x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

John Cleese laid his cards on the table, funnily enough

The comedy star reflected on his past glories, from an illustrious career packed full of seminal moments.

John Cleese. Delores Johnson / The National
John Cleese. Delores Johnson / The National

The motives behind John Cleese's first show in Dubai are - if anyone was wondering - made very clear from the outset, with the man himself unashamedly laying his cards on the table. The Python legend's rather messy 2008 divorce from his third wife ("my late, I mean ex-wife") has left him with a rather hefty US$18 million (Dh66m) settlement to pay, of which $3 million is still outstanding.

"So thank you everybody here for helping me towards that," he smiles, something clearly not aimed at those with free press tickets. Sorry, John!

And following that very brief intro, off we're taken on a jolly, well-rehearsed, nostalgic ramble through Cleese's life. There's his upbringing in the frighteningly boring British seaside town of Weston-super-Mare ("whose inhabitants' sole ambition seems to be to get into their coffins without ever being embarrassed"), schooldays where being six feet tall by the time he was 12 made him something of an easy target for bullies and to Cambridge, where he joined the now legendary Footlights and began writing with Graham Chapman.

It's all amusing stuff, and comes complete with slideshows and amusing factoids (did you know Cleese would have been Cheese had his dad not changed his name before signing up for the First World War?).

But as the show progresses, an element of tragedy enters the room. He skips over much of the Python work to Fawlty Towers, and then to A Fish Called Wanda, where the show abruptly ends, suggesting little has been achieved since 1988. There are so many stories he could have told - who dreamt up the Ministry of Silly Walks? - but it seems Cleese, now 72, prefers to reflect on his own personal glories rather than those with his group.

That's not to say it isn't funny; it is. But for a man who could have millions cracking up without even raising an eyebrow - not funny enough. Thankfully, for Python fans, he does show the greatest comic scene ever recorded: the fish-slapping dance.