Mostly About Funny Stuff

Did you ever do something that was so amazing that you didn’t even have it on your bucket list because it was so out there and never going to happen, but then the opportunity came and you were like, “not doing this thing is not even an option”?

A few months ago, Chuck came downstairs and said, “Do you want to go see John Cleese and Eric Idle perform on stage together?”

I responded appropriately.  “Is that even a question?  Of course.  Buy the tickets.”

I was introduced to Monty Python’s Flying Circus sometime in early high school. My brother and I would stay up late on Saturday nights to watch comedy shows.  The lineup began on PBS with the “Britcom” series that began after Lawrence Welk (barf) around 7 pm. After all things Rowan Atkinson (The Thin Blue Line, Mr. Bean, and various Blackadder incarnations), a bit of Are You Being Served?, and possibly some Vicar of Dibley or Keeping Up Appearances, and finally, Monty Python.  At eleven we switched to Fox for Mad TV, and at 11:35 to NBC for SNL.

In the morning, Mom would yell at me to get out of bed for about twenty minutes.  I’d roll out at nine, brush my hair and throw on a dress, and be in the car by 9:15.  In Sunday school we yawned through the lessons, bleary eyed from out late night. Bible studies were always intuitive to me. There aren’t a whole lot of stories in the Bible and I usually could infer the lesson intuitively, sleep or no sleep. It was totally worth it.

We rented Monty Python movies from the video store and received box sets of the TV show for Christmas. I had a crush on Eric Idle.  Later, I continued to be enamored with the work of the Pythons.  I adore Terry Jones’ work with Brian Froud, including The Labyrinth and the” Pressed Fairies.” Of course John Cleese’s career has probably been the most prolific and his movies and narration are always delightful.

I never imagined I would ever be in the same room as any of the Pythons, but last night I was there with two of them!  The show was just lovely.  Cleese told jokes, Idle sang songs, and both entertained fully with skits and recollections.

The finale had us in tears. I had seen the clip before, but never with the background and buildup that we experienced last night. Throughout the show, both men relayed anecdotes about other famous comedians and writers they had worked with, including Marty Feldman.  Cleese relentlessly made jabs at Michael Palin, e.g. “Michael is here in the States right now, too, doing a book.  He’s not writing one; he’s just a very slow reader.” And of course numerous references were made to Graham Chapman, including a song that Idle began writing when Chapman died in 1989. Seven years later, the Pythons held a reunion at a comedy festival in Aspen and they brought Graham’s ashes so he could be there, too.  Go to 8:39 in the video to see what we saw.

The encore was, of course, a rousing sing-along of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

I’m so grateful that we have opportunities like this now that we live in Charlotte.  However, I have to say that the crowd last night was not exactly a cross-section of the Charlotte population. Apparently Cleese and Idle only appeal to white folks.  Okay, I saw one Indian lady.  But seriously, since moving to the south I have been hyper alert to racial disparity.  Our neighborhood is diverse, but once I step out into the rest of the city I see inconsistency in occupation, income, housing, and even little things like who is waiting for a bus.

I recently watched You Laugh But It’s True, a documentary about then-future “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah. It’s on Netflix and you should watch it. I doubted Noah’s ability as a South African to host an American social commentary comedic news show until I saw this film.

South Africa is mostly known to Americans as that place from which Charlize Theron, Oscar Pistorius, and Nelson Mandela hail. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “1990” By Bob Holman. In college, I attended a showing of A Dry White Season.  I haven’t read the book but the film, starring Donald Sutherland, Marlon Brando, and Susan Sarandon, is filled with triggers and will move you to tears.  WATCH IT. The horrors of apartheid are still real and raw in the memories of the citizens of South Africa. How does a nation recover from years of brutal racial discrimination?  Don’t ask me; I live in the US.  We still haven’t figured it out.

Trevor Noah was born to a black mother and white father during apartheid in South Africa.  Racially classified as “colored,” his parents’ relationship was illegal and his racial identity had to be kept secret. Residence and neighborhoods were dictated by race, and technically mixed race individuals, blacks, whites, and Asians all had to live separately.  In the film, Noah revisits the various places in which he lived during his unique childhood.  Part of no caste and all subgroups at the same time, Noah’s childhood gave him experiences in all walks of life in South Africa.  Coming of age as free speech and desegregation finally came to South Africa, Noah is the perfect storm of comedic success.  His talent for perspective, a natural result of his background, makes his appointment to host “the Daily Show” an appropriate choice.

Christopher Hitchens once said, “I don’t think it’s possible to have a sense of tragedy without a sense of humor.” Humor diffuses tension and opens dialogue.  Pain, whether from the death of a dear friend and colleague or from true injustice, is relieved with laughter.

If you’ll excuse me, I now have a strange desire to watch videos of British men in drag.

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