Before answering questions, John Cleese has one of his own.
“Will there be people there who know Monty Python really well, or will they have vaguely heard of it, or not at all?”
Cleese is returning to the Las Vegas Strip as a solo headliner at Encore Theater on Friday and Saturday night. At the time of our conversation, he was still working out how he would approach a Vegas audience made up folks from many locales. The Python brand was an artistic success (even if not a consistent sellout) at that same theater for 519 shows from March 2007 through July 2008 with “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
Also, Cleese and his Monty Python co-founder Eric Idle packed the Venetian Theater in November 2016, receiving a robust response in a set peppered with Python references and the troupe’s edgy humor (one skit centered on a fine-wine tasting event where every sample was described as “wee-wee.”)
“Some of the humor can get a bit black,” Cleese says, working out his strategy in real time. “In some big cities, that goes over very well. But in some cities, people are a bit startled by it. I wonder if I should avoid that for the Las Vegas audience.”
At the suggestion he just roll the bones, to use a Vegas phrase, and go full-black, Cleese laughs and says, “Roll the bones! Maybe I’ll do that.”
That’s the tease, at least, but we are assured Cleese will sample highlights of a career spanning 50 years. The 80-year-old comic actor is best known as a founding member of the legendary comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which ran in its original form from 1969-1974 on BBC with Cleese’s fellow performers Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman. In feature films, Cleese co-starred in and co-wrote “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” and “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.”
Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers” is a beloved British comedy series, and he achieved a box-office hit alongside Palin, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis in 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda.”
Cleese understands the business temperament of Las Vegas to know gambling no longer carries the city’s financial profits. “I had always known that the money coming from the tables made everything very inexpensive, because of the winnings in the casino. Of course it is a completely different place now.”
Cleese continues, “The first thing I notice about Las Vegas today is how very, very good the food is, and that is of great interest to someone who eats, and for someone as greedy as me (laughs). The second thing is, I asked a waiter at a restaurant one time if there was a book shop nearby. I don’t think he stopped laughing for a week.”
Well, let’s put a cricket bat to that claim. Off line, I did share a favorite book shop with Mr. Cleese. So if you’re around South Sixth Street downtown over the next couple of days, and spot someone whose walk has become rather sillier recently, it’s probably him.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram