Eric Idle OnlineMy Life

Name Dropping

By , September 28, 2012 7:09 am

Occasionally I’m accused of name dropping.   It’s not true, of course, as I was saying to Russell Brand (Boing!) only the other day.  Name dropping implies a level of superficiality to which I can only aspire.  Russell laughed merrily, Eddie Izzard (Boing) joined in the laugh and so did Michael Caine. (Boing!)   Marty Scorsese (Boing!) asked me to pass the salt, and then Philip Roth (Boing!) came in….

Start again.

I have met many interesting people in my life and many of them were famous, are famous, or would like to be famous, and many of them were not, are not, and would do anything to avoid it.   I try not to discriminate.   I think it is snobbish to be prejudiced against somebody just because they are not famous.   As it is wrong to hold someone’s celebrity against them.  It’s not their fault that just because they have a talent in one of the more popular performing arts, people look up to them, worship them, and hunt them down and kill them.   Fan after all is short for fanatic.  Fame is not a particularly desirable state, as Bob Dylan (Boing!) wryly observed “A lot of strangers think they know you, and it’s really only useful for getting a table in restaurants.”

The sad thing about name dropping is that there is a sell-by date.  You’re best to either name drop quickly or not drop at all.  Out-dated name dropping is terribly sad.   As I said to Eartha Kitt only the other day….

Not recognizing the names being dropped is very embarrassing.  At the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony I didn’t know half the names on the bill and had to stop asking as people were beginning to treat me like an old fart, completely hopeless and totally out of touch. (You are Eric, you are…)

I was first “outed” as a star fucker by the saintly Michael Palin (Boing!) in his diaries of the Python days in the Seventies in New York when we were hot young comedians taking the town by storm.  He blasted me publicly for spending time hanging out with celebrities like the Rolling Stones (Boing! Boing! Boing!)   Oddly, only the very next day in his diary he wrote “Had lunch with Mick Jagger….”

So even nice Mike doesn’t escape his own condemnation.  We are all fascinated by the famous, though to be fair I never wrote about it in a published diary.  (Nudge Nudge)  My problem was often that they wanted to hang with me, and I am far too polite to say no to Keith Richards (Boing!)    I was recently asked by the writer of his autobiography  if I recalled any of the times I spent with him as he could remember nothing.   Of course I did,  Keith was rarely less than interesting.  Even when apparently out of it.    I remember him at a party he threw in Chelsea where I chatted with the very bright Pete Townshend (Boing!) while a few of the other Stones (Boing! Boing! Boing!)  gathered round and badgered him in the way rock stars do to members of another group.  Really, they are very competitive.  They behave like mobbing birds.  I once visited The Who (Boing!)  backstage at a Concert in Fréjus with Pink Floyd (Boing!)

“Oh hanging out with them now are you Eric” they said, to which I replied “Well at least they keep their drummers alive.”  A sardonic reference to my friendship with the late Keith Moon (ex Boing!)

Meanwhile back at the party in Chelsea young Mister Richards lay comatose on his bed under the influence of something strong, and never said a word.   I stayed awhile because I am very fond of Ronnie Wood (Boing!) and the girls at the party were really delicious, though sadly not famous, so I didn’t sleep with any of them.   One must draw the line.   Finally,  just as I was leaving, Keith rose up from his bed and yelled “Goodnight Eric.”   So yes he was there alright.

Mick Jagger (Boing!)  is one of the most splendid companions on the planet.  He is seductive, funny, and very intelligent.  Time with him is never dull.  And there are plenty of extremely bright rock stars I have hung with like the highly civilized intellectual David Bowie (Boing!)  the very funny Paul Simon (Boing!) the deeply read Art Garfunkle (Boing!)  and the awesome Joni Mitchell (Boing!)  Actors like Harrison Ford (Boing!) and Tom Hanks (Boing!) are very interesting company, though for company no one beats writers like Salman Rushdie (Boing!) or comedians like Steve Martin (Boing!)  Gary Shandling (Boing!) and Marty Short (Boing!)

So yes, I don’t think you should exclude people from friendship just because they are famous.   To discriminate against them for that would seem to be wrong, and I would have missed out on some of my most valued friends.  For example the great and good George Harrison (Boing!) who taught me more of what life in and out of showbiz is about, than any philosopher.  An awareness of death is what George taught, not in a bad or down way, but in a don’t waste your time on worthless shit your days are numbered kind of way.

My first mentor in this was the poet Stephen Spender (Boing!) who I visited in the early seventies in the Alpilles in Provence.  He said, unashamedly:  “I like the famous.  They are more interesting.”  Then he gave me his oil lamp as he had just got electricity, and I was living without.   So in a sense he literally passed the torch, and I read happily under The Steven Spender Lamp until a few years later when we too finally got electricity.  Meanwhile many famous celebrities came and hung out quietly in the Sud in the most basic of accommodation.   There is a great relief from fame, which is not being recognized.  I remember Robin Williams (Boing!)  at the height of his TV celebrity,  at a local fete in France, standing in the middle of the crowded dance floor yelling “I’m Mork! I’m Mork!” to the total indifference of the locals.  For me that was always the best thing about Provence.  No matter how famous you were back home, there you could be totally anonymous.   I was tolerated as an eccentric English exile for many years and it was only when Python won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1983 for The Meaning of Life and we were on the front page of the Var Matin that the locals realized that I was part of this odd thing called Monty Python,  pronounced magnificently Mon Tee Pee-ton by the French, as indeed to them I will always remain Monsieur Eedler.   They were very proud of me then, and my window glass fitter would murmur quietly “Felicitations”  and my plumber would come out to fix the drains a little sooner.  I cherish the friendships I made before that point, since I could be sure they were based on the purest of motives:  they liked my money.  So I played football with them and hung out with them practicing my atrocious French and sharing many bottles of appalling rosé wine – which we called Fighting Pink, for its tendency to break up marriages after lunch.  That heavy toxic purple stuff, soaked in copper sulphates, was light years away from the beautiful blush wines they now produce.  There’s even one called Pink Floyd  which comes from Miraval,  the Chateau where improbably many years ago Tania and I watched Roger Waters (Boing!)  recording the vocal of Just Another Brick in the Wall.   It’s currently owned by Brangelina.   No, I don’t know them….

Ronnie Wood (Boing!) was totally anonymous in France when he came and stayed with me in 1976, just before he became a Rolling Stone.   Mick had given him a tape of all the Stones songs for him to learn, and a second language tape, which consisted largely of slang, including important things like how to ask for a blow job in French.  (Faire le pipe I think.)  This I suppose was essential information for a would-be Stone about to go a-rolling.

Mike Nichols (Boing!) always appreciates the value of the famous.  In fact he rarely works with anyone else.

“There is a good reason they are famous” he says, “it’s because they are the best at what they do.”

Of course. The smartest man in the room as always.  But Mike also gives an acting class once a week to utterly unfamous actors and is always most generous in supporting writers who, of course,  have no names worth dropping.  His insightful and encouraging notes are the most valuable on the planet.   So his will be the last name I drop…

As George said presciently and succinctly “Even the famous have to die.”


Oh and the New Yorker piece is in the October 8th edition.  Enjoy.


Norwegian Wood

By , September 22, 2012 10:25 pm

The light in Oslo is very fine.   Perhaps because it’s the time of year or perhaps it is always like that but it comes in at a low angle under the clouds, lighting up the castle with golden light at sunset and lingering in fine shrouds of pink overhead for the longest time.    On my tourist day I am taken to the massive metal ski jump which extends in an unfinished parabola up to the sky itself.   We mount a cable car elevator which slides us up the mountain to a truly breathtaking view of Oslo, which tantalizingly appears and disappears as the vast complex clouds come rolling in.  When we climb the final few yards to the top of the extraordinary steel structure there is an all-metal area where we stand amongst the clouds themselves, which pass us in wisps, now and again leaving us in sunlight with staggering views of the mountainside and valleys far below us.  It’s like being God, I say to Anders Albien, our Spamalot director.

I am glad to see that John Cleese is back being God in our Norwegian production.  The Daily Quail made much of us being at war over playing God, when in fact the truth is simpler: Chris Luscombe the UK director wanted God to appear on stage and it was cheaper and easier for me to film it, than to try and drag John in from somewhere and force him to wear all that white hair and make-up.  So there Daily Grail, we are not at war, and would it help you believe it if I tell you my weekly fee goes to Great Ormond Street Hospital?  What could be more Godlike?

The Norse Gods were clearly smiling on us when we opened the play.  I have become so accustomed to the British cut down review version of Spamalot that I had quite forgotten how splendidly thrilling the full musical version can be, and both I and Oslo were bowled over at opening night.   Six or eight curtain calls, we could have gone on all night, staggering reviews, and an amazing cast whom I got to know a little in the all too few days I was there.  On my promo day the print journalists were suitably circumspect after my last blog rant, and the researcher sent by the tv show to prep questions, confessed herself scared, declared herself “a minion” and revealed herself as a Nordic blonde Goddess of very agreeable proportions.   In fact the Norwegians of all sexes were very kind, friendly and lovely to me.  The cast contained every possible star of film and TV with the possible exception of Liv Ullman, who was herself a big fan of our Sir Robin, as indeed was I, a young actor of terrific weight.  But the whole cast was weighty from Arthur to Galahad, from Lancelot to Bedevere, not to mention an hilarious Prince Herbert, and Kim our engaging Swedish Patsy.

Now you’re going to have to forgive me not naming names here as I have left my programme in Oslo, but I must just mention our Lady of the Lake, short of stature, feisty of spirit, with sparking dark eyes, and an unbelievable voice.   She just tore apart Find Your Grail.  Indeed the whole company’s singing and dancing was extremely impressive and the musical numbers drove the whole production. It was great to see the scantily clad ladies of the chorus back.   I don’t know what it is about young women dancing in lingerie that I find so appealing….oh that’s right, yes I do, but suffice it to say that these girls gladdened the eye, and thrilled the heart with their talent, and of course they all wanted their pictures taken with me afterwards which I reluctantly agreed to.  (Yeah right Eric.)  So thank you Oslogians, especially Bjorn our Producer, as I said on stage at the opening night I know only one word in Norwegian and that is “Ni.”

Also lest you think I am a bullshitter you may have noticed that my piece was not in the New Yorker this week as I had vainly promised, and no I am not suffering from delusions brought on by being treated like a God in Norway, they assure me they are publishing  it but now at the end of October.


By , September 12, 2012 4:51 am

It’s interview season again and I have to pack my bags and peddle my ass and ponce off to pastures new, this time to Norway to pimp a new production of Spamalot.  I actually love going to places I have never been before and I treasure visits to Barcelona, Madrid, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Trieste, Malmo and Stockholm.  The Producers always treat me well and the casts are fun to meet as the play attracts actors who love Python, and because of the nature of the piece there is always a terrific spirit amongst them.  It  is exciting to visit a new city and to hear the play in a new language, and though my Norwegian is a little rusty, I am looking forward to Oslo, though I am concerned that “Ni” actually means “Nine” in Norwegian and there is a danger of The Knights of Ni meaning something.   I vaguely wonder whether I should bother Michael Palin with this.

The only problem with showing up for an opening is that the Producers lean on my good nature (your what Eric?) and I have to become a walking billboard, ready talk to anyone they can cram into a hotel room for a day.  Malmo was a record eighteen and I could barely speak by the end of it.  It’s hard to maintain one’s human kindness under such a relentless barrage of questioning, and I have been known to grow testy, far from the saintly character both of you who read this blog know me to be,  but I recognize that it is part of the job.  We want the audience to come along and enjoy themselves and if this means I have to answer another hundred more Python questions then so be it.

I don’t mind radio interviews as I’m embarrassingly good at the glib sound bite, and telly doesn’t worry me at all, since I have no idea what I am going to say and so it’s really a form of improv.  Morning TV can be especially fun as the hosts are dodging between breaking news and weather and there is always something to laugh at.   The late night shows can also be amusing and I usually get off one or two good lines, though the worst thing about them is the pre-interview.  To make sure the host doesn’t look like a twat, a minion calls a day or so beforehand, and interviews you so they can write up some intelligent questions for their employer to ask on TV.   My problem, which I always point out, is that if I say something funny in the pre-interview I will never say it on air.  Not deliberately, I just won’t remember what I said, so I try to be very unfunny in the pre-interview, because if they stick to a script on the show it feels like being in the middle of a badly rehearsed play where you are unsure of your lines, and the host keeps looking at you expectantly to say that funny thing you said four days ago to their minion, which by now you have completely forgotten.

The very best interviewers, John Stewart or Craig Ferguson, invariably throw away the prepared line of questioning and go right off on a tangent.  They thrive on this and both are brilliant at it and I love it.  It’s a kind of intellectual ping pong, and they are always the most hilarious interviews, since neither of us has a clue what we are going to say.

“What are you going to do next?” John Stewart asked me once.

“I’m going to become a rap artist”  I said (What? Where did that come from?)

“What will you call yourself?” he said, taking a swig of water.

“Muff Daddy” I said and watched him spit his drink out.

Jimmy Fallon is also another good comic who loves to go off book.

Print interviews are far more worrying.  To begin with, most print journalists seem to come in with the story already in their heads, and your job is just to supply the quotes.  So for instance you do a story with the Daily Quail (name changed to avoid embarrassment) which is supposed to be about Spamalot and the story comes out about how you are at war with John Cleese.

The hardest interviewers are the secret Python geeks.  They come in with the hope that one day the Pythons will reunite and like the Arthurian legend rise up and return.   Sometimes they seem to feel that I have managed to break up the group, because of the success of Spamalot, and even when I point out to them that Python has done nothing for thirty years, despite several attempts on my part to seduce them back into a film and a tour, they are still vaguely resentful of me.   So I don’t like doing newspaper interviews and I avoid them altogether in the UK.  I’d rather be on telly or radio where if I say something funny or ironic it can be seen as such.  Abroad though is a different country, and I do do print, with the added tedium of having to wait for the question to be translated into English, and my reply translated back into Flemish or Catalan or whatever.    I am looking forward to the Paris opening of Spamalot in January, for my French has become a lot more fluent this summer, and I aim to bewilder French interviewers with my weird version of a Provencal accent.

If you still want your Spamalot in English then you may be pleased to hear that the wonderful Christopher Luscombe production of Spamalot which ran so successfully at The Harold Pinter Theater this summer and garnished me great reviews for his hard work is coming back again at The Playhouse from November 12th through April.  If you intend to go at Christmas time do book early as Spamalot is now firmly established as an alternative Panto in the UK, having smashed Box Office records last year at Brighton, and doing really well the year before in Birmingham.

And for regular readers of this blog you may be pleased to know that every now and again if I write something I think funny I send it to The New Yorker, and this month I submitted another piece that they’ve accepted.  It will be in Shouts and Murmurs, on September 17th and is called In Me Own Words, The Rock and Roll Memoirs of Eff “Stiffie” Steffham.





Border Crossing

By , September 5, 2012 11:17 pm

Coming home through LAX late last year a steely eyed guardian of your gates peered suspiciously at my Green Card and, as is now sadly customary for we poor semi-citizens of your great and growing empire,  finger printed me and photographed my eyeballs.

“How long have you been a Green Card Holder?” he asked suspiciously, though his screen could surely have told him that and much much more.

“Oh  I have had it for ages” I said “More than twenty years.”

“Then why aren’t you an American?”  

“Erm.  Er…Well…”

I was flustered.   I was bothered.  Was this a proper line of questioning?   Of course you must never complain to a Customs Officer, or they’ll have you bent over in a back room snapping on their rubber gloves ready to poke around in your rectum.  Why is it arseholes always choose the arse for punishment?   I sometimes wonder if  those alien abductions when sophisticated beings from another planet descend in glistening saucers to perpetrate anal penetrations on poor witless rednecks is not actually some Alien Customs program.  Or maybe an extra-terrestrial pro gay marriage program.  Do the rednecks say as they feel the alien probe on their little redneck buttocks “Why aren’t you an American?”  

What should I say?  What is the right thing to say?  My thoughts were racing but somewhere deep inside me outrage was simmering.   Enough was enough.

“Because sir I am an Englishman.  Born and raised in England under the bombs of Hitler.  A member of one of its most prestigious Universities dating back to 1498. A man who watched England win the World Cup at Wembley in 1966 and Man U lift the European trophy in 1968.  An Englishman, a proud Elizabethan, heir to the traditions of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Wilde, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Dickens, a graduate of Cambridge University, a pre-baby bubble boomer, a survivor of the Sixties and a member of one of the most famous comedy groups in the world.

“Is it not enough I live in your fair country and pay taxes to your bankrupt system, ruined by the systemic avoidance of tax by your greedy corporations, who claim rights hitherto reserved for citizens and earn exemptions for themselves thereby bankrupting California, because you must not shackle business, oh no, better to shackle your schools and social systems than threaten one bonus payment to another billionaire.  Now you wish me to put my hand on my heart and pledge allegiance to a series of greedy, gay bashing, racist, Republican retards who deny evolution, and the rights of women and would return America to the dark ages of Puritan New England?

“The French do not shrug at me sardonically and ask me why I am not French. The Norwegians do not stop me on their shores and insist I wear thick knitwear and a large red anorak.  The Swedes don’t demand I marry a pale blonde and retire into the countryside suffering from Ibsen and ennui. The Australians don’t force me into baggy pants to stand on planks with orange sunscreen hurtling across their shark-infested waters singing Advance Australia Fair.

“No, sir, enough, sir, I am a tax payer, a member of your Academy, a Grammy winner, a Tony winner, a father of an American, a lover of America, married to an American wife with an American child but not, sir, an American!”

Did I say any of that?

Are you kidding me?  I fear the alien anal probe.

“Good question” I replied.