John Cleese, living comedic legend of “Monty Python” fame – who also happens to be a Santa Barbara resident – graced the stage at Campbell Hall Monday night for his annual film screening and Q&A. The event, the proceeds of which go towards the Arts & Lecture Film Series, showcased the Academy Award-winning comedy, “A Fish Called Wanda.”
The film, which Cleese claimed to have made out of a desire to match the trend set by other Monty Python members, is one of the very few Oscar-winning comedies out there. However, the real draw of the evening was not the film but the man behind it, who remained for nearly an hour after the screening to answer questions, some of which referenced his career and personal life.
The evening’s entertainment began about 15 minutes late, when Mr. Cleese finally came onto stage to a vigorous round of applause. To prepare the audience for the screening, Cleese discussed his thought process for creating the story and casting his film, specifically the process of casting Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline.
He continued, describing a lunch with Kevin Kline in Sydney, and deciding on Jamie Lee Curtis after seeing her energy (and breasts) in “Trading Places” while writing the script. He then left the audience to watch the film, saying “I’m going to get drunk.”
When he returned to the stage 108 minutes later, an apparently sober Cleese kept the audience laughing and on its toes with topics ranging from racism in comedy to American accents. However, the night tended to gravitate towards the film more consistently than the previous year, when a wheelchair-bound Cleese spent most of the evening ranting about his soon-to-be ex-wife.
On Monday, the discussion was more focused, as most questions from the audience referenced his film or his career, from which Cleese would go careening onto tangents consistently finishing with, “What was the question?”
The evening held several nuggets of wisdom for aspiring filmmakers as well, specifically in regard to dealing with producers, whose “prerogative it is to go fuck it up,” as well as test audiences who were illogically concerned by the chips up Michael Palin’s nose.
Later, when asked what aspect of America he would Anglicize when given the opportunity, he replied that he would “teach them to speak English properly by emphasizing the right word in the sentence!”
At one point, Cleese told a story about being “patted down” by security staff while flying. The story, and a subsequent deliration about stupidity, received a raucous round of applause and prompted him to request his standing ovation immediately so that they could get it over with. So, at 9:56 p.m., a full 30 minutes before concluding, Cleese received his standing ovation.
Later, in a phone interview, Cleese explained that in this time of financial need, he was going to break from tradition and do another show soon, before mid April, in an effort to further support the program.
When asked why he continues to return to A&L, he praised it as the most important thing in the community.
“The quality of my life would go down sharply without Arts & Lectures. … I don’t think there is anything more important than keeping people interested in culture.”