Idle Talents

Fans of Monty Python's Eric Idle were given an unexpected treat in 2000, when he returned to live performance after years of Hollywood film work that by his own admission wasn't very demanding.

"I like to create my own work. I can exploit my own talents more effectively than you can being an Englishman in Hollywood," muses Idle, who relocated to the States several years ago, only to find John Cleese follow suit and the limited pool of villain or butler roles further shrink. "Now that John's moved to America, they think of me, they move to John and they never come back to me. I suppose I'll have to move to Greece now," he says, laughing.

Last year saw the release of a mock travelogue album, Live From the Rutland Isles, that gently lampooned Michael Palin's TV travel show work. But two other Idle-penned projects have yet to see the light of day. A movie called The Remains of the Piano would've been made last year, except that the financial backers had no real intention of making it. "I think what they were doing was raising money on the strength of what I was doing for their company," Idle says. The other project is a one-hour TV special that revisits the Rutles and the twit who originally made a documentary on the Beatles parody band 25 years before. It's sitting finished in a vault at Warner Bros. "They're hiding it," says Idle. "Now they bought the rights to the first one, so they're just sitting on it. I would think it was a no-brainer to include it on a DVD, but I unfortunately have a brain."

One project that has been given the green light is Spamalot, a Broadway musical version of The Holy Grail that goes into production next year. It has Mike Nichols directing, and includes some new songs written with John Duprez, who has co-authored such Python hits as "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and "The Galaxy Song." "The wretched Andrew Lloyd Webber thing is ended, and now comedy is back. John Duprez and I have been trying to sell musical comedy for 20 years," Idle says.

Idle is quick to point out that his current stage show is no repeat of his previous Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python tour. "This show is me doing out my life," he explains. "Everything I've ever written that was funny, a lot of new stuff, and also incorporating things that I wrote for Python and some things I didn't write that I like playing, [such as] the Argument Clinic.'" Idle's performance includes a variety of sketches, songs and standup. "People don't do revues anymore, but it's real useful in putting together the Broadway show, seeing what audiences like night after night," he explains. "I put in a new song the night before last called Fuck Christmas,' which went gangbusters. It almost stopped the show. I couldn't get through it. They made so much noise in Vancouver -- 'cause it sounds like a Christmas song and you think it's going to be like Bing Crosby."