John Cleese’s autobiography, enigmatically titled “So, Anyway,” is a hugely entertaining read for devoted fans. In it, Cleese goes into elaborate detail about his upbringing and school days. An only child with a loving father but a mother who was withdrawn, he was awkward and insecure, not particularly good as sports, and 6 feet tall already by age 12.
Cleese’s appearance at the Granada Theatre at 7 p.m. Wednesday is courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures, and will have him in conversation with former BBC TV director Terry Hughes. Perhaps Cleese will share some of his later adventures with the audience, as his book only takes us up to the brink of the Monty Python era, with a final, epilogue-type chapter on this year’s MP reunion shows in London.
While Cleese felt out of place among his schoolmates, by the time he got to secondary school, he learned that quite often he was able to make them laugh, and that was worth a lot. At Cambridge University he joined Footlights, the comedy troupe. As both a writer and performer, he honed his fascination with satirizing ever-so-proper British life, which was to become a cornerstone of his humor.
At Cambridge, he found a kindred spirit in Graham Chapman, longtime writing partner and friend, and later a fellow Python. He also made the acquaintance of David Frost, who he later wrote for, and who he commented was to become “the single strongest force shaping my career.”
Within this rich history are nuggets of inspiration for future Monty Python work, which aforementioned serious fans will delight in uncovering, including a headmaster’s exhaustive catalog of instructions to students at a boarding school and Michael Palin’s experience with an evasive mechanic, which later became the classic Dead Parrot sketch.
Time and again, Cleese emphasizes the value he placed in those early years on warm, friendly camaraderie and the occasions and places in which he happily found them, mainly in his writing and performing pursuits.
He is quick to point out that he was never particularly ambitious or focused on career — he studied law but as soon as he was out of school lucked into a job writing comedy for the BBC — but serendipitously found his way into roles and jobs that evolved into the rich career that has extended over the past 50-plus years.
While good fortune may have smiled upon him in many ways, it is clear that his own warm, friendly nature and innate comic talent went far in making connections with those who could help him along this path, for which millions of us all around the world are thankful.
For tickets or more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805.893.3535 or purchase online by clicking here. Tickets are also available through the Granada Theatre at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.