Thursday, 21 July 2011

Monty Python Live! by Kim "Howard" Johnson

In issue three of my Monty Python fanzine 'And Now For Something Completely Different' (printed 1992), Monty Python historian Kim "Howard" Johnson shared his memories of the Python live experience. Although the Python live shows are largely out of the remit of 'Flogging A Dead Parrot', this firsthand account of the stage shows is of obvious interest. Happy reading!

When I went out to New York to see the City Center show in 1976, I was already a Python fanatic (as I did have a 16 hour drive!) but hadn’t become friends with any of the group.  I’d met Terry Jones and Graham Chapman the previous year, and in a subsequent letter, Terry invited me to the New York show – so with an invitation like that, how could I refuse?

I drove out with a friend of mine and we picked up our tickets (fourth row centre – thanks, Terry!) then we went round to the stage door and asked for Terry.  He came out a minute later, and took us around backstage, introducing us to the rest of the group (except for John Cleese, who was resting between the two Saturday night shows).  Eric was in a room with Neil Innes as some others, offering to sell us autographs; Michael Palin was as genial as always, and happy to pose for photographs, as was Carol Cleveland.  Graham was still drinking in those days, and wandered around shirtless; while we were talking to Terry Jones, Graham burst in, emitting the occasional squawk.  I was a wide-eyed Python fan, quite star-struck I’m sure and I undoubtedly made as much a fool of myself as possible in the ten minutes or so I was back there.  Nevertheless, everybody was extremely nice, and so, fired by that experience, we left and went out front to watch the show.

Maybe I’m a little jaded when I say the show itself was a typical Python stage show, but it was pretty much the way it was captured in Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl and the Drury Lane and City Center albums, but with the Pythons occasionally wandering through the audience!  Needless to say, it was terrific and very exciting, and the audience was very supportive.

When the Hollywood Bowl shows came along a few years later, I was fortunate enough to be more of an insider, having lived and worked alongside the team in Tunisia on Life Of Brian.  The Pythons themselves seemed to be more excited about this four-night stand and even did a bit of rehearsing for the event.  I arrived the afternoon before opening night, and hung out while the guys went through their paces.  That evening was a dress rehearsal, which was necessary because the shows were being filmed.  They ran late, however, and since the Hollywood Bowl neighbourhood imposed a curfew, they couldn’t run through every sketch that night before they had to quit.

The shows themselves were quite amazing, and the film does a good job of capturing the madness.  By this time, the Pythons had been doing the shows long enough to have them more or less mastered, but the crowds were devoted fans who had the sketches memorised anyway.

During each show there was a short bit called ‘Idioting’ which involved a group all dressed in strange costumes, running around under a strobe light, which equally strange music played.  After the dress rehearsal, Michael Palin decided that the stage needed to be filled out better so John Tomiczek – Graham’s son – and myself were happy to be recruited for this regular bit in the show.  John had already a bit where wearing a Christmas tree costume, he would drag Terry Jones off after he sings ‘Never Be Rude To An Arab’.  I was originally promised the Christmas tree role, but instead became the Pantomime Goose for the ‘Idioting’. 

I would usually watch the show from a seat in the audience until shortly before the idioting then head backstage.  I do recall that the goose head was so large that I usually had to hold on to it with both hands whole I jumped around onstage.  I also remember one night, Terry Gilliam had to roll across the stage.  When he attempted this, he had trouble getting across the stage in time.  One night, I tried to make my way to the opposite side, which wasn’t easy, as my vision was obstructed.  I heard a muffled American voice saying, “Hey you guys!  Get me offa here!”  Terry was having trouble taking it off, but I couldn’t see him well enough to go find him and drag him off.  The idioting didn’t make it into the final cut of the film – I’ve often wondered how the audience reacted to the sight of a nearly blind goose trying to find this pathetic, whimpering human ball…

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