John Cleese’s Very Favorite Comedy Sketches

Asked by Time mag­a­zine to name his favorite sketch­es among all those he has writ­ten or per­formed in, John Cleese delib­er­ate­ly exclud­ed most of his Mon­ty Python work. Instead he turned deep­er into his back pages, all the way to At Last the 1948 Show, which orig­i­nal­ly aired on ITV in 1967. (Its title ref­er­enced the long delays inflict­ed by tele­vi­sion’s exec­u­tive deci­sion-mak­ing process­es.) The pro­gram was con­ceived at the behest of broad­cast­er David Frost, who’d pre­vi­ous­ly engaged Cleese and fel­low Cam­bridge Foot­lights alum­nus (and future Python) Gra­ham Chap­man to write and per­form on The Frost Report, one of the major fruits of the “satire boom” in mid-1960s Britain.

“We would come up with crazy ideas, and all the writ­ers would roar with laugh­ter at the table,” Cleese remem­bered of his Frost Report expe­ri­ence in a 2014 Q&A at the British Film Insti­tute. But how­ev­er hilar­i­ous, these ideas would inevitably be reject­ed for the rea­son that “they won’t get it in Brad­ford.”

The late-night 1948 Show let Cleese and his col­lab­o­ra­tors, includ­ing come­di­an Mar­ty Feld­man, take a few more chances: “We knew that not every­one in Brad­ford would get it, so were tak­ing a lit­tle bit of a bet that enough peo­ple would get it.” This result­ed in sketch­es like “The Book­shop,” in which Feld­man’s cus­tomer makes a series of impos­si­ble demands of Cleese’s shop­keep­er, allow­ing the lat­ter to show­case his already well-honed abil­i­ty to per­form frus­tra­tion boil­ing over into derange­ment.

Cleese, who still gets comedic mileage out of his upright “estab­lish­ment” appear­ance, seems to have spe­cial­ized in play­ing such absurd­ly bur­dened busi­ness­men. His most icon­ic role must be the clenched, boor­ish hote­lier Basil Fawl­ty, played in the post-Python series Fawl­ty Tow­ers, but he was essay­ing such fig­ures long before. Take the far­ci­cal sketch about a hard-of-hear­ing eye­wear deal­er, which lat­er evolved into a seg­ment of the Ger­man spe­cial Mon­ty Python’s Fliegen­der Zirkus from 1972. Ear­li­er that year, Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus put Cleese on the cus­tomer’s side of the counter, oppo­site Michael Pal­in’s cheese shop own­er who evi­dent­ly refus­es to stock all known vari­eties of cheese. Though it did­n’t orig­i­nate on the 1948 Show, the now-immor­tal “cheese shop sketch” was writ­ten as anoth­er Cleese-Chap­man col­lab­o­ra­tion — and one that dis­plays a firm com­mit­ment to cus­tomer ser­vice, or the lack there­of, as com­ic mate­r­i­al.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cleese Plays the Dev­il, Makes a Spe­cial Appeal for Hell, 1966

John Cleese’s Advice to Young Artists: “Steal Any­thing You Think Is Real­ly Good”

Mon­ty Python’s John Cleese Cre­ates Ads for the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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