John Cleese is not shy about his motivation for going out on the first real solo standup tour of his career. He needs the money. The divorce from ex-wife Alyce Faye will cost him $20 million, a sum he claims he cannot afford without touring. Subtitled “How to Finance Your Divorce” for its seven-night debut engagement in Norway, the show hits the U.S. Oct. 30 as “A Final Wave to the World — Or the Alimony Tour Year One,” hinting at a possible continuation next year.
The stage is sparsely set with an armchair, a table and a pulpit on the side. Behind is a large screen, on which everything from black-and-white stills from Cleese’s childhood to excerpts from Monty Python films and “Fawlty Towers” is projected.
Greeted as a hero by the Oslo audience, Cleese devotes the first 10 minutes to the divorce and his ex-wife, calling her “the spiritual godchild of Bernie Madoff” and wondering “what I could do with $20 million instead of supporting the Botox industry.” It’s funny, but it also leaves a sordid taste in the mouth, given that Faye doesn’t have the same public platform to air her side of things.
But that unpleasant taste quickly disappears when Cleese starts the show proper. He goes through his life and his career, talking about his parents, about what inspired him to become a comedian, the origin of Monty Python and “Fawlty Towers,” and the scenes he himself found funniest, all illustrated on the rear screen. Much of this has been heard before and it’s obviously scripted, but as told by Cleese in his fluent, wisecracking way, the material still feels fresh, spontaneous and amusing.
He gets serious when commenting on the deterioration in the quality of TV comedy, and is touching as he recalls the death and funeral of fellow Python Graham Chapman.
Perhaps suggesting a lack of personal fulfillment in his work of the last 20 years, Cleese halts the narration after having discussed 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda,” abruptly opening the floor to questions from the audience. One question left him almost speechless at the performance reviewed: “How many times did you get laid for your $20 million?” Another, about whether he’s still able to do his “silly walk,” resulted in Cleese pulling up his trouser legs to explain that surgery on his left knee makes that famous Python move impossible these days.
Anyone who grew up with Python and “Fawlty Towers” will constitute an eager audience for Cleese’s standup. The many jokes about Norway no doubt will make way for more local references when the show reaches the U.S., kicking off Oct. 30 in Modesto, Calif., and wrapping up with a double date in Scottsdale, Ariz., Nov. 20-21.