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Slip of the Quip Colors Idle's Solo Python Tour


Eric Idle's career is built on the comedy of the unexpected. But even he never expected the sort of Spanish Inquisition that erupted last fall in London over a flip remark about his former Monty Python cohorts.

"I really don't mind doing Monty Python, providing none of the others are around," Idle had responded to a fan's question published in the London Independent about the comedy troupe's 30th anniversary reunion.

In an accompanying story, the Independent's media news editor interpreted that quip and another one in which Idle said he was "exceedingly glad" that the Pythons disbanded, as "an outburst of anti-Python feeling" that had "tainted" the reunion.

In a line that would have seemed apropos of one of the Pythons' mock-serious newscasters, the writer added, "A spokeswoman for Idle said that his comments were intended to be funny."

"They totally missed the irony," Idle, 57, said incredulously during a recent interview. "In England, they like to say that America is an irony-free zone, but I think it's absolutely the opposite.

"But that's how the British press is--if there isn't a story, you make one. 'Pythons Getting On Well After 30 Years' is not a good story. I felt rather bad about it. I wrote to the Pythons, and the great thing is if you tell the others, they know how to look at this nonsense."

Six months later, however, Idle is starting a two-month summer tour in which he is, in fact, doing Python with none of the others around.

His show, which comes to the Sun Theatre in Anaheim today and the Universal Amphitheatre on Friday, is called "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" and combines Python sketches and songs as an expansion of a free concert he gave last summer at the Getty Center in Malibu. (The show was recorded and has just been released on a CD titled "Eric Idle Sings Monty Python.")

Idle said he never intended it to be more than a one-nighter, but after the show "people kept coming up and saying, 'You should do this again.' As I thought about it, it seemed it'd be a fun show to do."

At the time, however, Idle and the other surviving Python members--John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam (Graham Chapman died in 1989)--were still kicking around the idea of a Python 30th anniversary reunion tour, for which they'd been guaranteed $10 million by a concert promoter.

Palin, however, ultimately opted out, scotching the tour.

"While Python was remotely possibly going to do something, I couldn't do [the current show]," he explained. "But when they decided they didn't want to do the reunion tour, or any tour, it became OK for me to do it. I got their permission, and obviously I pay them [to use the material] so it's not like I'm ripping them off. I'm just exploiting them. . . .

"Rather than just doing a concert sort of gig with me talking and singing," he added, "I thought it'd be more fun to have some girls and some guys on stage and do sketches, dances and put together much more of a show."

Along with Idle songs such as "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and "The Galaxy Song," which figured prominently into Monty Python films and TV shows, Idle will be reviving classic Python routines including "Spam," "The Lumberjack Song," "Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink," "Argument" and, fittingly, "The Spanish Inquisition."

"Doing the music is nice if it's just me and a small audience in a lecture environment," he said. "But if I've got to fill 2,000-seat theaters, I thought we should take that space and get back to the old-fashioned revue, with lights and dancing girls and all that. We've got 12 people on stage and lots of costume changes, so when we do 'Spam,' we have Vikings on stage marching around in helmets, and with 'Lumberjack' we have the mounted police."

Idle doesn't think there would be much interest in this kind of show if he and his Python pals--all Oxford and Cambridge students except for American-born Terry Gilliam--had been part of England's satire boom of the early and mid-'60s instead of the absurdist comedy wave that followed.

"None of our stuff was satire, which means it lasts," he said. "You look at some of the old satirical stuff now and you wonder what on Earth it was about, or who was that person they were making jokes about? Ours was deliberately not specific."

Idle spent his youth, as many of his contemporaries did, engrossed by the rock music of Elvis Presley and later the Beatles and Rolling Stones, yet his songs are more reflective of Broadway songs, English music-hall ditties and other earlier forms.

"If you write funny songs and play loud rock 'n' roll music over them, nobody can hear what you're saying," said Idle, who has lived in recent years in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and 9-year-old daughter. "A lot of what I do draws from what happened before rock 'n' roll. Some of it was a parody of wartime music; [the Monty Python song] 'Sit on My Face' is actually a World War II song called 'Sing as We Go.' "

Idle finds something inherently funny in using cheery musical theater-like tunes to address weighty philosophical matters. He has also discovered that "rude lyrics work particularly well in naive and sentimental kinds of forms."

Additionally, "I find I use a lot of death in my songs. I don't do it deliberately, but I find it interesting the number of my songs that refer to death or a reminder of death. I found that kind of significant, since that's a subject most modern pop songs avoid.

"That's one of the things comedy does," he continued. "It reminds of our mortality, and makes us laugh at it."


"Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" is today at the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. 8:30 p.m. $55-$65, $20 student rush. (714) 712-2700. Also Friday at Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza. 8:15 p.m. $35-$65. (714) 740-2000 or (213) 480-3232 (both numbers Ticketmaster).

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