we’re all remembering the loss of another of our great comics with Harold Ramis’ passing, I was reminded of this equally sad anniversary (thank you comicmix.com).

A few months before he died, he performed on David Letterman’s show, but Dave cut it from the show before it aired. Then fifteen years later, he did something unheard of: he apologized for cutting it and aired it, with Bill’s mother Mary as his on-air guest. It remains fresh, undated, and funny. In fact, if Bill Hicks had lived, we might not have to be dealing with Miley Cyrus. But why am I telling you all this? See for yourself…

The Harold

 

Beginning improvisers often assume that The Harold, the long form improvisation developed at The Committee and refined by Del Close in Chicago, was named for Harold Ramis.

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I point out that it isn’t true, and The Committee was performing Harolds before Harold Ramis joined Second City (the detailed story is in my Del biography The Funniest One in the Room).

But maybe it should be. And that’s the way I’m going to start thinking of it.

A Little More

 

Stripes.

Ghostbusters.

Animal House.

Caddyshack.

National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Groundhog Day.

Anybody who made even one of those legendary comedies could be proud. Harold Ramis made all of them.

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But even more importantly, he did it by being kind. Open. Generous. Amazingly accessible. And a truly decent human being.

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When I was at the iO Chicago last week, I noticed this picture of Harold and Del Close at Del’s “living wake” hanging in the office, and thought about how, although Del was gone, at least Harold was still with us. Sadly, that’s no longer correct.

The internet is currently filled with people saying what a fine man Harold Ramis was. Believe me, they’re all true.

Snapshots of Harold

A few years ago, one of the classic Second City casts was going to reunite for a one-night-only performance. I asked a few of them about doing an article about the reunion, but a couple of them were reluctant. Harold Ramis was not one of them. I asked whether he thought there was a fear of failure after being off-stage for so long, but he assured me that wasn’t the case, at least with him. “I’ve failed way too many times,” he told me with a laugh. “I’m failed on a national level. I’ve failed on a worldwide level!”

We both laughed that day. I thought about reassuring him of his many successes, but I knew it wasn’t necessary. He already knew about them, and besides, the failures were funnier.

The list of Harold Ramis’s professional successes is long and well-known. It’s worth noting, however, what an all-around great guy he was personally; if he could do anything for you, he would. 

I certainly did not know him well, although our paths crossed a few times. I interviewed him for STARLOG magazine (when he directed Multiplicity–one of his lesser efforts). He helped me when I was writing The Funniest One in the Room (my Del Close biography).

He was in the midst of his publicity tour, promoting Analyze This!, when he got word that his director and friend Del Close was dying. He immediately flew back to Chicago and attended the now-famous “living wake” for Del the night before Del passed away. A very classy guy.

ImageAnd at the Second City 50th Anniversary in 2009, he gladly posed for a photo with my Ghostbusters-loving son.

I didn’t know he was ill, but I was very happy to hear that Bill Murray had been by to visit. The two of them had been estranged for many years, but it’s nice to know that they managed to put it aside when it counted the most.

And it should also be noted that Harold was a Chicago guy (admittedly, by way of the North Shore). But when he became successful, he didn’t pack up and move to L.A. Instead, he kept an office and a home in Chicago.

This is a huge loss to comedy, to Chicago, and to everyone that was ever lucky enough to know him. Rest in peace, Harold.

Improv Mafia

I spent Saturday afternoon workshopping the Improv Mafia, the improv group at Illinois State University, an old dog trying to teach these kids some new tricks. Fortunately, everything old is new again, eventually, and I kept remembering tricks and exercises from many years ago that seemed to work pretty well. I also, in the spirit of Del Close, made up a few exercises that I though would be beneficial to them (though we only had time to work on a couple of them–time flies when you’re improvising).

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Next Saturday are the finals for the College Improv Tournament, which is organized by my old pal Jonathan Pitts (here’s the info). The top 16 college improv teams in the U.S. will be competing for the national championship in Chicago. These are the regional champions who have advanced from the over 100 teams that competed across the country.

Many years ago, Del and Charna Halpern organized what may have been the first college improv tournament. If I remember correctly, there were three teams competing–the Yale Purple Crayon, and two Chicago-area teams. And now, there are hundreds of college teams alone, competing for a real national championship for the seventh year in a row. 

Good luck to all the improvisers. And if the Improv Mafia wins, and I try to claim as much credit as possible, just ignore me.

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Python Rarities

Here’s another selection of outtakes from MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS. These are from Episode 39, the final episode with John Cleese in the cast. Lots of Michael Palin hosting “Grandstand,” a few cricketers, and “wifeswapping,” with Michael Palin in bed with John Cleese. Enjoy.

Cleese Still Down Unda…

When I started doing this last fall, one of my very first posts was about John Cleese and his one-man show during his Canadian tour. At that time, I mentioned that he would be touring Tasmania and Australia at the beginning of 2014. That would be now.

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So, if you currently find yourself in that corner of the world, you will want to check out John’s show. As I write this, he’s performing in Tasmania, but will be back in Sydney for three weeks starting Monday, followed by six shows in Melbourne. Most of these are sold out, but if you act quickly, you may be lucky enough to score a few of the remaining seats if you click here.

You’re welcome.