Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Michael Palin, aka Monty Python. Photo: Pennsylvania
It may not exist. Messiah, but in the eyes of those who revere Monty Python, one of its members, Eric Idle, was a very naughty boy. Over the past few days, Idle has been loudly complaining on social media about the shortcomings – both artistic and commercial – of his involvement with Python, which began back in 1969 and has continued to delight and frustrate members and fans alike ever since. Idle stated in response to a fan's innocuous question: “I don't know why people always think we're busy. Python is a disaster. Spamalot made money 20 years ago. I have to work to earn my living. It’s not easy at this age.”
Idle, who is well known for his candid and candid communication with his social media followers, then went on to complain: “We own everything we've ever built in Python, and I never thought revenue streams would shrink so dramatically at this age. But I guess if you named Gilliam's kid as your manager, you wouldn't be so surprised. Gilliam alone is bad enough. Two can destroy any company.”
For good measure, he attacked his former colleague John Cleese, claiming that “he bullied Jonesy [Terry Jones]. I was always ashamed that we didn’t do anything.” When someone asked if Cleese was really a bully, he replied: “Exactly. Still.” He then revealed that he hasn't seen Cleese in seven years, and when another fan said, “It makes me sad,” he replied, “Why. It makes me happy.” (Cleese has yet to respond to any of this.)
1971 Monty Python sketch ' Wickers' World' Photo: Getty
Under normal circumstances, Idle's series of revealing revelations would have been seen as shocking and deeply revealing, lifting the lid on a British comedy troupe that is still considered one of the most influential and important forces in 20th-century humor. Idle acknowledged the mixed feelings he has for the band, saying, “I still love and am proud of what we did as Python. It was a very unique group. I think of us as the former Liverpool team. We played well together. Back in those days. But it has never given much support to people's feelings and emotions. Not Brothers. Colleagues.”
This is consistent with other remarks he made, such as in a 2022 interview with the Guardian, when he said: “I'm not particularly close to any of them. Michael is always the first to write a nice letter if he finds out “That you had to go through something because he really is. But I don't think of it as if we were friends. We were colleagues, and that's a huge difference.”
I don't do Python anymore. I already gave. Ungrateful bastards. https://t.co/OpuJvxXoyc
— Eric Idle (@EricIdle) February 11, 2024
However, Monty Python has always had two factors that set it apart from almost any other similar act: first, there was a long legacy of quarrels and disagreements between its participants, usually played out in public. And secondly, there is also a very English side of self-deprecation and contempt for the group, which means that taking remarks made by its stars seriously can be a mistake. In any case, here are some of their previous notes – sincere or not.
John Cleese's dominance and Graham Chapman's drunkenness
Monty Python was always a series of writing partnerships rather than a single entity: Graham Chapman and Cleese wrote together, as did Michael Palin and Terry Jones, while Idle wrote individually. Terry Gilliam's contributions were primarily visual rather than verbal. However, from the very beginning there was a contradiction between the roles that Cleese and Chapman played in the group. Palin wrote in the published edition of his diaries, The Python Years, covering the period from 1969 to 1979, that because Cleese was more famous than the other members of Python, “John was a big name, one of Python's greatest new discoveries.” The sixties… the rest of us were accomplished screenwriters,” he said in 1993. “He felt he was in charge and therefore dominated the rest. Hence Idle's later claim that Terry Jones, in particular, was bullied by him.
Pythons in 1989
It was perhaps because of Cleese's influence on the group that Chapman, a friendly and talented man – and one of the first public figures in Britain to come out as gay – was allowed to remain in Python, given how severe and destructive his drinking had been. was. Palin wrote in his diary in 1969 that Chapman was “the high priest of hedonism” and complained that “he is now preoccupied with his homosexual relationships and maintaining the atmosphere of well-being that good food and drink brings. He doesn't want to think too much about himself right now and, above all, he doesn't want to fight. He seems to feel that having made his case, he now deserves a good life.”
Eric Idle's Famous Lifestyle
Of all the Pythons, Idle seemed (and still seems) to be the happiest with celebrity life, having long ago traded rainy England for life in California and recently complained about his diminishing earnings that “we’re still getting something.” but not enough to keep me on the beaches.”
However, from his early days at Monty Python, there was a sense that the actor and writer kept his options open and refused to fully commit to the group with the same intensity as his colleagues. Palin complained in his diary in 1970 that Idle alternated between lucrative screenwriting for Ronnie Corbett and his supposed day job, claiming that Idle got away with it “for the simple reason that everyone did his job for him at Monty Python.”
Eric Idle and his wife at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in Hollywood, 2005. Photo: Reuters
This resentment only grew stronger over time, and in 1971, Palin wrote: “The rift between John, Eric and the rest of us has widened. John and Eric see Monty Python as a means to an end – money to buy freedom from work.” This view was not shared by Jones, of whom Palin wrote: “Terry is the complete opposite and feels that Python is an end in itself – a job that he loves to do and that keeps him out of the dangerous world of leisure.” He noted that “between us are Graham and I.”
As might be expected, constant disagreements over accounts (and therefore money) began to lead to rifts among the Pythons after a few years. In early 1973, Cleese announced that although he was ready to tour, he was no longer ready to star in a television series. As Idle later said: “It was on an Air Canada flight on the way to Toronto when John turned to all of us and said, 'I want to leave.' Why? I don't know. He gets bored more easily than the rest of us. He is a difficult person and not easy to be friends with. He's so funny because he never wanted to be liked. It gives him a kind of charming and arrogant freedom.”
Michael Palin and John Cleese on the set of the film “Holy Grail” in 1974. Photo: Getty
Cleese declined to appear in the show's fourth series, which only ran for six episodes, although he was credited as a writer for three of them. It may have even been better for the relationship between the group, as he argued furiously with Jones – Palin noted in her diary that “During lunch, Terry had a row with John, and the intensity of T's outburst took even John by surprise. . The whole point was that I felt depressed by John's rather dismissive attitude towards any proposal from Terry” – and a general bad feeling meant that the group could no longer function as it had for the previous four and a half years. At the end of the year, Palin wrote that “1973 was the year Python broke up. The freshness has gone and 1974 will see us pick up the thread again.”
Big screen, big fights
Ironically, it turns out that the animosity between the band members led to two huge cinematic successes: 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail and, even more so, the ever-controversial and ever-brilliant 1979 film The Life of Monty Python. Brian. However, neither one nor the other turned out to be so easy to sell. In the case of Holy Grail, the film was made with private financing from rock bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin after no studio refused to invest in it (perhaps aware of the potential for a falling out between its combustible members). and Chapman's drinking continued. , which leads to him forgetting his lines and often being unable to perform on set.
Palin briefly described the situation in his diary in May 1974. “Graham shakes and trembles with repressed neurotic rage…John is still tense and unrelaxed with people, which adds to his problems.”
From tension comes creativity and the film was a huge success. However, when The Life of Brian was discussed a few years later, serious disagreements arose again. Cleese was angered by the group's belief that Chapman was a suitable candidate to play Brian, a man known not to be the Messiah, and it didn't help that Chapman himself was still drinking heavily during script-writing meetings; Palin wrote: “He arrived at 10 o'clock quite 'relaxed' and had been drinking gin all morning. Everyone else is great, but Graham still can't figure out where we are in the script.” Chapman eventually quit drinking in December 1977 and played Brian completely sober, a discipline that can be seen in his focused and hilarious performance.
Graham Chapman dies
Monty Python reformed sporadically throughout the Eighties for charity shows such as Secret Cop's Ball and the acclaimed 1980 Live at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as the less successful 1983 film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. However, there was a sense that the momentum was drying up behind them as a group rather than as a series of individuals who can produce brilliant work individually and sometimes together. It was noted that when they were awarded the Bafta Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Film in 1988, Idle and Cleese were absent from the ceremony.
Chapman was suffering from cancer at the time, which would eventually kill him in October 1989, and his televised memorial service on December 3 was notable for two things: first, the Monty Python band members' almost childlike desire to say “f___.” during the service. and secondly, Cleese's eulogy, in which he (ironically) stated: “I think we all think how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capacity for kindness, such extraordinary intelligence should now, so suddenly, be snatched away at age only forty-eight years old, before he had achieved many of the things he was capable of and before he had had much fun. Well, I feel like I have to say, nonsense. Good riddance to him, you freeloading bastard, I hope he gets roasted! It was irreverent and fun: Python's last breath coming together. You suspect Chapman would have loved it.
“Trying to meet everyone's needs has been very difficult.”
By 1999, Monty Python no longer had a future as a band. Although they had teamed up as a quintet in Aspen last year to great success and planned a lucrative thirtieth anniversary tour, Gilliam quickly rejected the idea, saying, according to Cleese, that “he didn't really want to do this, and this isn't what he said in the room. And then a few weeks, months later, Michael decided that he didn't really need six or eight weeks, he actually only wanted two. So trying to meet everyone’s needs has been very difficult.”
Pythons performing in Aspen, 1998. Photo: AP
Gilliam, by then an established, if eccentric, film director, commented: “Personally, I can't think of anything worse than going up there and reciting that old stuff again.” An annoyed Idle therefore refused to participate in the BBC's Python Night television special in 1999, which featured new sketches and material from the remaining Pythons, and was widely seen as a tired restoration of former glory rather than a particularly successful quasi-reunion in its own right .
Idle achieved his greatest success with Python in 2005 with the album Spamalot, a musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was a huge success on both Broadway and the West End and continues to be revived to this day. Although the Pythons initially supported the project, with Cleese appearing as the recorded voice of God and all appearing at the West End premiere, they offered their own candid opinions about the show; Gilliam called it “Python-lite” and said that “it helps the pension fund and helps keep Python alive… as much as we'd love to turn off everything it does,” while Jones alternated between saying Spamalot is “awesome fun.” , and complaining that “Spamalot is completely pointless… regurgitating Python isn't high on my list of priorities.”
Eric Idle with the actors of the series “Spamalot” in 2005 Photo: Getty
Palin was the most tactful of the quintet, saying, “It's a great show… it's not 'Python' as we would have written it, but then none of us would have gotten together and written a stage show in Python… now we're just proud to be associated with it quite pathetic,” and Cleese used to say, “It's the stupidest thing I've ever seen, and I think Eric did a great job.”
However, there were disagreements over money. In 2011, Idle said: “I fired John Cleese – I had him surgically removed. It wasn't mean – he made millions of dollars from it. He charges people a fortune to use his voice. It was always in financial crisis.” Cleese duly responded by saying: “I see Yoko Idle has been moaning (again) about the royalties he had to pay the other Pythons for Spamalot. Apparently he paid me “millions.” Real ballpark figures last time we checked: Yoko Idle $13 million (£8.49 million), Michael Palin $1.1 million (£700,000), the rest just under a million each… (around £650,000 sterling)”. Once again, money was the determining factor behind the Python scandal.
An unexpected but unfortunate side effect of the Spamalot musical was that producer Mark Forstater, who produced Holy Grail and successfully claimed £800,000 in unpaid royalties, sued the band for royalties. As a result of this, Monty Python reunited for a series of 10 sold-out concerts on July 2, 2014, called Monty Python Live (Mostly). They met with great acclaim from the hundreds of thousands of fans who saw the show, but although Python were offered a huge sum for a subsequent worldwide tour – reportedly up to £20 million – they turned down the opportunity because, according to Idle: “When you become old, grumpy old men, you say, “I don’t care how much damn money is, I don’t go out, I stay at home.”
2014 Monty Python Live show (mostly) Photo: Getty
In 2018, Palin confirmed that the reunion There will be no more Python. “All I want to do is keep doing new things,” he said. |The past is wonderful, but the future is more interesting to me now.” He also admitted that a world tour “would be a good way to make money, but to be honest, we would be really bored.”
He spoke candidly about the reasons for the reforms in 2014: “It got to the point where some people needed large sums of money quite quickly. And after about five and a half seconds, I think we all agreed. Disagreement for the last 15 years!”