So, Anyway… – John Cleese – Review by Dan O’Neill
Faulty but Funny
If anyone’s lived a life in full, it has to be John Cleese. The brain behind two of the funniest TV comedies of all time in ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and ‘Fawlty Towers’, Cleese has had a wonderful life. Yet, while his work is a testament to his brilliant comedic mind, his autobiography, while having lots of gems, ultimately disappoints. And this, as Cleese might say, is disappointing.
We expect our heroes not to have feet of clay and Cleese does. Cheese to give him his original surname, uses ‘So, Anyway’ as a ledger on most of his comedy output, but infuriatingly, hardly any commentary is made on ‘Fawlty Towers’ and there’s comparatively little on ‘Python’. As he observes, it is his book. While most of us would need a heart of stone not to settle some old scores in a life story, Cleese errs on the side of over-settling. He is, unnecessarily cruel at times, particularly about his mother, who is lampooned for her simplicity and lack of awareness. But then again, it’s an honest account of his journey thus far.
There is warmth too; he writes fondly about all the Pythons and is especially complimentary about his old writing partner, Graham Chapman. While he insists that amateur psychologists or script detectives should not be seeing links where there aren’t any, we can see where real life encounters and situations were the raw material for some of Cleese’s writing. There’s a brilliant description of his friend trying to put a rabbit out of its misery; trust me, it’s a genuinely laugh out loud moment in the book. There’s a huge focus on the 1960s, Cambridge, David Frost etc and this is a fascinating period in John Cleese’s life. While it was famously once said that Frost rose without trace, the rise of the tall, funny man was no less meteoric.
If you’re interested in comedy and the writing process, you’ll enjoy this book. However, if you’re looking for a work that’s as funny as the rest of the author’s comedy cannon, then you may be, well, disappointed.
‘So, Anyway…’ – John Cleese – £12.99 – Randomhouse