Eric Idle on Rutles reunion
It’s not a Beatles reunion, but perhaps the next best thing: The Rutles, the inspired Beatles parody group created by Monty Python’s Eric Idle (Spamalot) and frequent Python musical contributor Neil Innes, are reuniting in Los Angeles on Monday. The occasion: Celebrating the 30-year anniversary of The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, the cult mockumentary featuring members of Python, John Belushi, Mick Jagger, and even George Harrison.
Part of the Mods & Rockers Film Festival, Monday’s event, held at American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre, will feature a Q&A with all four original members of the so-called ”Pre-Fab Four” — Idle, Innes, Ricky Fataar, and John Halsey (Dirk, Nasty, Stig, and Barry) — following a screening of a digitally restored version of Cash, plus rare Rutles footage. Meanwhile, Rutlemania — a new musical tribute show conceived and directed by Idle, with songs by Innes — enjoys short runs in L.A. and New York, with the Fab Four, a Beatles cover band, playing the Rutles. Entertainment Weekly caught up with Idle to talk about the Rutles’ resurrection.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this reunion and tribute concert come about?
ERIC IDLE: Well, it’s been 30 years since NBC put the Rutles film on American TV screens, so we decided to have a reunion and make it proactive by putting on a tribute concert as well. The Fab Four were fabulous — they came into the first rehearsal knowing all the Rutles songs, which of course are written by Neil [Innes]. This is a Beatles tribute band doing a tribute to the Rutles — it’s fuzzy math. It’s like the Mersey Boys. Soon to be a major lawsuit.
How did the Rutles first develop?
It started in 1975 on Rutland Weekend Television, a tiny little show in England on which we did parodies of everything. We did the Rutles singing ”I Must Be in Love” from A Hard Day’s Rut. When I went on Saturday Night Live in 1976, [producer] Lorne Michaels showed a clip, and girls actually started writing letters to the Rutles. So we decided to make a documentary, and Lorne said, ”Let’s do it with NBC.” We shot it in 1977 in about six weeks.
That film has attained cult status, but when it first aired in March 1978, it was NBC’s lowest-rated show that week, yes?
It came in at No. 76 in the ratings. But I came off BBC 2, where there were 12 people and a donkey watching. So for me, being No. 76 on American television was exciting. The show that came in first that week was an episode of Charlie’s Angels that no one watches now, but the Rutles film is still popular on DVD. There are Rutles fans now all over the place.
Those fans included George Harrison, who appeared in the original film and was a longtime supporter of Monty Python, but how about the other Beatles? Was John a fan of the Rutles?
Yes, I heard that John and Yoko were thrilled by the Rutles. Paul liked it. Linda [McCartney] adored it, Ringo liked it after 1968, he said. I was never sure quite what that meant. The Rutles are a part of the Beatles world now. After the film came out, George started referring to the Beatles as the Rutles. It was a relief for him. Reaching legendary status can crush you — you have to find a way to deal with it — and calling the Beatles the Rutles was, I think, a way for him to exorcise that ghost.