… It was about this time of year in 1981 that Graham Chapman came through town.
I was living near Chicago, but hadn’t seen Graham for several months, not since Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl shows had ended the previous fall. But Graham let me know that he was going to be in Chicago, promoting A Liar’s Autobiography, and it would be nice to get together. I agreed, and we made arrangements to meet.
Although I’d seen Graham and Terry Jones back in 1975, at the Carnegie Theatre when they were promoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this was the first time since then that Graham and I would be able to meet on my home turf, and I’d be able to show him around the city. In other words, it was a rare treat.
He had a full slate of interviews, and I seem to recall listening to one of them on the radio as I drove into the city. I picked him up mid-afternoon, and I might have even driven him to his last few appointments, and then we sat down and caught up.
He showed me the schedule the publicist had given him to see which of the remaining interviews were the most important. He also seemed a bit anxious about an event scheduled for that evening. It was at Facets, a Chicago film society, featuring a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, followed by what was described as a talk by Graham Chapman.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to say anything,” worried Graham. I didn’t blame him. Unlike his onscreen persona, Graham was normally shy and quiet, and this seemed quite a bit to handle without a lot of advance preparation.
We talked about it further, and I tried to calm his fears. “Why don’t you just do a question and answer thing?” I suggested to him. “That should be a lot easier. Besides, they’re going to love whatever you do.” He seemed a little more comfortable at the idea of just answering questions, and I further comforted him by pointing out that Facets wasn’t that big of a place, and there probably wouldn’t be too many people. “And if there are, they probably won’t ask too many questions,” I lied.
“Yes, I suppose,” he said, wanting to believe me and a bit cheered. “That should be all right.”
The subject didn’t come up again until we pulled up at Facets that evening. Facets wasn’t that large, but the fans managed to pack themselves in every available inch. They weren’t laughing at Holy Grail as much as they were cheering, and when the film ended, Graham took his place in front of the crowd.
“Does anyone have any questions?” he asked in front of the whooping multitude. I was probably the only one who didn’t try to ask a question, but I did laugh–and cheer–along with his answers. The hosts had asked earlier if they could audiotape the session, and I told them I was sure it would be fine. About 45 minutes later, the host thanked the crowd, and Graham and I were whisked away. Even Graham was in a buoyant mood, and the rest of the evening, Graham asked me a few questions, and we relived some of the funnier moments.
I had almost forgotten about it when, a few months later, I got a call from Graham out of the blue. “Do you know if they taped that thing at the film society?” he asked. I told him I thought so, and asked if he wanted a copy of the tape. “That would be great! Thanks Howard.”
I contacted Facets, and they were happy to supply a copy of the tape, which I sent along to Graham. It was only later that I found out why he wanted it.
It seemed that someone had contacted Graham about doing a lecture tour, but Graham wanted to listen to the tape first. He was happy with it, and then sent it along to the promoter, who was delighted, as it made it very easy to get bookings for Graham.
And so, for the rest of the ’80s, Graham would go out on tour whenever he was low on cash. Which was not terribly uncommon for Graham. But it had an unexpected benefit for me as well. Whenever he toured, he tended to go through Chicago quite a bit. And, having just moved into the city itself, it meant that I was able to visit with Graham surprisingly often. We spent so much time together that would otherwise have been impossible, with more adventures than I’d ever hoped for. And thanks to the lecture tours, he saw me improvise, we went to a high school party, and my mother did his laundry. And much, much more…
Okay, pal. Come across with that audio file!
I’ve got it somewhere, buried under piles and piles of Python… There’s a CD of one of his later speeches available through amazon and other places. It will be faster than waiting for me to learn how to post audio files!
Great story, Howard! I must have seen him at one of these Q&A a short time later in February 1982, when he appeared at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I was still in high school at the time, but my mom (bless her) allowed me to skip school so I could see Mr. Chapman in his mid-day session.
I was intent on asking about Doctor in the House, as the series – which I loved and still do – was airing on a local PBS station at the time and I would occasionally see his name pop up in the writing credits. Was somewhat disappointed when his response to working on the series was “It was an easy paycheck.” Ah, well.
That night, the university ran LIFE OF BRIAN in their theater, with a promised appearance of Chapman. The place was packed to hear what he had to say. He came out before the movie, pipe in hand, and said, “Here’s some home movies we took in Tunisia a couple of years ago.” The movie started and he turned towards the screen before looking back at the audience. “Yes, that’s it.”
He then walked out. A fitting way to go for a Python there.
Sounds like you had a cool mother! I think “It was an easy paycheck” was Graham’s response to a lot of things…
Thanks for the Graham report–that sounds like him to a “T”–I’m really glad that he was able to meet his fans during his last decade. Although it probably seemed like “an easy paycheck” to him at the time, I think he came to value the speeches as much as his fans did. Thanks for sharing.