wed 02/12/2020

John Cleese, livestream from Cadogan Hall review - abandon all hope, says the former Python | reviews, news & interviews

John Cleese, livestream from Cadogan Hall review - abandon all hope, says the former Python

John Cleese, livestream from Cadogan Hall review - abandon all hope, says the former Python

More of an erudite lecture than a show

John Cleese's new show is about how little we actually know

At the age of 80, John Cleese probably doesn't care what people think of him. But then, when you were one-sixth of Monty Python and co-creator of one of TV's funniest sitcoms, you can afford not to play to the gallery as the royalties from Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers still roll in (even if, as he never tires of telling his audiences, a fair chunk goes in alimony).

At the age of 80, John Cleese probably doesn't care what people think of him. But then, when you were one-sixth of Monty Python and co-creator of one of TV's funniest sitcoms, you can afford not to play to the gallery as the royalties from Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers still roll in (even if, as he never tires of telling his audiences, a fair chunk goes in alimony).

A cynic might say that explains why his new show, Why There Is No Hope, has so few laughs – but, to be fair, it was livestreamed from an empty Cadogan Hall, which killed many of his jokes stone dead. He began, though, with a splendid, affectionate jibe at fellow Python Michael Palin, saying that we were at a gathering of Palin's fan club.

Without laughter greeting Cleese's subtle digs and more obvious barbs at some of his pet hates – the list is rather long, and includes critics, politicians, Rupert Murdoch, the cult of celebrity, political correctness and TV comedy commissioners – the hour came across as more of a TED talk, but without any technical whizz-bangs. Which is not to say it wasn't enjoyable and humorous. Cleese is super-bright, still very much engaged with the world and reads voraciously – and it showed. He referenced his sources and threw in quotes from Oscar Wilde, Lord Kelvin and Bertrand Russell, among many.

His contention is based on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a scientific study that suggests that the more stupid people are, the less awareness they have of quite how stupid they are, even if they are at the top of their profession. He made a persuasive case, sometimes using examples from his long career, that those who have power are often the least deserving of it; most TV and film executives, he told us, thought his greatest career achievements – Python and Fawlty Towers – would never be hits; and while addressing the West's politics he said we're being led by numpties. Boris Johnson was dismissed as a “disappointing mini-Trump”.

Yet for all the elegant theorising and erudition it was a shame, seeing that this rather strange event was so shaped by Covid-19 restrictions, that there was only a tangential mention of it. But then maybe a compare and contrast of how, say, New Zealand and the UK have responded to this existential threat might not fit his view that all politicians are rubbish because they are fuelled by ego, rather than a desire to do good. And his view of millennials – that they have a seven-second attention span – sounded just plain old curmudgeonly.

The show ended with an awkward Q&A with Richard Norris, Cleese's PA, with questions posed by the few crew allowed in the hall. Sadly, it didn't elicit any gems.

He made a persuasive case, sometimes using examples from his long career

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