Monthly Archives: August 2014

Python Mash-ups…

Monty Python Live featured a number of Python mash-ups–sketches that didn’t end quite the way we’re used to. Cheese Shop and Dead Parrot are perfect examples of this. And so is this one. If you’re one of the few that still hasn’t seen the show–live or in theatres–and you’re waiting for the DVD, here’s the end of the vocational guidance counselor sketch…

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The iO Trap…

Dave Pasquesi and I have been friends since the first night he walked into one of Del Close’s improv classes at Crosscurrents in Chicago, and I (filling in for the absent Charna Halpern) shook him down for payment for his first series of classes.

I can (and probably will) write several lengthy blogs involving David and I, but the most pertinent information is this: Dave is still improvising, and, unlike so many others, has never really stopped improvising after all these years. A few years back, he started working with TJ Jagodowski at the iO Chicago, and in the subsequent years, TJ and Dave have become improvisation icons.

But that wasn’t enough for them. When Charna announced that she would be opening a brand new theatre building, with four theatres and a numerous classrooms, Dave and TJ told her “Excuse us, but we’d like one of those.” And that’s how the Mission Theatre came to be. It’s part of the new iO Chicago at 1501 N. Kingsbury in Chicago, but it’s separate, because it belongs to Dave and TJ. They will continue their TJ and Dave shows there most Wednesday nights, but will use the other time slots for a new sketch comedy show with a talented bunch of actors.

new iO

Saturday night was the opening night for the Trap (which is what it’s called, for reasons that will be revealed when you see the show). It is very funny. I sat with my old friend Leo Benvenutti, and after the first few sketches, I noted “They’re not really going very dark, are they?” I needn’t have worried. There is plenty of darkness, enough to please Del himself, along with some terrific acting and directing, and the audience loved it as much as I did.

Afterward, I had the chance to catch up for the first time in a long while with my old pals Frances and John Judd, Meg and Pete Burns, Jeff Michaelski, Diane Alexander, and many others, including, of course, Michael McCarthy, Charna Halpern, and Noah Gregoropolis.

The Trap is just the first show to officially open at the new iO (forget the label on the photo–the future is here!), and they have set the bar high; if the others come anywhere close, it’s going to be a spectacular success. See you there.

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…