Mike Nichols

We interrupt our regularly scheduled @johncleese #soanyway postings in observance of the passing of the great Mike Nichols.
Of course, Mike was the director of Monty Python’s Spamalot; Eric Idle has made no secret how much he learned from him during the production. Without Mike Nichols’ input, Spamalot would likely have been a much different show. He was, needless to say, a fan and a friend of the Pythons.
In the coming days, he will be the subject of numerous lengthy, amazing tributes to a life and career the likes of which we seldom see.
I crossed paths with Mike Nichols on a couple of occasions, and each time he was wonderful to me.
I had tried to reach him when I was writing my Del Close biography (The Funniest One in the Room), but hadn’t heard back.
Del had long talked about a rivalry between the two of them—Del always implied that it was a triangle involving Elaine May when they were performing as the St. Louis Compass Players. Del’s interest in Elaine was both romantic and professional, while Mike was primarily involved with the St. Louis Compass—and improvisation in general—because he wanted to work with Elaine. Of course, Mike eventually won out, and he and Elaine eventually went off to New York and Broadway fame. Del had always held a grudge and claimed that Mike had not behaved well.
Del’s version of the story was reported in Janet Coleman’s book. But the more I studied it, the less it added up—there were just too many contradictions.
And then, dear @ericidle invited me to the first public performance of Spamalot during its Chicago preview. There was a small party afterward, and at one point, I saw Mike Nichols waiting for his car. I approached him and introduced myself, not sure what to expect. He couldn’t have been more gracious, felt very badly at the thought of Del holding a grudge. I promised to email him a copy of that portion of my manuscript.
It took a while, but I eventually heard back from him. I had sent him what was, more or less, Del’s version of events. He disagreed, but in the most gentlemanly way imaginable. He pointed out the inconsistencies in Del’s version and walked me through his side of the story, which was rock-solid and fit all of the other facts that I’d gathered. He also admitted that they were both young, and he didn’t always behave as well as he might have. I made all of the necessary fixes, and I think he was happy with my work. (For more details, check out The Funniest One in the Room; it’s a long story.)
Among my other takeaways was the regret that Del hadn’t lived long enough to reconcile with Mike, which I’m confident would have happened sooner or later.
This has been a terrible year for comedy legends, in the last 12 months, we’ve lost improv founding fathers Bernie Sahlins, Sheldon Patinkin, Theodore J. Flicker, Garry Goodrow of The Committee, and too many others.
Mike Nichols’ career with improvisation and The Compass Players didn’t mean much on a bio like his, but it was tremendously important for improvisation.
He was a good man.
#johncleese #mikenichols #soanyway #montypythonlive #ericidle #ioimprov #spamalot #mikenichols

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