ASPEN, Colo. — The four-day U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen wrapped up Saturday night with a raucous and, at times, moving tribute to the famed Monty Python comedy troupe that reunited all five of the celebrated British team’s surviving members, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
More than an exercise in comedic nostalgia, the packed Wheeler Opera House event featured a news flash courtesy of Cleese, who startled the audience with what he called “a dramatic announcement.” Cleese reported that the group, which hasn’t collaborated on a project since the 1983 film “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life,” “had a meeting here today in an oxygen tent. And we decided that as next year is the 30th anniversary of ‘Monty Python,’ we are going to do something.”
Nailing down the details of the “something” was a Pythonesque affair, with no one being terribly consistent or explicit. But in later interviews, details slowly emerged, first confirming that the announcement was not a joke (save the oxygen tent part) and, second, that it involved a live tour late next year. Jones and Gilliam both said that the details were sketchy because the plan had only begun formulation earlier that day.
Contrary to previous plans to regroup, said Gilliam, “this time there were more people agreeing on more things. Last year, something similar happened. We get together and we get excited.”
Jones said the “prospects look good, based primarily on Gilliam’s film schedule.” He indicated that the talks of a 10-week tour in the fall of ’99, starting in London and moving to the U.S., “were premature, but yes, we are talking about doing a show, rather than a movie project.”
Jones said that he was beginning production on his next directorial effort, “Longitude” for Granada Pictures, in the fall of ’98, “which will certainly free me up in time for a late ’99 tour.”
While the team’s buoyant spirits and self-deprecation played to an adulatory crowd of fans from both inside the industry ranks and the resort community, host Robert Klein deftly walked the Pythons through a brief history of the troupe as well as an examination of the social milieu that spawned the former BBC cult comedy show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” in 1969 and their later series of films, records, CDs and books.
The one missing Python, the late Graham Chapman, was there in spirit and perhaps something more; an urn supposedly containing ashes was used as a prop in the taste-challenging tradition of the anarchic comical team.
The show, which will be broadcast on fest sponsor HBO on March 21, wrapped up with a bit involving Chapman’s urn urging the assembled crowd to join the team in a rendition of “Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a tune first made famous in the Python film “Life of Brian” and undergoing a revival courtesy of its inclusion in the James L. Brooks Oscar-nommed hit comedy “As Good As It Gets.” The crowd obliged, as the Pythons onstage alternately sang, lounged about, drank tea and tossed tea biscuits to the appreciative crowd.