By Daniel Clarke
“Forgive my walk if it seemed a little bit silly,” John Cleese said as he came on stage at FDU’s New Jersey Speaker Series at NJPAC on Jan. 26 at 8p.m.
“Cleese as in Cheese,” Cleese corrected the facilitator before telling the story of his embarrassed father who decided to change his name before enlisting in the army during the First World War.
Taking the notes from the facilitator, unable to hold his laughter, Cleese threw them to the floor with little effect on the organization of the rest of the discussion. Cleese answered questions and elaborated his thoughts in the way he felt most comfortable—through jokes.
The discussion remained productive, inspiring and thoroughly hilarious throughout. He spoke about his childhood, his career, and asserted some of his political views. He had the audience engaged and roaring with laughter, pointing out people in the audience who got up to leave or fell asleep.
His mother lived through many major world events and eventually died at age 101. Cleese said, “She lived through it all without really noticing any of it.”
Cleese noted that his mother was a very anxious person who often worried about everything. “She had so many worries; she used to write her worries down so that she would not forget them,” he said.
“You don’t want your mother depressed because well, it’s depressing,” Cleese said. Despite struggling alongside his mother, Cleese eventually found his own way to overcome the struggles in life.
As a child, Cleese liked jokes but not attention; one teacher wrote about him: “He indulges in subversive activities at the back of the room.”
With great respect for great American comedians, Cleese grew up exercising his creativity through comedy and eventually made a career out of it.
Cleese won a place at Downing College, Cambridge to read law. He joined the Cambridge Footlights theatrical club and soon made a name for himself as a comedic script writer and performer.
Cleese was offered work as a writer with BBC Radio and worked on several successful programs before beginning Monty Python’s Flying Circus with a comedic group that wrote and performed each episode on a whim.
Tired of doing the same old stuff, Cleese left at the third season of the show. He would continue to seek new avenues for creativity and comedy.
“You can always get money for things you’ve done in the past but never for anything new,” Cleese said.
Cleese explained what it is he likes about comedy and what he believes is the difference between jokes that we can all laugh at and malicious jokes. He expressed his strong belief in the goodness of comedy. While making fun of imperfections, it should do so in an affectionate way that allows people to relax and ultimately become able to express their creativity.
“A laugh is the shortest distance between two people,” Cleese said. “What I love about laughter is it lets people have second thoughts.”
With little discretion, Cleese commented on the current political environment several times throughout the talk.
Cleese said, “I think what’s going on in America you can either cry or laugh; I choose to laugh.” He suggested that like all smart people, President Trump never forgets to remind us of his own intelligence, Cleese supported his argument with examples of great scholars like Plato who wrote essays describing their aptitude.
When asked about Brexit, Cleese sought to describe his own discontent with the European Union which could only truly be understood by people in Europe. While not opposed to the idea of a European Union, he suggested that the current implementation has a number of issues including, most specifically, the burden of economic ties with other European nations.
Still performing in movies, speaking publicly, writing books, and with a presence on twitter, Cleese continues to do what he loves and move right along.
“I’m happier than ever now that I realized that most things don’t really matter,” Cleese said.