John Cleese needs no introduction – but, for the sake of a good story, we’re still keen to try. The 71-year-old British actor, comedian and writer, who made Basil Fawlty a (high-pitched) household name, has had a stellar career spanning more than 50 years. In the ’60s he shot to fame as part of the Monty Python troupe, before writing and starring in Fawlty Towers, as well as Hollywood hits A Fish Called Wanda, Bond film The World is Not Enough and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. So it’s alarming that, with so many achievements already under his belt, he isn’t content to rest on his laurels. When we speak to Cleese, he’s just finished an epic 50-show Australian tour; although he’s audibly worn out, the star shows no sign of slowing down. On Wednesday May 23, he brings world-class show An Evening with John Cleese to Dubai for four nights in what is set to be a sell-out event. But will he have to tone things down for Dubai audiences? ‘I don’t think so – I’m not making fun of Dubai or the Middle East. It’s strictly a professional autobiography.
I talk about [growing up in the UK’s] Weston-Super-Mare and the fact that it was… well, let’s be polite, “quiet”. And [there’s] the fact that the Germans bombed it and nobody knew why they’d bothered. It’s good for people who like my stuff – anyone who doesn’t like it should stay away.’
While the man who invented the silly walk may not be as limber as he once was (he says a knee replacement operation two year ago was ‘probably caused by the silly walk in the first place’), his wit still blazes. ‘Did you know we killed someone with A Fish Called Wanda?’ asks Cleese. ‘There was a dentist in a town in Aalborg in Denmark. He was famous for his convulsive laugh. And he started laughing after about 15 minutes into the film, and I’m afraid he never stopped. He had a heart attack and by the time they carried him out of the theatre into the foyer, he was dead. It’s not a bad way to go.’
Cleese has an expert knack of making others buckle over in stitches, but what makes him chuckle? Just ask him if Kevin Kline really ate the slimy, scaly victim in A Fish Called Wanda. ‘No!’ he laughs. ‘Those were very clever props made from jelly.’
The actor reveals that the ’80s crime comedy, co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis, was one of the high points of his career. ‘A Fish Called Wanda was a very, very positive experience; so was Life Of Brian.’ But there are others that didn’t quite float his boat. ‘I didn’t very much enjoy making The Meaning of Life.
I don’t know why, but I got very bored and I found it very tedious. Fierce Creatures was difficult because I made a couple of mistakes in choosing people at the back of camera. Harry Potter: didn’t enjoy it at all. Anyone who does a special-effects movie will tell you it’s boring because you don’t know if you’re getting it right or not. But I loved doing Bond.’
It makes sense that John Cleese, a British institution himself, would enjoy a role in the typically British Bond franchise. As for the rest of us, we can enjoy Cleese’s own brand of British silliness at the Madinat this month. Just don’t mention the war.
Tickets for an Evening with John Cleese start at Dhs350. 7.30pm, May 23-26, plus 2.30pm matinee on May 25. First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6546), www.timeouttickets.com.