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Online exclusive: Python's Eric Idle on the Rutles

And now for something not completely different! As ”The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch” debuts on DVD, the ex-Monty Python trouper revisits the Beatles parody he created with master musical satirist Neil Innes

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Eric Idle
Eric Idle: John Spellman/Retna

Rutles 2 isn’t really a sequel, because it retells the exact same career-arc story that the original Rutles told. It’s more like a ”requel.”
I like that!

I mean, in some sequences, you camouflage the repurposing of old footage by cutting away as soon as the Rutles are about to sing.
Thank you for spotting that. That makes me howl. It thrills me with joy each time I see that; it’s so cheap and shoddy. [Laughs]

Where was the original footage you resurrected hanging out all these years?
It had been living in a warehouse in New Jersey. A lot of it was unprocessed negative. Now you can play that stuff back easily and watch it in full color without having to actually print film. It was like breaking into Tutankhamun’s tomb: ”God, look at those colors!”

The original Rutles TV special, All You Need Is Cash, was one of the lowest-rated programs of the week when it aired in 1978. Is that proof that satire is what dies Saturday night — unless it’s Saturday Night Live?
It was, I think, 72nd in the week’s ratings. But who now looks at the Charlie’s Angels episode that was No. 1 that week? I have great faith in the fact that good things eventually survive. Because all the Python experience is the same as this. First it was: Absolutely no chance. Then we slipped through the cracks between major corporations. That’s what tends to happen; that’s our history. [A strange buzzing noise interrupts.] Just two secs, I have to turn something off, I’m sorry. My computer’s going nuts, hang on. [To computer] Go away. Go away! [Back on the line] I’m sorry — computers are so strange. This one was sort of connecting, and I don’t like that, because people hotwire you and steal all your information. And your jokes.

What got the idea of resurrecting The Rutles going?
Three years ago, Rhino put out the DVD [of the original Rutles program]. They wanted some extra material. I suggested making this very thing, and they said: No, it’s too expensive. So I always wanted to see if there were any outtakes.

How did you get financing to actually make a new program, since Rhino wasn’t interested?
I just started to shoot it and make it for myself, and then [Saturday Night Live producer] Lorne Michaels very kindly agreed to fund it, so I could keep going, making it and editing it. So it’s really executive-free television. And that way, you don’t get on television. Could I get it on cable? Could I? F—! I could not. It’s unbelievable. Finally, I persuaded [Warner Video] to put it out — and it’s only because Warner’s music department loved it and said, It’s got to be put out. It was sitting in a vault under the TV department for two years.

How did you get permission to satirize Beatles songs so closely?
Well, we didn’t get permission. And immediately after the [original] show went out, all the copyrights were seized, and the songs are now officially credited as Lennon/McCartney/Innes. So I imagine Michael Jackson owns half of it.