"Squeezing every last penny out of those days when we were good," says John Cleese.
“Oh, wait, we’re in the wrong f-cking theater,” says Eric Idle, upon entering the press conference with his four other surviving Monty Python members—Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam—for what the Tribeca Film Festival has dubbed Monty Python Weekend. On Friday night, the festival is hosting a special 40th anniversary screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the troupe’s two other features—Life of Brian and Meaning of Life—showing on Saturday and Sunday, in addition to the international premiere of the new documentary Monty Python—The Meaning of Life.
At the press conference, the quintet was characteristically loose, funny, and unafraid to bite. Some highlights:
On their legacy:
John Cleese: Now that we’re no good anymore, we’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of those days when we were able to do it. That’s the legacy.
Eric Idle: I hate legacies. It’s only done by people like George W. Bush, who’s working on his legacy. Which is mainly bombing other countries.
On releasing Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
Idle: This is where we opened it, 40 years ago. I think it was the first time I’d ever been to New York. They paid two guys, dressed in Arthurian robes, going up and down Fifth Avenue, dragging coconuts behind them. And a sign which said “Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Free Coconuts for the First 1,000 Guests.” And we were woken and they said, “There’s 2,000 people surrounding Cinema 2 waiting for coconuts.
Terry Gilliam: John Belushi was in the crowd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray. The ones who soon swept past us with their careers, left us in the dust.
On being recognized in public:
Michael Palin: I was once walking up a mountain path in the Himalayas.
Gilliam: You range dropper!
Idle: [yawning loudly]
Palin: And on top of the path there were a couple of women and they pointed down at me.
Cleese: [snoring loudly]
Palin: And they said, “Oh my god—it’s Eric Idle!”
On getting along with studios:
Idle: It’s hard enough to be funny, but people giving you notes is just the worst thing in the world. That’s why it’s so sh-t over here. You’ve got people who came out of the William Morris mailroom giving notes on comedy. The only possible response is “F-ck off!”
Cleese: And don’t forget how hard it was to get the money together for Life of Brian. EMI were going to put the money up and then they took the trouble to read the script. And they withdrew and they paid us damages and they included a secrecy clause. But not a secrecy clause about the secrecy clause.
On comedians today that they admire:
Terry Jones: Eddie Izzard
Palin: Steve Coogan.
Gilliam: Key and Peele are quite funny.
Idle: SNL has been this university of comedy for 40 years. Amazing. The best training there can be is being out there every Saturday… doing rotten material. [Laughs] But you just look at the alumni from that list. What’s interesting about America is that all of your news is funny now. You people only get it from Jon Stewart and Colbert. What are you going to now that they’re gone? You might have another Bush!
On the perception that they all hate each other:
Cleese: The British press writes this stuff about everyone. Something like The Daily Mail, which is my pet hate, operates on trying to make people anxious and slightly depressed.
Palin: So you see, we hate The Daily Mail slightly more than we hate each other.
Gilliam: Times have changed. We used to always take the piss out of each other and everybody would laugh. Now it’s no longer funny to people. “Oh, it’s serious, it’s real!”
Cleese: They ran a story about two months ago about Michael and me, because we went to the same restaurant by accident and we were sitting at different tables. And I sent Michael over half a bottle of mineral water. And he sent me an ashtray.
Palin: No, I sent you the salt.
Cleese: And some paper wrote this up to show how competitive we were with each other.
On fans quoting their jokes to them:
Idle: It gives you nothing to say. They’re not real people—they’re fans. What’s nice is you can snap people back into real people, saying “Hello, what’s your name?” Then it’s a human experience. Otherwise it’s just show business.
Cleese: When people just do catchphrases to you, what are you supposed to do?
Palin: Get a lawyer!
On the television interviews Palin and Cleese had with theologians when Life of Brian was released:
Cleese: You don’t mind people getting upset, whether it was sexual or religious or doing a sketch about your mother. But now it’s all changed; instead of being upset they might kill you.
Idle: I feel always relieved that anything I write on the computer and send to somebody is being vetted by North Korea.
Palin: I think we said pretty much what we wanted to say about religion. That applies to anybody who follows leaders just without thinking.
Idle: I think we should now apply for tax-deducible status on the grounds that we are funnier than Scientology.
On what they all agree on is the quintessential Monty Python sketch:
Idle: The Fish Slapping Dance. We all choose that. It can’t be deconstructed.