Monthly Archives: September 2014

Cleese Canadian Club

Yes, to those who have been asking, John Cleese will indeed be promoting So, Anyway… in Canada in November. If you’re in the Toronto area, look for him Nov 8, 9, and 10.

November 13, 14 and 15, he’ll be in Vancouver and Victoria, respectively (if not respectfully). More to come…
JC Book cover

Python Live, 34 years ago

It was 34 years ago this week that the Pythons played four nights live at the Hollywood Bowl. At that time, none of them would have dreamed that they’d be playing ten nights at the O2 in London 34 years late. For one thing, the O2 didn’t exist. But at the time, it seemed like the high point of Python, and in many ways, it was.


They were still active, making movies together. They were all together, including Graham, along with other fans and friends who were hanging out at the Bowl that I now miss very much, including George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, and John Tomiczek.

It was a very special four nights, part of which I was lucky enough to spend backstage, and even luckier to be on stage, with the Pythons. Not to take anything away from the O2 shows, which comprised one of the most amazing curtain calls for show business careers ever. But the Hollywood Bowl was just as special in its own way. It was where Python peaked in America, where Graham took his final Python curtain calls, and where I get way more nostalgic than I probably should. But it might be a good weekend to put Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl in the DVD player…

Sheldon Patinkin RIP

A couple of hours ago, I glanced at the Chicago Tribune’s weekly obituaries and noticed that of Theodore J. Flicker. I thought to myself “Not many of the founding fathers of improv are left. Thank goodness we still have Sheldon…”

And now, we don’t.

If one were making a list of the most beloved figures in Chicago improv, Sheldon would be right up there, and deservedly so. His lineage goes way back to the Playwright’s Theatre Club, which was the forerunner of the Compass Players, which was the forerunner of Second City.

I’ll leave it to others to tell about his lengthy history and contributions to Chicago theatre (which included authoring The Second City book). Instead, I’ll tell a little about my first experience with Sheldon.

I was writing my biography of Del Close, The Funniest One in the Room, a while back, interviewing everyone I could find. But I hadn’t interviewed Sheldon. Everyone had warned me that the two of them hadn’t…well, they hadn’t been the best of friends. I was reluctant to look him up because I didn’t want to hear a lot of Del bashing. But finally, after dozens of people had told me to “Call Sheldon!”, I relented.

We set up a time to talk, and I prepared for the inevitable Del-bashing. Which never came.

Sheldon couldn’t have possibly been nicer. It’s true, he told me, Del never liked him, but he never knew why. And he went on to tell me story after story of his experiences with the man–possibly the only person in Chicago–who didn’t like him. In fact, at one point it was Sheldon’s job to haul Del from what the latter called “the nut house” to Second City, and back again. Yet he couldn’t have been nicer about it. By the time he had finished, I was horrified and embarrassed that Del had abused this wonderful gentleman so badly.

And after that, I was a first-class fan of Sheldon. We didn’t see each other often, but I’m tickled to say that he was a fan of my writing, and even turned up at a Columbia College panel on Del a couple of years ago. He was looking forward to my book on The Committee, and I am further horrified to note that I still haven’t finished it. But I will. Somewhere, Sheldon is waiting to read it.

Better Call Cleese

Bob Odenkirk has come a long way since the days when we used to improvise together under the tutelage of Del Close. In addition to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Fargo, Mr. Show, and a whole slew of other credits, he has agreed to interview John Cleese on November 20th in San Diego, where John will be promoting his autobiography, So Anyway… If I were you, and I was anywhere in that neck of the woods at that time, I’d get my tickets now

The Gilliam Theorem

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here and it’s worth the wait

Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem is finally opening in the U.S. this weekend. This may well be Terry’s most polarizing movie, and that’s saying something! Some people love it, some people can’t stand it, but if it’s Terry, it’s worth seeing. You can find out a little more about it here and watch the trailer as well.
I’ll be seeing it myself this weekend, and I recommend that you do the same. You may have to look around a little if you don’t live in a larger city, as the distributors are a little uneasy about movies that actually make you think. But Time magazine calls it “a spectacle that demands to be cherished.” So find it and cherish it, already!

Cleese in Seattle

And as promised, here’s the link to the info on John’s appearance in Seattle on Sunday, November 16th, to promote his upcoming autobiography So Anyway... I may be wrong, but this could be John’s first-ever appearance in Seattle. Either way, if I were you, I wouldn’t miss it.

JC Book cover

Python Gets Stoned…

Python Brian JC stoning

It was during this week in 1978 that filming began in Tunisia on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The first day, September 16th, wasn’t even supposed to be the first day, but everything was going so well that they decided to begin that Saturday instead of waiting until the next Monday. And so, the cameras rolled on the Stoning Scene. Our still photographer, David Appleby, hadn’t even arrived yet. I had mentioned to Graham Chapman that I had bought a new camera for my stay in Tunisia, and so I ended up being asked to take a few rolls of film. A little intimidating for my first day ever on a film set, but I happily complied. I don’t know how many, if any, of my shots were ultimately used, but somebody’s were…

Theodore J. Flicker, R.I.P.

…Not many people who are improvising today know of the importance of Theodore J. Flicker, which is a shame. In fact, among his other many accomplishments, he was the director of the St. Louis Compass Players, directing Del Close, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Nancy Ponder, and the rest of the cast.

How important was he? Well, it was he and Elaine May who devised what are now known as the legendary Westminster Place Kitchen Rules, developed separately from Viola Spolin’s improv rules but just as important and influential.

After each performance of the St. Louis Compass, Ted and Elaine would sit down to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and how it could be improved. Then the group would rehearse and put the rules into action each night in front of an audience. The rules that Del taught, from “Yes and…” on down, all came about from the work of Ted and Elaine.

The list of his credits is very long (he co-created Barney Miller, for one). If you have a minute, imdb him and be impressed.

And now Theodore J. Flicker (as Del always referred to him) is gone. If you improvise, you owe him more than you probably know.