Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Old School Yule

I'm old school, a crotchety old holdover. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me well, certainly not to my kids. Sure, I work online, and whatever share of international notoriety I've garnered wouldn't have happened without the Internet. But in a lot of ways I'm not that different from the classic TV dads of the '50s – Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver.

On the afternoon of Christmas day, I looked up and saw Kate deeply entrenched in her new Game Boy thing. Max was working on his new computer. And Tori was learning all the things her Galaxy Tab can do.

And I was reading a book. John Cleese's memoir, "So, Anyway ..." My other major gifts were a cast-iron skillet, the kind that fits over two of the stove top burners, a pair of eight-pound dumbbells, and a really cool hat.

I'm not sure what style the hat is, it has the crown of a fedora and the rolled-up brim of a pork pie. I suppose I could snap the brim down to a point in front, but no. It's not as wide as a fedora brim, more like a trilby.

Besides, I like it the way it is. I'm a crotchety old fart, but I admit it, I'd like to think I'm still a little cool.

BOOK – "So, Anyway ..." is a really a good book. I've finished it by now, of course.

It's funny, of course, as you'd expect from a book by John Cleese. Surprisingly, it contains very little of his years with Monty Python and almost nothing directly about "A Fish Called Wanda." It stops right about the time Monty Python was taking to the airwaves and it's only the last couple of chapters that have much about the legendary comedy group. (There's a very funny bit about the origin of the justly famous cheese shop sketch, which includes a bout of real-life projectile vomiting.)

The book follows his growing up and into the kind of person who would end up as a Python. Great book.

The biggest thing that came across is how serious comedy is. As zany and wild as Monty Python was (and is on DVD and online) it was built by guys who took their comedy very seriously. Interestingly, they all saw themselves more as writers than performers, which was part of why they worked so well together. It was always about the joke, not about being a star.

But here's a question. Why do Englishmen, when telling you about their lives, ALWAYS start by telling you about their schools and the name of every master and teacher they had? There were two salient points to Cleese's school stories, maybe three – that he was a coward, that his mother was crazy, and maybe the fact that the teacher who seemed to be one of his greatest influences (but not for the reasons you think) had turned himself into the perfect Edwardian gentleman. And the schools days take about the first half of the book.

Then, almost 100 pages later, while he's talking about being a writer for David Frost, he mentions almost as a throwaway how as a boy he had loved comedy albums, collected them, studied them, tried to memorize and reproduce them. I think that's a lot more interesting, a lot more significant, coming from John Cleese than any number of rugby coaches and the headmaster who could get anyone to do what he wanted, except his wife.

It just goes to show, I suppose, how we don't always understand our own journeys. Makes me wonder what I'm missing, or fail to understand, about my own life.

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