Cleese kept crowd engaged

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October 21, 2013

By Curran Dobbs

A master of black humour and vocal critic of “mindless good taste,” British actor John Cleese was nonetheless a class act in his one-man show, “Last Time to See Before I Die” at the McPherson Playhouse recently.

The show, while continuously infused with Cleesian wit, wasn’t strictly comedic. Regaling the audience with his life story, starting with how his parents met, walking the audience through his childhood and his pre-Python days, and movie career, Cleese offered bittersweet moments as he remembered with fondness friends and family who had passed on.  When Cleese recalled David Frost,  he started to tear up, infusing the show with some pathos and creating a humanizing element that would have been absent had the show been strictly comedic (or strictly dramatic).

Admittedly, throughout the show, Cleese didn’t seem too energetic, but after all, he is 73. Nevertheless, the time flew by;  when he announced that he had kept us for about an hour and it was time for an intermission, it came as a surprise. Considering my tendency to fidget and check my watch constantly when sitting for long periods of time, I was impressed.

The second half of the show was mainly a discussion of offensive or black humour.  Cleese talked about it being passed down from his mother, and explored reactions from audience members, mainly to Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. Cleese reported that during the test screen for A Fish Called Wanda, the three bits the audience identified as the funniest bits were also the  bits that were identified as most offensive.  He also made much more use of video clips in his second act.  Many of the clips were familiar to Cleese fans, from the previously mentioned shows as well as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Showing the clips took some of the strain and effort out of filling up the second half while entertaining the audience. Again, I sat through the second half without checking my watch.

The show ended with a standing ovation, with members of the audience eventually clapping in rhythm to The Liberty Bell song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The man hasn’t lost a thing at 73 – except the usual, youth, original hair colour . . . I would certainly recommend this show for anyone who appreciates dry humour.


Curran Dobbs is a local reviewer and comedian.  

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