John Cleese’s memoir of his first 30 years is worth the wait under the guiding voice of the best reader possible – himself.
While many fans may be hoping for an autobiographical account of his Monty Python and Fawlty Towers years, they won’t be disappointed to discover many of the origins of his most infamous routines.
Cleese is not only funny in word but in voice, and he reads his early life story with the familiarity of a friend telling tales over a good, hot cup of tea. He laughs as he fondly recalls people, places and events. It’s a very personable reading.
Growing up nomadic, Cleese recounts his early life and his relationship with his parents, remembers his halcyon days teaching at St Peters Preparatory School where he once attended as a child, meeting his long-time writing partner, Graham Chapman, at Cambridge, and the birth of his career at University.
So, Anyway… is not all laughs. The humour is sprinkled with more serious recollections and insecurities, along with his views on various subjects, but his story is driven by the absurdity of life and the comedy he finds in it. His tour of New Zealand in the 1960s comes to mind, in particular, and how hospitable but clueless he found the inhabitants to be.
We learn about the long and long-distance relationship between Cleese and his first wife, Connie Booth, and his interactions with the likes of Terry Jones, David Frost, The Two Ronnies, Marty Feldman and Peter Sellars, amongst others. With such a long and distinguished career, it would be impossible not to name-drop but Cleese does it with grace and always with a story or two in mind.
A bonus of the audiobook is being able to listen to the original recordings of some early comedy sketches, supplemented by Cleese reading the script of others. Many of his most celebrated routines, such as the Dead Parrot skit, came from more humble beginnings, and it’s interesting to hear many accounts of how people or ideas morphed into what would later become known as classic comedy throughout the English speaking world.
While not diving into the thick of his time with the Monty Python troupe or his life as Basil Fawlty, both are at the heart of many stories as both were influenced significantly by what came before. The Monty Python reunion stage show in 2014 does get a good look-in however, and it’s interesting to learn that, despite their success, doubts still remained about the viability of getting the gang back together again.
Fans of John Cleese or any of his iconic works should find great joy and satisfaction in this memoir, which is undoubtedly part one of future autobiographies. Those who have the misfortune of being too young to have experienced his comedy the first time around, should still find Cleese’s storytelling expertise to be both funny and engaging.
The audiobook of So, Anyway… runs for approximately 13 divine hours and 35 minutes and was released in January 2017 through Bolinda Audio.
He may not be a Messiah but he’s a very clever boy.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 9
Released by: Bolinda Audio
Release date: January 2017
RRP: $49.95 CD or $44.95 MP3 CD