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.