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John Cleese - Three shows in Israel.(Photo by: Courtesy)
The unclassifiable John Cleese is coming to Tel Aviv
By HANNAH BROWN
08/20/2019
Monty Python co-founder and comic genius gives fans a chance to see him before he dies.
Who but John Cleese, one of the comic geniuses who created Monty Python’s Flying Circus and has done great solo comedy as well, would have the wit and irreverence to bill a tour: “Last Time to See Me Before I Die”?

Let’s hope the 79-year-old Brit is around till he’s at least 120, but this tour may well be your last chance to see him perform in Tel Aviv, where he will appear at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium on August 31, September 1 and September 2.

For many, especially British fans, he is most beloved for his performance as Basil Fawlty, the tense, rude hotel owner in Fawlty Towers, a series that ran for only two seasons in the 1970s but is still remembered today. But for Python-o-maniacs, Cleese, who wrote as well as performed, was the heart and soul of the comedy troupe, front and center in so many of their most hilarious sketches.

Cleese, a tall, handsome man, who was educated at Cambridge, could easily have passed for an academic or some other ultra-serious professional. He often played off his straitlaced appearance to great comic effect. He was particularly funny as the long-limbed Minister of Silly Walks, and his measured speech as he expertly mimicked public officials and politicians in these sketches presented a sublimely funny contrast to what his body was doing at any given moment.

Very much a man of the 21st century, he recently launched a Silly Walks app – https://www.thesillywalk.com/ – which is better seen than described. He also has a website, JohnCleese.com and a Twitter account, with which he recently ruffled feathers in when he took President Donald Trump to task for “rambling,” after a study was published that said the US president has the vocabulary of an 8-year-old. In 2008, he supported Barack Obama’s candidacy and even offered to write speeches for him.

But the unclassifiable Cleese is also a proponent of Brexit and  told a BBC interviewer that he was so frustrated with the “awful” debate over Britain and the EU that he was leaving the UK and moving to the Caribbean island of Nevis, topics he will likely touch upon in his live show.

It’s virtually impossible to pick a favorite Python sketch with Cleese, because there are too many great ones. But one of his best loved moments – which would be considered politically incorrect by just about everyone today  – was as the masochistic customer in the Cheese Shop sketch, who orders every possible variety of cheese until he figures out that there is none to be had at all, then shoots the proprietor in the head, saying, “Another senseless waste of human life.”

Cleese was also known for the Dead Parrot sketch, where he once again is a hapless customer, this time complaining that the blue parrot he bought is dead and nailed to its perch.    

For Cleese connoisseurs, though, nothing beats the lesser-known but equally funny and, once again, politically incorrect sketch in which he plays a deranged self-defense instructor who will only teach his students how to defend themselves against someone attacking them with a piece of fresh fruit. Anyone who’s ever had to deal with an unreasonable authority figure – and haven’t we all – will appreciate it.

He was equally unforgettable in the Monty Python movies, including his turn as the nasty French guard (among several other roles) in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and as the leader of the People’s Front of Judea, whose greatest enemy is the Judean People’s Front, in Life of Brian.

He has also appeared in non-Python movies, notably the 1988 comedy, A Fish Called Wanda, in which he played a very proper family man tempted into a life of crime by Jamie Lee Curtis. Cleese stole the movie out from under his co-stars, who included fellow-Python Michael Palin, with his delivery of lines like, “I’m a good lover – at least, used to be, back in the early 14th century. Can we go to bed?” He also made a credible leading man opposite the very sexy Curtis.

Perhaps it’s the quintessentially British vibe he gives off that makes his anarchic comedy hit the mark so often.

As he told the BBC in May, “I suspect I should apologize for my affection for the Englishness of my upbringing, but in some ways I found it calmer, more polite, more humorous, less tabloid, and less money-oriented than the one that is replacing it.”
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