Making work for Idle hands
Eric Idle likes to joke about his Monty Python past but not everyone is laughing. Paul Byrne investigates
Eric Idle spends pretty much every day of his life dealing with being an ex-Python. Not a dead Python, a Python that has ceased to exist -- that's pushing up the daisies, who has shuffled off his mortal coil -- but a Python that continues to soar ever higher. Despite the fact that the British comedy surrealist's last piece of work together, The Meaning Of Life -- the overblown follow-up to Python's shining glory, Life Of Brian -- was in 1983.
What Idle is interested in is the Python plumage. The beautiful, luxurious, highly lucrative Python plumage.
Of the five Pythons still alive (Graham Chapman passed away in October, 1989), Idle is the one who spends most of his time keeping the name alive.
Idle's latest trip down Monty Python lane, Not The Messiah, gets a one-day only release in 90 digital cinemas across Ireland and Britain on March 25, including Dublin's Cineworld, Dun Laoghaire IMC, and numerous other cinemas around the country.
PAUL BYRNE: I realise that it must be something of a Groundhog Day experience, having to talk about Monty Python again and again. And again . . .
ERIC IDLE: That's a good metaphor. What's hardest is trying to think of something new to say. It's so bizarre, to us, that it was so successful. And it still grows. Who could have imagined such a bizarre thing? What I wanted to do in life was not that. It changed my life in many ways, because they were throwing all this money at me -- ridiculous money -- to not be funny. I actually liked it when I was paid less, and was funny. So I went on the road after it. I sort of cleansed my palette. I thought, right, I'm going to go out on the road with John Du Prez and we're going to sing our songs, and have people sing along to I Like Chinese and Sit On My Face. And I went around America, and it was a very healthy thing to do.
PB: You've each had to carry that weight once you split up, then try and break through to some kind of self-contentment with who you are now.
EI: You can't dump it; you can't ignore it or walk away. So, you have to figure out ways to live with it, and my way was to go and play with the toys, and go, "Sure, I like Monty Python, and this is what we do. I like my songs, I like performing". And that led us to write the musical really, to find new challenges within that level of expectation.
PB: Given how close the Pythons were, and how closely associated you still are in people's minds, do you feel the need to support each other, when John hits a difficult divorce, when Terry Gilliam has to shake the begging bowl to get his films made?
EI: It varies from person to person. You have a different relationship with Gilliam than you do with Michael or with Terry Jones. I'm very fond of all of them, you know, but they're going through life. We haven't worked together since 1982, so, it's not like you'd go, "Hey, 28 years ago, we were really close!" It's more like being part of an old Liverpool team, and you go, "Hey, look at him, he's still hobbling down the wing. Still moaning about not having enough money for your movies!" [laughs].
PB: And, of course, the great secret of Monty Python that has remained hidden all this time is that Michael Palin is, in fact, a real bastard . . .
EI: Oh, please don't pass that around. We've tried to keep that so quiet over the years.
Not The Messiah plays for one day only at selected cinemas on March 25