John Cleese, the actor, comedian and a founding member of Monty Python, is returning to Charlotte this month. He was last here with fellow Python alum Eric Idle in 2015.
This time, Cleese is going it alone with a show called “Why There Is No Hope.” Cleese, who turned 79 in late October, is an Oscar nominee for his screenplay for 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda.” His decades-long career in TV and movies also has included “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Fawlty Towers,” the Harry Potter, Shrek and James Bond franchises, and “Trolls.”
Cleese recently spoke with the Observer from England about his upcoming show, his favorite audience questions and lemurs. Yes, lemurs. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity, but we left the wit alone.
Q. The last time you were here, you were with Eric Idle. Now you are solo. Is that a good or bad thing?
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A. They’re both thoroughly enjoyable. We love touring together. At the same time, it’s easier not to have to fit around each other’s schedules to do it. I quite like it on my own. In a way... it’s like marriage. It’s nice when your wife goes off for a bit. But Eric and I have real fun when we are together. On stage, he says things sometimes that I simply didn’t know. He told me that if Monty Python had been made a month earlier, then it would’ve been in black and white and we would never have become well-known at all.
Q. What can people expect at your new show?
A. Well, I’m hoping they will laugh a lot. I’ve only done this speech a small number of times, but this is something I’ve had in my mind for 10 years. Then I did a short version for charity, and it went particularly well and I thought to myself, ‘I’ll expand on this because I think this is a very interesting idea’...
I get (the audience) to give up any hope that we live in a fair and a rational world, and let them realize it never was a fair and rational world, and we might as well relax and enjoy it. I point out just how absurd things are. I also point out the third-largest cause of death in the U.S. after cancer and heart is medical errors. The doctors are out there killing people in large numbers, and that’s in a way very funny because that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing.
Q. Do you still like taking audience questions?
A. Oh yes, that’s the most fun part of the whole evening. It’s lovely, seriously, if you make an audience laugh. But a lot of the time, I’m pretty much saying what I’ve said the night before, until I get to the Q&A. Then I have absolutely no idea what they are going to ask me. When Eric and I were in Florida somewhere, a very nice middle-age woman, smartly dressed, stood up and asked, ‘Mr. Cleese, Mr. Idle, may I ask you a serious question? Did the queen kill Diana?’ There were 2,000 people in the theater, and I was the only person laughing. I thought it was hilarious. These are priceless moments.
Q. Did anyone ever ask a question that stumped you?
A. We have all the questions (ahead of time) and pick out the best ones. It’s much more fun if people are rather rude and say things like, ‘Why can’t you stay married like a normal person?’ (Cleese has been married four times.) It arouses much more fun and laughter than questions like, ‘Oh gosh, I think you’re so wonderful. How can we be as wonderful as you?’ The one I liked best was from a young man in Oslo, Norway, probably in his early 30s, who got up and asked, ‘If you could be a component part of an aircraft, what component part of an aircraft would you choose to be?’ And I thought that was the funniest question I ever heard. Well, I laughed a great deal, which gave me a chance to think, and in the end I said: ‘Well, the joystick, of course.’
Q. I really enjoyed your autobiography, “So, Anyway.” Are you planning to write any more books?
A. I’m going to. In my last few years, before I completely fade away, I’ll do more writing. But being 79 now, I still have got a certain amount of energy, so I think I’m more likely to do things that require my moving around, like touring or doing TV. I’m trying to sell the idea of doing a documentary on the 40th anniversary of “Life of Brian,” and all the scandal and the rows that happened at that time.
Nobody worries about it nowadays, but they did then. A lot of people don’t understand the point of the film. It’s not to make fun of religion, but to make fun of the way some people practice religion. In other words, when Jesus Christ was laying out his wonderful teachings, was he really saying it’s a jolly good idea to have the Inquisition around to burn people alive — which is not a nice death — if they disagree with people in charge of an organized church?
Q. You are the first Python I’ve interviewed, and the first who had a species of lemur named after them. (In 2005, University of Zurich researchers named a newly discovered lemur species after Cleese in recognition of his work highlighting their plight, the Associated Press reported at the time.)
A. Isn’t that lovely? The greatest compliment I could possibly have. And, of course, the lemurs are... like human beings because the female lemurs are in charge. It’s a matriarchy, just like our society. The women basically make all the decisions, but pretend that it’s the men.
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19.
Where: Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte
Tickets: $29 and up.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.