From the moment I first experienced the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Paramount theatre many years ago, I joined the legions of devoted fans of the Python comedy team and followed their work from small to big screen, from vinyl record to CD to CD-ROM and virtual platforms, and of course, through their prodigious publishing of books like Monty Python’s Papperbok, Dr. Fegg’s Nasty Book of Knowledge and everything in between. Naturally, I was very happy when I had the chance to read the latest Python member’s autobiography, Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
Eric Idle is the “musical one”, the one who makes audaciously silly songs which rhyme “Camelot” with “have to push the pram a lot,” but he was also a writer and performer with the group throughout their history. His autobiography’s title alludes to his most famous piece, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Life of Brian, which oddly enough has turned out to become one of the most-sung songs at football matches and funerals in the United Kingdom. It also signals the tone of the autobiography, which is a light-hearted, witty and sometimes sarcastic but always funny review of his life. His story, however, is not always so light-hearted. He lost his father at age two and was placed into a boarding school/orphanage where he was bullied and terribly lonely. Like many great comedians, his early trauma seems to have led him to discover his gift for humour and wordplay and he writes about his life with such a comedic touch that after finishing the book, I felt like he had to have been one of the luckiest men on earth. For instance, when the Pythons have the idea for a film but no potential backers, he got an unexpected call from George Harrison, a super-Python fan, who declared that he wished to finance the film by putting his estate up for collateral. I ended up reading the book twice, because reviews kept mentioning his difficult life but I found his ebullient style and hilarious insights into himself and other people he encounters to be so funny and so lacking in self-pity that I could only recall it with a similar positivity.
I can highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys autobiographies but most especially to anyone whose life has been touched by the Python crew of loonies, or has discovered their world through the current smash Broadway hit, Spamalot.