June 25, 2019

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Abandon hope, all ye who enter Cleese lecture

Amel Eric / The Associated Press files</p><p>English actor John Cleese, posing here at the Sarajevo Film Festival in 2017, will perform Sunday in Winnipeg. <em>Winnipeg Free Press</em> critic Randall King took in his first Winnipeg show, Saturday evening.</p>

Amel Eric / The Associated Press files

English actor John Cleese, posing here at the Sarajevo Film Festival in 2017, will perform Sunday in Winnipeg. Winnipeg Free Press critic Randall King took in his first Winnipeg show, Saturday evening.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/3/2018 (456 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you must be lectured by someone, it might as well be John Cleese.

The formidable comic actor-writer returned to the stage at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall 45 years after first treading its boards as part of a Flying Circus live performance tour. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I was there.)

Cleese's return at the age of 78 was in the capacity of a lecture series: Unique Lives & Experiences. He demonstrated worthy membership to that club, reminiscing of his time helping to create landmark TV (Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers) and movies (Monty Python and the Holy Grail; A Fish Called Wanda, for which he was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar).

Ironically, all those successes factor into the theme of his lecture: "Why There Is No Hope." Cleese ruefully recalls how all of those projects met considerable resistance before getting made, and no small degree of dismissal when they were completed.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/3/2018 (456 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you must be lectured by someone, it might as well be John Cleese.

The formidable comic actor-writer returned to the stage at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall 45 years after first treading its boards as part of a Flying Circus live performance tour. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I was there.)

FILE PHOTO</p><p>John Cleese did not do any silly walks for the audience at Saturday's show. Instead, he wore no socks with his shoes.</p>

FILE PHOTO

John Cleese did not do any silly walks for the audience at Saturday's show. Instead, he wore no socks with his shoes.

Cleese's return at the age of 78 was in the capacity of a lecture series: Unique Lives & Experiences. He demonstrated worthy membership to that club, reminiscing of his time helping to create landmark TV (Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers) and movies (Monty Python and the Holy Grail; A Fish Called Wanda, for which he was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar).

Ironically, all those successes factor into the theme of his lecture: "Why There Is No Hope." Cleese ruefully recalls how all of those projects met considerable resistance before getting made, and no small degree of dismissal when they were completed.

Cleese took to the podium with the practised poise of a venerable instructor, with barely a physical hint of his more outlandish comic personae, save for the fact he was wearing shoes with no socks. On Saturday night, the hour-long lecture was followed by a half-hour question-and-answer period conducted by CJOB host Richard Cloutier.

This was not the hair-triggered Basil Fawlty, nor the rude, raspberry-blowing French knight, nor the arrogant pedant teaching sex education in The Meaning of Life. This is the humanist Cleese, the one you may have seen calmly debating Malcolm Muggeridge over the necessary blasphemy of The Life Of Brian in 1979. (If anything, it was Cleese's Python confederate Michael Palin who looked to be the one to surrender to Fawlty-esque rage in that encounter.) It is also the Cleese who explored the realm of psychology partnered with therapist Robin Skynner, with whom he co-authored two books on the subject of relationships.

Cleese possesses a keen, inquiring mind. Putting that penchant for inquiry to the state of the world, he finds, alas: we are screwed.

The lecture — and yes, it really was more a lecture than a stand-up comedy routine — posits disturbing statistics that suggest, among other things that only 10 to 15 per cent of people are actually competent at their jobs. Also, the less competent you are, the more overblown your confidence. The more protective you are of your ego, the less likely you are to expose yourself to anything that might challenge your worldview.

All this, Cleese asserts, explains the rise of Donald Trump. And so it does in a lucid but funny way.

If the evening had a sour note, it arose as a result of Cleese being dismayingly dismissive of youth, citing a study that suggests, because of an addiction to technology, the average attention span of a millennial is seven seconds, two seconds less than a goldfish.

It was a disappointing thing to hear on Saturday, which happened to fall on March for Our Lives wherein rallies of millions of people protested the lack of sane gun laws in the United States. The event was driven by high school kids.

Cleese's assertion there is no hope rang especially discordant on one of the more hope-affirming days in recent history.

Maybe that's just me. I may have been stung. Early in the evening, I was pre-emptively dismissed with a scathing but hilarious quote delivered with aplomb by Cleese:

"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves."

Cleese misattributed that quote to Oscar Wilde. It was another Irish playwright, Brendan Behan, who said it.

Wilde was apparently more equaminious on the subject, saying, "The role of the critic is to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic."

In that spirit, one can't deny the benefits of the evening with a tip of the medieval French helmet to Cleese: It was an education.

Tickets to today's lecture have sold out.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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