January 5, 2011

Presenting Python: Meeting John Cleese


John Cleese @ Wisdom Bridge
Originally uploaded by Gordon D
You know, in looking back over the blog, I've noticed that I've mentioned that I would blog about this in three separate posts. Consider this my way of making an amends to you, dear reader)

Imagine, if you will, those heady days of 1990 (I thought it happened later, but the Chicago Tribune proves me wrong): The Simpsons was known as "that animated show that looks really crappy on channel 32"; we were in the early years of the George HW Bush presidency, long before "Dan Quayle" was a punchline; and Bell Biv Devoe was the closest thing my generation had to the O'Jays. I was in college, studying psychology, working a series of part time jobs, and still at home.

However, through a coworker of my mother's, we were invited to a fundraiser for the Wisdom Bridge Theater, the highlight being a presentation by John Cleese of "The Importance of Making Mistakes". Yes, that John Cleese.

So in the span of two years, I go from being an extra in a movie with Robert DeNiro...to meeting John Cleese. And I still couldn't get a date.

So with Mom in tow, we went to see John Cleese at the Palmer House, and he gave a lecture on "The Importance of Making Mistakes", citing the plucky example of Gordon, the Guided Missile, who continually adjusted his target in order to be more accurate.

(Yes, he was doing industrial films at the time. But he was still John Cleese. Of Monty Python. That put him on an almost divine level)

But after the presentation came the ever popular line-up for autographs. As we eagerly approached Mr. Cleese, my mother handed me her program, and asked if I would have Mr. Cleese sign it.

My mother told me specifically to have him sign it for "your old, decrepit mother." She now denies this.

Taking her at her word, I handed Mr. Cleese two programs, and the following exchange took place:

ME: Would you please sign this program to me, and the other to my old, decrepit old mother?
CLEESE: (Pauses, then smiles): Ah, decrepit, what a wonderful word...

With that, Mr. Cleese asked where my mother was, and sheepishly, she said, "Here I am." Of course, the autographed program (which, upon inspection, really was a catalog for the company whose films featured Mr. Cleese) contained liberal use of the word "decrepit"...and which I have stored in a nice long box buried deep in a closet.

But at the time, it made me realize something - perhaps it was the fact that I was in the fruit of my young adulthood, but I began realizing that the very people whose work I enjoyed....were actually people. People who did amazingly cool things: DeNiro drank a beer at 5 am and asked me to watch it while he worked; John Cleese joined in a liberal insulting of my mother.

And had the blogosphere been around at that point, would have driven content on this blog for months afterwords, as I would have been fannishly declaring, "I met John Cleese, and am therefore better than you!"


Like I don't do that already.

1 comment:

Richard Bensam said...

Yes, this makes you better than me.

(I've faulted Mr. Cleese for some things over the years -- some of his professional decisions, and his bad choices in matrimony -- but humanity's relationship to Monty Python is like that of the Greeks to the residents of Olympus. We know they have flaws and weaknesses and feuds and arguments, but they still basically created the world.)