Eric Idle: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” | Talks at Google

[MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] ERIC IDLE: Hey. Hello. YIGAL PETREANU: Hello. ERIC IDLE: Hello. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Hello. Good afternoon. AUDIENCE: Hi. ERIC IDLE: Hi. [SIGHS] Well, that went well. YIGAL PETREANU: Yep. Yep. [LAUGHTER] ERIC IDLE: What are
these, hamsters? What are they? Are they Google things? What are– are they
sort of the set design? YIGAL PETREANU: They
record whatever you say. ERIC IDLE: Oh, they’re– YIGAL PETREANU: They’ll
use it against you. Oh. Oh, dear. Sorry. [LAUGHTER] ERIC IDLE: Yeah. YIGAL PETREANU: OK, so what
are we going to do today? So many people are here. So in my opinion, you are
truly a Renaissance man. You did everything. ERIC IDLE: You mean I’ve been
dead since the 15th century? [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU:
So what I decided to do, again, over the
last couple of weeks, I asked for people
to send me questions. And I got piles of questions. I felt like Ringo Starr
receiving all these mails with questions. And I divided them
into different topics. Some of them I just threw away. I’m taking credit for all
the questions, by the way. ERIC IDLE: Excellent. That’s less for the
tech world we know. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah, so, again,
you wrote somewhere– again, regretfully at some
point I’ll read quotes that you made back to you. I hope it’s OK with you. So you wrote in the book
that there is nothing funnier than no one laughing. [LAUGHTER] So I’ll try to provide
the part in this talk. And you can make them
laugh as much as you want. If this is OK with you. ERIC IDLE: OK, OK, OK. I mean, that was
specifically about when you mean to be funny, and
there’s an audience, you know? And then it happened to us
once on “Python,” when we were on “The Tonight Show” in 1973. And we’d just toured
Canada, and they laughed at everything we did. If we went on stage and farted,
they applauded and stood up. [LAUGHTER] But we were in America, And
we were on “The Tonight Show,” and we started off by
(HIGH-PITCHED VOICE) “Hello, Mrs. Thing. Hello, Mrs. Entity.” and the audience was like this. [LAUGHTER] And we had half an
hour’s material– we did it in 20 minutes. [LAUGHTER] And then we all ran outside in
Burbank and lay on the ground and laughed our asses off,
because it was just so funny. It was just really funny. [LAUGHTER] That’s what I meant by that. YIGAL PETREANU: Anyway,
so let’s talk about music, if you don’t mind, one
of our mutual loves. [PHONE RINGS IN AUDIENCE] Like many English teenagers
who grew up in the ’50s– ERIC IDLE: That’s the president. [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU: –the
crucial liberating moment was watching Elvis and
hearing “Heartbreak Hotel.” And can you recall
what you really felt when you first saw Elvis? And did you ever manage to meet
him in person later on in life? ERIC IDLE: I never
met him, but I was 14. It’s 1957, so he was everywhere.
(SINGING IN ELVIS VOICE) Well, since my baby
left me, you know? And we never see him. He was on television
eventually, but they’d only shoot him below the waist. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. American television, they’re
very prurient about that, because he was jiggling about. Eh– above the waist, sorry. [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU:
It’s even better. [LAUGHTER] ERIC IDLE: That was
a different film. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. [LAUGHTER] As I said, we were
14, you know, so we were very interested in what
went on below the waist. But then eventually I found
out, to my complete and total– I still can’t come
to terms with it– that he was an
enormous “Python” fan. And he had all the
tapes on his plane. And he called everybody squire,
after my “Nudge Nudge” sketch. [LAUGHTER] Which was absolutely
mind-blowing to me until I met Linda Thompson, who
was his penultimate girlfriend. And she said that, in
Nashville, at night when the television
went off at 2 o’clock or 3:00 in the
morning, Elvis would make her sit up in bed with
her and do “Python” sketches. And not just any
“Python” sketches, it was (HIGH-PITCHED
VOICE) “Hello, Mrs. Thing. I need a new brain.” [LAUGHTER] Now, I don’t know if you
can imagine Elvis sitting in bed doing that, but
apparently that’s what he did with Linda Thompson. So I just– it’s still
mind-blowing, isn’t it? I mean, it’s boggling. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah,
anyway, moving from the ’50s to the ’60s– OK, if you don’t mind– Python are often referred
to as the Beatles of comedy. So my question to you is, did
you really meet the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the
Kinks, all those great bands in the ’60s in real
life, in real time. ERIC IDLE: Yeah, I
mean, we did, but that’s because we are all
the same generation. We all came out of
the War, or born at the end of World War II, and
into this horrible world which was rationing and
bomb sites everywhere. And that generation
sort of invented– it was actually a Renaissance. They invented everything. They invented rock
and roll, they– photography, couture, fashion. It was just because
there was nobody there. Everybody was in the forces. So we were the ones
who did comedy. And we were on television, but
there wasn’t anybody before us, because there wasn’t television. So we were very fortunate
to go into a blank field. And if you can find a blank
field in any part of the world, that’s really a
good place to be, because nobody’s done anything. So you can hit all
the spots first. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah, so again,
we move into the ’70s, and– [LAUGHTER] Very fast. We don’t have a lot of time,
so we have to move very fast. You were a distinguished
member of the Rutles. But but before the singles,
and records, and movies, and Rutlemania, and
everything, there was this “Rutland
Weekend Television.” Can you tell us a
little bit about it? And why did you
decide, for example, that there should
be no live audience for this specific show? ERIC IDLE: Well, it was
after Python finished. And I sort of hadn’t– I still liked writing sketches. So I got my own little
television series from the BBC called “Rutland
Weekend Television.” And Rutland is the
smallest county in England. And actually they’ve
made it extinct, so I liked the idea of being
their television station. And it was Cleese’s title– I paid him a pound for it. And we did it from a tiny
little studio, which is really the weather forecast studio. And we had to lift
all the sets upstage. It was made– I think the whole series
cost 30,000 pounds. But from that came a joke
I wrote about the Rutles, because they were the Rutland
version of the Beatles. And so I took that to “Saturday
Night Live” when I was hosting, and they put it on TV. And people wrote to the Rutles. It was amazing. So then we made the full
documentary for NBC. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah, and
this was a huge success. And why did you choose
to play Dirk McQuickly? Originally it was George, but
then you switched to Paul. ERIC IDLE: In the original
one on our TV show, I played the George character. But I couldn’t find anybody–
because Neil Innes played Lennon, and he did
him really great. And I couldn’t find
anybody to balance Neil. So I had to sort of do that
role, because I was really playing the interviewer all
the time, which was fun. But then I sort of
I thought, well, I’ve got to play
Dirk McQuickly, which is quite nice, because
then I came face to face with Paul McCartney
just after I’d played him. And he was with his wife,
Linda, and she really loved it. And he wasn’t quite sure– [LAUGHTER] –because I was mocking
his lovely little eyes that he would do. [LAUGHTER] But he’s good friends now. They all like the Rutles now. George would only– Harrison– would only refer
to the Beatles as the Rutles, from them. And yeah, he would always
talk about the Rutles, what we’re doing now, the Rutles. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah. And there’s also a story
about George and Ringo actually playing a Rutles song. ERIC IDLE: Yeah. We were visiting– my daughter
and I– she was a wee one. We were visiting
Friar Park, which is an extraordinary house in
Henley where George lives, this Gothic place. And Ringo was there. And they both picked
up guitars and started to sing “Ouch,” which is the
parody of “Help” in the Rutles. [LAUGHTER] And it was like the world
had just turned upside down. This is really bizarre. YIGAL PETREANU: Moving on– [LAUGHTER] This is my job here. ERIC IDLE: It’s all right. YIGAL PETREANU: I must move on. ERIC IDLE: No,
you’re doing good. You’re doing good. YIGAL PETREANU: OK,
OK, OK, thank you. [LAUGHTER] You have achieved
some unprecedented act by singing the opening track
on a Harry Nilsson album. Moreover, you are the
you’re co-creditor of a song together– there’s a
song by Harrison/Idle named “The Pirate Song.” So I wonder, how does it
feel to really collaborate with culture heroes
that turned to be your friends at some point? ERIC IDLE: Well,
that’s two parts. But I don’t know whether
people– do people know Harry Nilsson these days? YIGAL PETREANU:
Everybody knows him, yes. ERIC IDLE: Really? Not everybody. [LAUGHTER] I mean, he was great
and a wonderful man. But the George one was because
he came on my show “Rutland Weekend Television.” And I persuaded him to
be my special guest. And it was a Christmas show of
“Rutland Weekend Television.” And he came lurching on, and
he said, dressed as a pirate, all right, I’m ready
for the sketch. I said, well, what sketch? He said, the pirate sketch. And they said, well, actually,
there isn’t a pirate sketch. He said, no, there’s got
to be a pirate sketch. They said, no, no, we want
you to sing “My Sweet Lord.” Oh, I’m not doing that. I want a pirate sketch. [LAUGHTER] And I said, well,
I’m sorry there is no pirate s– well, up you, then. And off he went. [LAUGHTER] And then at the end of the
show, we cut this big set, and it says, George
Harrison Sings. And George came down, and he
had the white suit on and the 12 string playing
[MIMICS “MY SWEET LORD”].. And he played all
that introduction, then he went (singing)
I want to be a pirate. A pirate’s life for me. All my friends are pirates,
and they sail the BBC. [LAUGHTER] So we wrote that. So that, you know– [LAUGHTER] You know, it’s almost as good as
Lennon and McCartney, I think. YIGAL PETREANU:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sounds very good. ERIC IDLE: Really? YIGAL PETREANU:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we’ll have to move on. Your “Hey Jude” will
forever be “Always Look on the Bright
Side of Life.” And of course, again,
can you tell us a little bit how it came to be, where
the optimism come from? And how come– did you really
imagine that by 2018 people will still sing this song with
so much spirit and vengeance? ERIC IDLE: Well, yes, of course. I knew all about that. I’d also imagined
Google back then. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah, I know. ERIC IDLE: Nobody
believed me at the time. No, I mean, the fact was we were
writing the “Life of Brian,” and what we got to–
as far as the end. And all of our characters
were headed for crucifixion. [LAUGHTER] Well, now we have to
figure out how we’re going to end the damn movie. So I said, well,
let’s end with a song. And they said, oh, yeah,
that’s kind of a nice idea. I said, we can be
being crucified and sing from the crosses. And they said, oh,
that’s really bad. Yeah, we’ll do that. And then Gilliam said, and
we could dance as well. So I said, but it has to be a
ridiculously optimistic song, like looking on the bright side. And it should be
like a Disney song. It should have a little whistle. And so they said, oh,
that’s really good. And they put it in the script,
said we can stop for the day now. And I went home and
wrote it, very quickly, and brought it back
in the next day. And they hated it–
no, they liked it. And I mean, when
you think about it, it is a parody of
an optimistic song, because they’re being crucified. There’s not a lot
to look forward to. [LAUGHTER] You’ve got about 25
minutes if you’re lucky. But then it made a real
nice ending for the film, and people really liked it. Harry Nilsson recorded it,
actually, on one of his albums. But yeah, so then
about 15 years later, I had a friend who was
an English football player called Gary Lineker,
who was my neighbor. And he said, they’re singing
your song on the terraces. I said, what do you mean. He said, well, whenever a
team’s losing very badly– [LAUGHTER] –all the fans sing
(SINGING) always look on the bright side of life. Da da, da-da, da-da, da-da. And it was going around all
the stadiums in England– caught on like wildfire. They re-released the song, and
it went to number one in one of the charts– amazing. So that was kind of weird. And it developed his
own life after that. I mean, during
the Falklands War, the HMS Sheffield
was hit by an Exocet. And all the sailors
sat on the deck waiting for rescue
for three hours, singing “Always Look on
the Bright Side of Life.” And now, so it became
something that– we English are very good at irony. I mean, that’s probably all
they’re good at, really. [LAUGHTER] But now it’s the number one song
requested at British funerals. Seriously. I mean, for the last 10
years it has been that, replacing “My Way,”
I’m happy to say. [LAUGHTER] And I like that. I think it’s very– it sort of shows, because it
is ridiculously optimistic, but it also says “always look
on the bright side of death,” which is one of the lines in it. “Just before you draw
your terminal breath. Life’s a piece of shit
when you look at it.” And so I love the fact
that people go to funerals, and they sing it. And of course, what
you need at a funeral is always a good laugh. That’s the most important
thing, because it’s the only thing that shakes
you back into reality. So I’m kind of proud of that. I think that’s nice. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah. And by the way, in
front of the queen, you changed the
“shit” to “spit.” ERIC IDLE: Apparently
I did, yes. I think life’s a piece of spit. But not in front of
Prince Charles, and not at the Olympic Games. They let me say “shit”
on the Olympic Games. YIGAL PETREANU: So only
the queen was quite strict. ERIC IDLE: Well, you have
respect Her Majesty, and– [LAUGHS LOUDLY] YIGAL PETREANU: OK, so I
think that we wrapped up very quickly the topic of music. Let’s move to– [LAUGHTER] Come on. Give me a chance. We’ll move to comedy. ERIC IDLE: If you want to. YIGAL PETREANU: OK,
good, thank you. ERIC IDLE: I’ve got, you know– I’m here. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah? OK, good. OK, so again, in
your book, you write that you spent 12 years
in the [INAUDIBLE] which is a combination
of an army and a prison. This is how you mentioned. And my question is,
again, and you’ve said that it was a perfect
training for Python. So is becoming a comedian mostly
the result of circumstances, as in your case, or is
there a comic gene, as you refer in one of your books? ERIC IDLE: I’m not sure
about the comic gene. But I do like the
fact that you read it. Yeah, I mean, I was– the great irony of my life is
I was– my dad was in the RAF from 1941. And he was actually killed
in an accident hitchhiking home for Christmas in 1945. So having been in the Lancaster
bomber all those years as a rear gunner, that’s really
kind of ironic, and sort of, kind of funny if you’re not– you know, I was only 2 and 1/2. But the result of that was
the RAF paid for my education. And they put me in– we
were in a boarding school, and it had been an orphanage. But the war gave it a
shot in the arm, which is kind of good for business,
because I went to this boarding school in Wolverhampton, which
is not the end of the world. But you can see it from there. [LAUGHTER] And I was there 12
years, from seven to 19. And all the boys in my class
and in all that school all had lost their
fathers in the war. So psychologically it’s
very interesting, I think. We’ll get to it later. [LAUGHTER] So it was like you
had to manufacture all your good times. So you learn how to be funny
at the expense of authority, not that they knew, and
then go over the wall to get beer, and meet girls, and
do the normal things in life. And also sort of
various privations– I mean, they put you in
the army once a week. So we’d have to march
up and down the square from the age of 12. And I think, by 14, I could
strip a Bren gun blindfold and reassemble it. And they do adventure
training courses in Wales, where they
send you with a compass, and a piece of cheese, and a
map reference over Snowdonia. And so, you know, that’s
quite tough, really. But compared to our boarding
school, it was a doddle. And all the rather
more better schools, they’re all kids who
were crying, and weeping, and lying around. But we said, oh, come on. Come on. And so I think filming is
kind of tough and boring. It’s a cross between
the two of them. And I think that did
prepare me to put up with that sort of stuff. YIGAL PETREANU: OK. So “Beyond the Fringe”– you mentioned it in
your book that it was an epiphany for you. Can you describe to do the young
audience what was it all about, and how did it
really affect you? ERIC IDLE: Well,
growing up in the ’50s, it was very restrictive. And the English had
the tough attitude. We’ve been through it all
now, and we can tough out the peace, and all this. But then there was this show
that came on in the West End. And it was Peter Cook, Dudley
Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Alan Bennett. And it was a revue. It was, like, 1961. And I went to see this thing,
and I laughed my ass off. I rolled around
the wall, because I didn’t know you were
allowed to laugh at the queen, and the
Army, and the police. And all the things that
kind of annoyed you, they laughed at and mocked. And the scales
dropped from my eyes. And I got the album, and
I learned everything. And that’s all I ever wanted
to be after that point was to be a comedian, to be funny. And they came to
Broadway, actually. They were on on Broadway. YIGAL PETREANU: By they way, you
can still see them on YouTube. ERIC IDLE: Yeah? YIGAL PETREANU: There is
a complete show of them. So it was very entertaining. So now, because we
are in Cambridge, and you moved to Cambridge,
enjoyed Cambridge University Footlights Club. And it became something–
it has a very big role in British comedy. So can you tell us
more, a little bit about this Footlights
Club and how come it became so important? ERIC IDLE: Well, it was– this is the other
Cambridge, by the way. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. And I was fortunate
enough, because I was stuck in a boarding school,
I had nothing to do but learn. So I got more qualifications
than almost everybody else who had a decent life and
went out on the weekends. So I got into Cambridge,
and then in my second term I met John Cleese. And I was doing this college
revue, and I did a piece of his that he’d written, which
was quite extraordinary. And it was great to meet him. Then he said, come and
join the Footlights. And the Footlights
was founded in 1883. And it was a revue society. And I’m very proud of the
thing, because I eventually became president of Footlights. And women were not allowed. So the first thing I,
as a little oik, did was to change the
rules and admit women to the Footlights, which was– [APPLAUSE] I’m proud of that. And that was about 10 years
before the colleges did. So it was still just
ahead of its time– just. [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU: About
the next question, I’m not sure if you can answer. But let’s try it. The best of ’60s
music was probably written under the influence. However, in your book
you write, and I quote, “The idea you could try to
write comedy under the influence was anathema to us.” Why was it so different? ERIC IDLE: Well, this has
happened when– you know, Python we wrote business hours. Even when we went to
Barbados to write a movie, we still write 10:00 to 1:00,
have lunch, 2:00 till 5:00. We just wrote– because we
found it’s better if you just have regular hours,
then whatever you do, you can have fun afterwards. But when I went to do
“Saturday Night Live” for the first time in 1976– I think it was the
second season– I couldn’t believe it,
because the NBC towers, you go into their offices, and
they just smelled of reefer all over the place. And they had them
[INAUDIBLE] doors locked. Nobody came in. You couldn’t do that at the BBC. They’d go nuts. But then they’d try and
write on a Tuesday night, smoking things and being– and it would take forever. [LAUGHTER] And they’d expect the
host to stay up with them, which is really boring. So I found that that it wasn’t
very productive– not that they weren’t funny
occasionally, but they wouldn’t do what we always did. We were obsessive writers. We would rewrite. If that’s not good enough,
give it to somebody else. Tighter, tighter, tighter. Python is just a
group of writers who then acted everything
because we’d do it better. And we wouldn’t have to
bring other people in. But it’s really about
the control of writers and that never really
happens in any– it doesn’t happen
certainly in Hollywood. It doesn’t happen on
television, really, that the writers are in control. And I think it’s
one of the reasons that it’s so wacky
and so kind of– still resonates a little bit. But with “SNL,” they
never heard of a rewrite. And when you did the
show, if you notice, they’re always looking off. So somebody’s having
a scene over here, they’re reading the cues. So, good evening. How are you? How are you? Are you all right? So I find it very disconcerting. It’s a [INAUDIBLE] fake– whereas Python, we would
rehearse for five days, learn it all, be on
top of the material, and when we faced our audience,
we knew what we were doing. So I did I didn’t find it very– I found it– you know, it
wasn’t my kind of thing. I mean, we’re much more control
freaks about the writing. YIGAL PETREANU: So now we
switch from comedy to TV. Your first experience,
per the book at least, is that you were as a writer
only on “The Frost Report” and later on at “I’m Sorry,
I’ll Read That Again.” So was it a big change
for you to switch to become behind the scenes
just as a writer, pure writer? ERIC IDLE: Well, of
the Footlights Club, it was in Cambridge. And it had its own bar, which
was one of the great appeals, because the pubs
closed at 10:00, and our bar would open at 10:30. So you could go
along to the Club. It had its own lunches. It had a little stage where
you could try out material, where there were little
concerts that you could try. And that’s actually the
only way to do comedy. You’ve got to stand on
the stage and try it. And those who die
must be got rid of, because it’s a very painful
experience for them. So you either can do it
or you have to leave. So that was very good training. But it also taught
you how to write and we were very,
very fortunate, our generation, because the
minute we left Cambridge, we all went straight into jobs,
because David Frost brought us into television immediately. And we were writing on
the radio immediately. So all of Python were writers
on “The Frost Report.” And John Cleese was actually
on the show, but the rest of us were writers. So it’s just one of those– and again, it’s because there
was nobody in front of us. It was new areas, we were
ground-breaking new areas. And the jobs were there. So I think we’re
greatly lucky people. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah. We are lucky as well
there, I must admit. The next experience was
a children’s TV show, which was this. I don’t know how many
people watched it real-life. This is it. ERIC IDLE: Oh, yeah. YIGAL PETREANU: Is it? Yeah. ERIC IDLE: Wow. YIGAL PETREANU: And again, how
was it writing and starring in a TV show? And how did it affect your later
writing and starring on the– ERIC IDLE: Well, the
Footlights was always about writing and performing. So you’d write your own
material, and you’d perform it. And so you do revues, and
you write and perform. So that’s what it was. It was a natural step for us. We were just lucky enough
to be offered a TV show, but it was a kid’s show. And this guy said,
will you do the show? And I said sure, but I want
Michael Palin and Terry Jones. So they came in,
and we wrote it. And we said, well, let’s
not talk down to children. Let’s not make it
a children’s show. We’ll just be funny. We’ll just make them laugh. It will be absurd,
and they’ll like it. And they did. And the only discipline about
that is you can’t be rude, which is also very
good discipline, because it’s easy to be
fucking rude, isn’t it? [LAUGHTER] The initial shock
gets you a laugh, but it’s sort of
cheating in a way– useful cheating. But we were prepared,
and Cleese and Chapman were writing for Peter
Sellers at the time, movies. And their relaxation every
week was to turn on our TV show at 5:25. And they just loved it. And that’s why they
came to us and said, let’s all do this show
that John had been offered. And we’d been offered a very big
show on an independent channel, but they didn’t have a
studio for another year. So we said, oh, well,
we might as well do the one with
Cleese for a bit, you know, just to
see how that goes. But we never got
to the other show. [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU: And now,
finally, after half an hour, we can talk maybe a tiny bit
about “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” if you don’t mind. I brought a couple of books– again, the Bible,
for me at least– the entire scripts. And the question is,
again, most viewers think about Monty
Python as a revolution. However, in your book
you stress the fact that it’s more
like an evolution. So how can you– ERIC IDLE: Well, at
this stage in the ’60s, there were lots of little shows
all bumping into each other and starting. And Python just
wasn’t a big deal. I mean, when it started, it
was late on a Sunday night. The BBC were opening up
that slot because nobody– it closed down. The queen was on a horse, they
played the national anthem, and they said, good
night, everybody. Good night. And everybody went to bed. But the BBC really recognize
that some people might be staying up a bit,
and so they wanted to put something on to see
who was going to be there. And they didn’t much
care what it was. [LAUGHTER] Which was as well,
because we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. And they said, well,
what are you going to do? We said, Um, don’t really know. And they said, will
there be a band? Uh, no I don’t think so. Will there be guests? Um, will there be– no,
no, I don’t think so. Film? Oh, yeah, film. We’ll have film. We’ll do film. And so they said, oh,
just go away and make 13. Fantastic. Really great decision,
because they didn’t interfere, they didn’t watch. [LAUGHTER] It was just a perfect– the BBC at that time was
mainly filled with people were just left the RAF, and
smoked pipes, and had beer, you know? Jolly interesting show
you guys are doing. Keep it up. Jolly good. And it was absolutely perfect. I called it the
executive-free comedy. And if you see executive-filled
comedy, which Hollywood puts out, you’ll know
that it’s terrible, because you’ve got to let these
idiots do what they do best, even if they can’t
explain it, because comedy is the thing that you can’t
really explain or predict. But it’s very necessary,
because we all need to laugh. It just shakes us a little
bit into reality again. I think that’s what it’s doing. But I don’t know why it
should be in primates. Although in “The Road
to Mars,” the book he was referring to
earlier, I do have– I try to make this film
with Robin Williams, and Dan Aykroyd, and David Bowie. They were comedians
on the road in space. I figured that in space
what they wouldn’t have would be live entertainers. And that would be the most– the best thing you wanted to
see was live people being funny. And they had a robot,
which was going to be played by David Bowie. And he didn’t understand
what they were doing because he’s a robot. And he couldn’t
understand why they went on stage and
people barked at them. And so he started to write
a thesis called “De Rerum Comedia,” for the University
of Saturn, about what on earth this thing called comedy was. And it’s quite interesting
when you try and look at comedy coldly
and objectively, because if there are
other civilizations, even other places where
human– where life exists, would you expect
there to be comedy? And I think you would. If there’s intelligent
life, it has to perceive of itself as
being somewhat ridiculous, because it’s going to die. I mean, that’s the basis of it. You’re not here forever. And I find those sort of
ideas kind of fun to play with and to examine. By having two comedians, I could
take the slightly pretentious nature of that discussion
and make fun of it, as well as exploring it. That make sense? A bit? YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah. So preparing for
this talk, I, again, watched again and again
old sketches on YouTube– everything is
available, of course, in relatively good quality. ERIC IDLE: Thank you, Google. [LAUGHTER] We spent all those years trying
to connect these sketches together. And what do you got on YouTube? Disparate little
sketches here and there. YIGAL PETREANU: [LAUGHS] Yeah. But the funny thing– maybe. That was funny. But the funny thing
is still that there– I started looking at videos. And then, of course,
like every YouTuber, I started looking
at the talk backs, because it’s much
more interesting than the videos themselves. And there were– [LAUGHTER] And– it’s true. But two things really struck me. One of them was that all the
com– most of the comments were very positive, as opposed
to most comments which you can find on YouTube in second. And secondly is that
they are very recent. It’s not from 20 years ago. The comments are from last week. So I wonder– how can
you explain the fact that these sketches still
appeal to young people in the 21st century? ERIC IDLE: I don’t understand. [LAUGHTER] It shouldn’t happen. Next year as the 50th
anniversary of Python. It went on the air in– [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you very much indeed. And we’re going to
celebrate by doing fuck all. [LAUGHTER] And we’re more going to
do it together probably. No, it seems absurd. I mean it was 1969,
so it seems impossible that comedy, particularly, which
tends to be about in the moment or what we’re thinking about at
the time could last that long. And I think it’s partly
because it isn’t in the moment. It’s not satire. We followed a satire
boom in England, so there’s nothing
that connect it to the time in which it’s at. It’s about characters
and generic comedy about human behavior. And some of it’s silly stuff. It’s still endearing. But I think the most important
thing about it is it’s digital. We’re right at the beginning
of the digital world. The BBC, we’ve gone from
film and everything to tape. Maybe on two-inch
Ampex being taped. And so it’s still in pixels, and
you can polish them up still, so it can still look fresh. And we were in color
by three months. Because if it was in black and
white, in the “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners”
territory, then it looks like forever in the past. But I think there’s something
to something with that, both that it’s not tied into
time like an early “SNL,” so you have to remember,
oh, Gerald Ford fell over a lot, that’s why
Chevy is doing that. You don’t have to
have those references. You can still come in and
find it silly, I think. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah,
silliness definitely strikes out, comes out. I heard somewhere that
you describe yourself as the sixth nicest Python. Is that so? I think I was
exaggerating a little. YIGAL PETREANU: Oh, OK. [LAUGHTER] ERIC IDLE: Yeah, well,
I mean, you know, poor old Michael always
got lumbered with being called the nice one. And occasionally I’m mistaken
for Michael Palin when I’m on the road and going around. And when I’m mistaken
for Michael Palin, I always say, yes,
I am Michael Palin. Now, fuck off, you
ugly old geezer. [LAUGHTER] And that sort of helps
to destroy his character little bit more. YIGAL PETREANU: “Holy Grail”– you did this movie, [INAUDIBLE] ERIC IDLE: Yeah, we did. Yes, we did it. YIGAL PETREANU: OK, I wasn’t
sure about it for a second. OK, anyway, you write in the
book that some of the scenes, that you had to show the
film on 13 test screenings until you were happy
with the result. ERIC IDLE: Yeah. YIGAL PETREANU:
And I asked myself, how come it was so different
from TV, because on TV, you were quite confident
on your material? ERIC IDLE: Well, on TV
we would do one a week, and we would rehearse
for five days. The writing was all done. And then we’d play
it to an audience. And the thing about
an audience is they tell you where it’s funny. And you cut the bits where they
don’t laugh, you take it away. That’s the editing process. But in a film, you
don’t have that. You have this, like, 95 minutes. And then they laugh here. Then they don’t. And they stop. And then they get bored. And we had a completely
disastrous first screening. And then we all got
together, because we’re quite good at writing, and
rewriting, and editing. And so we started to tackle it,
and we had 13 different cuts until we finally
made it really funny, where the audience would
laugh all the way through, and there wouldn’t be a
bit where they stopped. And if you put laughs together,
then people get on a roll. And they’re still laughing
when the next gag comes along. And that’s what you’re trying
to do live on stage normally, automatically you’re
sort of feeling that. But in a film, it
takes much more to drag it to where
the audience responds. And so most films
don’t get that. I mean, that’s quite unusual. And I think it’s one of
the reasons the film sort of survives and is
still pretty funny. Apart from a
10-year-olds love it, because there is
adults pretending to ride horses, which is
what they do all the time. [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU: I know
many people, again, even my close family
relatives, regretfully, who can act out scenes
from “Holy Grail” and “Life of Brian” in entirety. So I wonder how do you
feel about such people who can really refer to it as
the Old Testament, or New Testament, or whatever? ERIC IDLE: Not that many
laughs in the Old Testament, are there? [LAUGHTER] I did exactly the same. When I saw “Beyond the Fringe,”
I absolutely bought the album, and I absolutely learned
all of the monologues that Peter Cook did, and
Alan Bennett did a vicar. And I learned it. Why do we learn songs? I think it’s the same thing. When you’re young, you like
this song, and you learn it. And then you like this
comedy, so you learn it. And I think those are the two
important pillars of becoming teenager and growing up. And that’s why everything
turns over so quickly, because there’s
another bunch along who are rejecting what the people
in front of them just liked. YIGAL PETREANU: Yeah. Moving on to “Life of Brian,”
it was a lot of controversy when it came out. But definitely cannot be
compared to what happened when John said this quote about
Beatles being more popular than Jesus. They didn’t burn your records
or didn’t become violent. So what do you think
changed between ’66 and ’79? And how do you think it would
have been accepted if it came out today, in today’s– ERIC IDLE: Well, that’s
a different question. I think that today is different. People say, well, why wouldn’t
you do it about Muslims? And we said, well, actually,
we grew up as Christians. We were forced to go to
church twice on Sundays for 10, 15 years. And that was our heritage. So we’re allowed to
be funny about that. If you would just randomly
funny about any other religion that you haven’t
experienced, I don’t think you have the right–
well, you may have the right. But I mean, it’s not
what we would have done. We were specifically looking
at this particular, Church of England, really, which
hardly exists anymore. And what was interesting
to us is, when we– it all came from the
opening of “Holy Grail.” We’re in New York. I opened my big mouth. And somebody said, what’s the
next Python film going to be? And I said, “Jesus
Christ’s Lust for Glory.” [LAUGHTER] I don’t know why. [LAUGHTER] I’ve had therapy. It doesn’t seem to help. And then when we
got back England, Cleese said, actually, that’s
a very interesting subject. Nobody’s ever done religion. And what I was saying
about the blank field is really attractive,
because you’re not going in, well, this is the 13th
comedy about religion. Nobody’s done this. And why? It was a very
interesting question. Why don’t people do that? And so we studied it, because
we’re all Oxford and Cambridge. We did about a month’s
research, reading the Dead Sea Scrolls, and also some
books on the Bible and you know what was going on. And then we all sort
of talked about it. And we said, well,
you can’t actually make fun of Jesus Christ,
because everything he’s saying is love your neighbor,
blessed are the poor, look after people,
be kind and gentle. People don’t do that
today, but that’s what the religion says, really. And so we don’t want to
do cheap jokes about JC. That’s not going to be
what we’re going to do. But what is funny
about religion is how people take over
people, and force them to become cult members,
and make them behave, and force them to not
think, really, but obey. And so that’s really what
the subject of the film became as we explored it,
which is we’re all individuals. (FUNNY VOICE) I’m not. Yeah, but, I mean– [LAUGHTER] –that’s really the sort of– [LAUGHTER] That’s the sort of– I think that’s
somehow very healthy. And really quite good, nice
people, religious people, really enjoyed the
film, because they noticed that it was actually not
mocking religion but actually rather reinforcing some of
the better things about it. The only thing was that
we were supposed to come to America to sort of sell it. We’re flying for junkets. And I think the first was the
rabbis came out in New York and protested,
and we went, what? [LAUGHTER] And then they went
back in again. They said, oh, sorry. And then there were big pickets
outside Warner Brothers, and it said “Monty Python”– no, it said “Warner Brothers– Agents of the Devil.” And everybody knows that CAA. But we didn’t have to come,
because it was on the news all over the place. And once you’re on the news– and also, the other thing is
once you try and stop Americans doing something, they won’t do
that, because freedom of speech actually means something. And it’s the only
country that has it. And it’s absolutely vital. And so they would go and
see it in another town that would take it. If one had taken it off,
they’d go to the next town. It’s sort of we didn’t
have to do anything. We just– we rather
missed the trip. Which is sad, really. [LAUGHTER] YIGAL PETREANU: People
are going to kill me, because I have something
like twenty hundred more questions about
science, and literature, and meaning of life, which
you’re very familiar with. But I think that
maybe we’ll open the floor for a couple of
questions from people here. And we can later proceed. So please go ahead. Let’s do it quickly. ERIC IDLE: Nicely
lit, by the way. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Good afternoon, Eric. Answer me these questions three. I’m only going to give you one. [LAUGHTER] I’ve witnessed
admiration from Americans since I moved here
about 18 years ago of the UK’s progressive
politics and attitudes. But then, we’ve got Brexit. And growing up in Stockport,
just outside of Manchester, I’ve seen bigotry in race and
gender be really big obstacles from the football hooligan crowd
to seeing it on TV as well. How do you reconcile the gap? And how successfully
do you think that satire skirts the
line between parody and reinforcement? ERIC IDLE: Well, you
have to remember, I have now been in
America nearly 25 years. So when I go back to England,
I don’t recognize it. It’s not the England I left. And I think everywhere
is changing all the time. But you don’t notice it,
because you there all the time. And I think you– don’t forget,
Python, we were only addressing people from 1969,
on television, to 1973. That’s all we were on. And then it was on in America. So I think England is
rather good on the satire. They seem to have
very good comedians. They seem to be not racist. They seem to be quite modern
and quite progressive, except for the politicians,
who seem to think that Brexit is a good idea. But, you know, it’s
like Dunkirk 2. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Very good. Thank you. ERIC IDLE: Sure, thank you. AUDIENCE: Eric,
what’s funny to you today– comedians,
shows, movies? What makes you laugh? ERIC IDLE: Well, I
have a couple of girls who make me laugh
a lot, and they’re called Garfunkel and Oates. Do you know them? [APPLAUSE] Yeah, they’re really good. And they’re very
beautiful and very young, and they write
lyrics much filthier than even I’ve ever written. [LAUGHTER] So I just love them. I think there’s a lot
of good comedy here. But to me, the most
interesting thing is that, I think since
the George Bush time, people get their
news now from comedy. And I think the “Daily Show”
started it, Jon Stewart. But now my missus watches the
“Daily Show,” Trevor Noah, and then Colbert,
and then Seth Meyers. Every night she
has to watch this. And it’s interesting to
me now that, in order to– I suppose it’s a counter to Fox,
which is unintentionally funny. [LAUGHTER] We can’t trust the news anymore. So we get it from comedians. And I think that’s
quite interesting. I don’t quite understand it,
but I think it’s quite healthy. AUDIENCE: So you were mentioning
how people sort of memorize the work. And these things are just
sort of embedded in our brains after so long. And I’m sure that you
regularly have people just come up and regurgitate your material
back at you out of the blue. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say
no more– all that stuff. I’m wondering if
there are episodes that have happened that
stand out in your mind where you were
really taken aback, or caught off guard, or were
surprised at the way someone worked your own material back
into an encounter with you. ERIC IDLE: You mean like
Obama or somebody like that? AUDIENCE: I don’t know– Her Majesty breaking into “The
Lumberjack Song,” or something. ERIC IDLE: Oh. I did sing “Bright
Side” to Her Majesty, and I did make her laugh,
and that was very good. And I did it for
Prince Charles, too. But I wore a tutu and a wig,
and I danced around [? these ?] little ballet dancers. I don’t think– I mean,
people do do that. They seem to do it less– maybe once you become
more firm stopping them. [LAUGHTER] But there’s nothing you can say
if somebody does that to you. Hey, nudge nudge,
know what I mean? Say no more. And you go, mhm. Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Well, my flight’s
leaving, I better get– it isn’t the conversation. And that’s the true–
all celebrity encounters. I always try and break
that and say, hi, I’m Eric. What’s your name? And then you have a
real human reaction, and you’re meeting somebody. And they’re not meeting
something that is a sort of– well, they call us legends
now, which of course legends are people who are
dead and not true. [LAUGHTER] So I mean, you have to
learn how to deal with that, otherwise you become a jerk. My wife still
thinks I am a jerk. But thank you. AUDIENCE: So you mentioned
that you guys really worked really hard at
rewriting, and rewriting, and practicing for Python. But when I watch it, or
when I watched it as a kid, it really gave me the impression
of being very spontaneous. So could you say a
little bit about how those seemingly conflicting– how you resolve that, or
how you make spontaneity out of so much work? ERIC IDLE: Well, the
motto of the Footlights is ars est celare
artem, which I’m sure I don’t need to
translate for you. But it means the art is
in concealing the art. And so even last night, when
I had a long conversation with David Hyde Pierce–
he spent two weeks writing and thinking
about how to do this. And then it was
effortless for him. And I think that’s the thing. It has to look effortless
but is a lot of work. Of the comedy we did, it
nobody did improvisation, with the exception of
Peter Cook, in our day. And improv came around
in sort of the ’80s, and now it’s all stand-up. But we weren’t that. We were sketch
comedy, so you could perfect the sketch
in the writing stage, then rehearse it, and
then kill with it. So I think all good
work is hard work. And I think with writing, all
good writing is rewriting. I think you really have to
work hard, and then make it look effortless if you can. That’s my tip. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Hi, Eric. ERIC IDLE: Hello. AUDIENCE: I hope you
still like Chinese. ERIC IDLE: [LAUGHS] Are we
allowed to sing that anymore? I had to change the
lyrics slightly. AUDIENCE: All right. [LAUGHTER] So you mentioned earlier about
the blank fields in comedy. So in your opinion, what are
the blank fields today that’s still yet to be explored? ERIC IDLE: What are they? AUDIENCE: Yeah. ERIC IDLE: Well, it’s very hard. I mean, I would say that when
you look at Trump, if you didn’t know, you could
put a laugh track on it, because it is kind of insane. It’s wonderfully mad humor. And I love the fact that he did
his usual material to the UN, and the world laughed at him. [LAUGHTER] And then he had the balls to
say they were laughing with him. And then they asked at
the UN, and the people said, no, no, no. We were not. No, no, no, no, no, no. And so, I always
think that comedy is like the emperor’s new clothes. It’s the kid who says he’s
not wearing any clothes. Then everybody laughs. And I think that’s very much
what’s happening at the moment. And I think people need it. It sort of reassures you. It’s a balance–
it’s a truth-testing. It’s a test against reality. And I think that’s its
uses and its excuse and why it’s healthy. AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. ERIC IDLE: Sure. I’d like to read a bit
in conclusion, just a tiny little bit. And I think this
is rather relevant. So if you’ll bear with me,
too it’s not very long. And it’s a quote about death. And I’m talking
about my song “Always Look on the Bright
Side of Life,” which is the theme of the book. And I say, “My funeral song will
go on and on, though obviously we don’t. Dust to dust is about right. We dissipate into the
carbon atoms we came from. Technically, reincarnation
is sort of correct– we get reassembled
into other things. I’d like to be
reassembled into a Tesla so my wife can still drive me. I was born in the same
place as my mother, and I wonder if I’ll
die there, which would mean our home in LA– to be precise, in
our guest room. But that’s now become
my wife’s shoe closet. I think I wouldn’t mind dying in
there amongst the Jimmy Choos. I worship the ground
she walks on anyway, so that would be appropriate. She who, sadly, knows me best
thinks my last words will probably be, ‘fuck off.’ But that doesn’t look
good on a tombstone, so instead I would like
on my grave ‘Eric Idle– see Google.'” [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] Thank you.

24 thoughts on “Eric Idle: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” | Talks at Google”

  1. omfg GOOGLE. The best guest EVER. You can stop the series now. You can't top Eric Idle. (I do feel bad for the poor interviewer who was obviously starstruck to the point of panic. Thank goodness Mr Idle is so gracious. John Cleese or Terry Gilliam would've walked out in less than 10 minutes. Terry Jones would have just gotten incomprehensibly drunk.)

  2. Great interview, I think the interviewer did a good job as well. The flow and direction of the interview was expertly guided.

  3. Don't fire Yigal, just as long as he knows when the crowd is laughing at him because he moved on quickly it ain't a bad thing. Great interview

  4. Carrot head is fucking shit at interviewing. He didn't even welcome Eric to the stage, and has no rapport skills…………he's like a python sketch himself, but not a funny one.

  5. Making The Life of Brian about Muslims would be a challenge, especially the permanent hiding after. If you're a Muslim, you'd be in even graver danger.

  6. The interviewer was horrible. Phrases like "anyway", "moving on", "this is my job", "we dont have time" are indicating zero interest in the answers and are killing any conversation. You have to be tone deaf to not notice the audience is laughing because the your reactions to Idle's answers were so obviously inappropriate and rude that it became ridiculous. What the fuck.

  7. Please get another moderator, this guy is aweful, he’s ruining the interview
    Elvis is from Memphis, not Nashville.
    The moderator has zero sense of rhythm !

  8. I'm sure the Queen has heard British people say 'shit' once or twice, maybe not much more than that.

  9. Does everybody have to do everything? Where did they find this vegetarian lasagna? Why couldn't they find someone who speaks English clearly?

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