In addition to Cleese's, shows from this year by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Pearl Jam and Aerosmith have also been rescheduled – Photo: wikimedia

Riff-raff welcomed as comedy giant Cleese finally comes to town

On the tram on the way to see John Cleese in Budapest, my mind was taxed for much of the time by the question – would temperamental Basil Fawlty be there in full flow this night? If so, I wondered, and perhaps secretly hoped, would I be allowed to enter the premises without being booted out by the former hotelier and prized snob for being too undesirable?

I was going to the MomSport venue on June 12 when I had this premonition that distinctly relates to the 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers”, in particular to Cleese’s crazed creation of Basil, who was, and perhaps still might be, obsessed and full of loathing for what he called the “riff-raff” who dared to enter his hotel and then, as we all know, wished they hadn’t for reasons that are legendary.

Cleese, the king of comedy, was due to perform his “Last Time to See Me Before I Die” around Europe in 2020 and then in 2021 but both were postponed due to the COVID plight. Fortunately, the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” star – the singular Minister of Silly Walks and other hilarious creations – has clearly defied old age, the plague and death itself in order to return to what he does best. And that is to be on stage where his life and reputation proceed before him, much to the delight of the sell-out audiences here in Budapest last weekend on June 11 and 12.

Fortunately, my fears did not transpire and remarkably all peasant-folk such as myself were welcomed to this live event hosted by a very easy-going and mellower than expected Cleese, who has honestly seen it all as well as done much of it and still remains funny and continues with his profession. And like today’s Rolling Stones, both are far from retiring.

He began with how he managed to escape the law profession during his early days and finally made it into show-business, successfully managing to pull off an illustrious 50-year-plus career that he talked through for the first hour part of the evening. This led to him telling “What makes comedy and jokes funny and what does not?” Meaning, there doesn’t always have to be a “victim” in storytelling; one can be “playful and affectionate” without being too harmful towards anyone if anecdotes are dealt with in a clever manner.

All this and more covered vintage “Python” and its touches of the surreal and bizarre that were not to everyone’s’ taste. In particular, there was the controversial “Life of Brian”, which still sold as a comedy of sorts, as did all the others.

In addition to Cleese’s presentation came film snippets highlighting his career, and all was then wrapped up by his take on the modern-day traits of political correctness and woke-culture, which he clearly loathes and regards as incredibly unfunny. “All the humour is taken out from them,” he said, to which the audience clearly agreed and gave rousing applause.

It would have been great to dip more into “Fawlty Towers” and his later films if time had allowed but the second part of the show was given over to questions from the audience, which could have easily gone on well into the night. Still, everyone was grateful for this funny, relaxed and fascinating evening, which made me finally wonder, when his time comes, who will take his place?  And when will it all end? As it would be most ironic if the comedy genius were to drop down dead before the next audience on his European tour.

I am sure such an occurrence would make ample lush new material for the remaining Monty Python team to honour Cleese with a fitting tribute of a remake of the “Dead Parrot” sketch, this time starring the man himself. Cleese would laugh all the way to the grave, for sure.

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