Hi, my name is Jonquières, and I feel it is morally imperative to be Governor Brown's friend.
Ring the bell. Brand new shoes walking loose on the first. And we are going to be friends, Shakuntala, go. Hello, welcome to Conan O'Brien needs a friend. This is a labor of love. I'm so thrilled to get to do this show. It's funny because it's a different kind of conversation I get to have with people and the kinds of conversations that I've been wanting to have for so long. Not always possible on the show when people are distracted by my razor sharp cheekbones and thick luxuriant hair, chiseled chin, it's a distraction.
But here, when my beauty cannot be seen, conversation tends to blossom in a way that it can't, you know, they can see you. It doesn't seem to faze them at all. You walk around with me all the time, Seona. You see me walk down the street and people like, fuck, that guy's hot. And then they go, Oh, it's Conan, right? Is that not once, never once happened. Never once did anything even kind of like that happen.
It's strange because I've paid so many people to do that and they've taken the money and then not done it. Joined us always by a synonym of session. Hello. And our good friend and of course, expert producer Matt Gurley. How are you, Matt? I'm good.
How are you guys? Well, I'm good. I'm a little angry today. Yeah, you're right. I am riled and you can tell I've got my Irish up, although genetically my guess my Irish is always up. Yeah, I am a little irritated by something, which is that the guest today is an absolute legend. Unbelievable, unbelievable legend in comedy. And and of course we're talking about Mr. John Cleese. And this is a big deal. And we always have the same engineer, right, Colin?
Yes. Who is British. And Colin's this lovely guy and he is here in the trenches, no matter who I'm talking to, if it's early in the morning or late at night, there could be an earthquake. And Colin's here and he's always rubbing things down with disinfectant to make covid. And he's always in the corner scrubbing out out some piece of equipment. And he's he's just I don't know, he's like a Bob Cratchit, you know, he's always there.
He wears fingerless gloves and he's working really hard and working his fingers to the bone. He tells me where the Twix is. You can find those like a truffle, you know, like you can just dig down with your paws and get the Twix no matter where we buried my my paws. What? Oh, paws. Hands.
Anyway, do you remember also that Colin came when Jesse Eisenberg was locked out and came out of the blue and saved the day? Yes. He also sweeps the chimneys at Airwolf too.
But anyway. But Eisenberg shows up and there's nobody here. But of course, Colin's in his little cot in the back and he scurries out. He scurries out and he's like, Oh, sir. Oh, Mr.. Oh, isn't. I hope he's hoedt, I'll open for you. And he let him in and they said, Can I make you some kippers? Can I make you kneel poi. And then of course Eisenberg was like, I don't know why this Dickensian 19th century British guy is here, but OK, it's because you reduce everybody to their comedy.
Yet that's not true any who. This is the point. The point is Colin's always here now. I tell him the other day, hey, John Cleese is on and he's like, oh my God, John Cleese, John Cleese. I grew up watching him on the telly and I'm going to be the one that connects him into the phone call with you, me talking to the great John Cleese. And then I said to Colin, I said, hey, how much is that?
That Gousse, that Christmas goose in the window, how much is that? And he went to and I said, What day is it today, Colin? He went today, Christmas Day. And I said, is that still in the window? Yes, it is. It has a shaking. Go get that goose. So anyway, all that's going on and I'm so happy for Colin and I come in this morning, Colin is not here now.
Suddenly there's this other guy here, Devon. Now it turns out. Devon, Devon. What's your last name? Bryant. Oh, Devon Bryant. Now, Devon, you outrank Colin, is that right? I run the entire company, yes. Yes, you're right. No, no, no. But you do outrank Colin. I do not outrank. Wait a minute. All I know is that you you're here and I'm like, wait a minute.
Why is Devon here? Right. And then I remembered something. There was in one other time when you kicked Colin out and you took over the controls. And that was when Eric Idle, Eric Idle was here. And now it occurs to me that whenever there's a Python guy on you, tell Colin who idolizes them, they're on his currency. It's true. People, if you buy if you want to buy, like some ale in a pub, you give someone five Graham Chapman and you can buy the ale.
I find out that you tell him, hey, Colin, run out and get some cigarettes. I'm handling it today. Is that what you do? Yeah. Send them out for liquor and smokes. Yeah. But I think that's I don't know. It feels somehow wrong to me that you're denying this guy who's here all the time the chance to talk to John Cleese so that you can be here and get them know. Hello, Mr. Cles, I'm Devon and I run things here.
I don't think I even interacted with him. Oh, trust me. Trust me. I came here and I saw you trying to get him sign something over zom. Oh, yeah, he was trying to get an autograph over Zoome and he was trying to get him to feed it into an old fax machine, and when police couldn't do it, you were like, what's wrong with you? So what did you do? How did you get rid of Colin?
Colin just asked if I wanted to come in and do it today. That is not true. Some of that is not true. This is first of all, that is not.
No, that makes me think that Colin doesn't want to be here in the first. I was going to say it sounds like Colin just didn't want to be here.
Oh, yeah. I didn't want to be here when a national treasure of the English people is here on the show. Well, can I. Of course. He wanted to be here, but creepy Devon. Yeah. I said, oh, you know what? I've been pretty much taking it easy during covid checks are rolling in anyway. So long as Conan keeps talking, I get paid. I've had a good time. I've watched all of Gossip Girl now.
Now I get to. Oh yeah, Cleese. That would be a fun one. Hey, Colin, I got an idea. Why don't you drive over to Encino, pick up a package for me and don't come back. Are you just upset you couldn't make fun of Colin? No. British accent No, I told John Cleese was fine. No, not at all. I would never do that. I would never mock someone's British accent in front of John Cleese.
I would do it when I'm not on the phone with John Cleese. This way you'll find out. I get to have my cake and eat it too and shit it out. That's three. Wow. But right now, Colin is somewhere with a tier that's mostly made of ham gravy because the British are a very unhealthy people here, claiming it's way down his face and he's thinking, oh, I wish I had talked to Mr. Cleese, but Jevin too.
Oh, well, maybe when Michael Palin's on to show ten, I'll get to talk to him.
Sorry, Devon. I'm just noticing that you're a bit of a I'm just curious, am I going to see your puss again when another big name rolls into here?
Possibly. Possibly. Yeah. Well, Devon. Yeah, Devon, I've decided you're a bad guy. Yeah, I thought you. Devon, I'll take. Hey, take it easy, son. That was a little much longer. Your come on. Jesus, Sean. I apologize to Deb. I'm sorry, David. I'm sorry. On behalf of Seona that was out of line. You were just sitting on him for now. Oh, no.
I came from a place of truth. You're just sort of. Yeah, this was just all yours came from a place of truth. Well, yes, I'm here. I'm the one that gets here earlier, often earlier than you. And I'm the one that has to wake up call.
And it is it's such a small court he has here at the podcast studio and he has that little hot plate and he always makes some tea and he says, what should I say? Only got one tea bag. Only add one for about two years now. But just keep reusing if you say.
And then he goes, it's the po po traveling with the president Neuf for me. And I go, don't sing this now. And he goes, First cab and Captain's Cold is really your company. And I go, Please don't do this on from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And he goes, Oh but pops with Posh. And I go, Well that's very nice Colin anyway. Oh thank God. You know, let's get into it because and I'm sorry.
Hey, this one I dedicate to Colin, Colin, wherever you are right now and whatever pub squeezing the oil out of the newspaper that wraps your fish. This one's for you, old chum. And yes, in honour of you, I'll call it football and not soccer. OK, we have a very. Oh, it's on the board. Oh, it's the bottom one. That's very small. Thanks a lot. Colin would have fixed that.
That's OK, Devon. I can read it. I can make it out. I broke. No, I brought opera glasses. I'm fine. Lucky me. Son of a bitch. Jesus Christ. No, it's good. I can just make it out. I can just see I brought these these binoculars that I use when I'm out at sea to spot Burg's on the horizon. I say, no, no, it's fine. I'm glad we're going.
We're keeping this all in. Trust me. This is all going. You are. You're awful, awful. Greatest man that ever lived. Those two words are often confused, although one of them is not just a word, it's a phrase. He's insane. Way too much coffee to hide. Well, I want to make something our guest Monday. This is what I come into yesterday. Like yesterday, Devon, I was on a roll. I know you just jumped in.
Yep. And so now you're really on my shit list. Yeah. Fuck you. Yeah. Colin, come on. And that one was deserved. So that was from a place of truth. My guest today. I want to point out first that he is not in studio because of covid. And not only is he not in studio, he's on the island of Mustique and he's talking to us, I think, on a nineteen twenties telephone. But that will not matter because this man is one of my heroes.
He's an absolute genius. He's of course, a comedic legend, one of the founding members of the iconic comedy troupe Monty Python. His new book, Creativity A Short and Cheerful Guide, is available now. And good Lord, do I love this book because it really concisely captures so much. Valuable thinking about creativity, and I really mean that I'm honored this gentleman is with us today. Please welcome from the island of Mustique on a really crappy phone.
John Cleese, welcome. We're here with John Cleese, I'm not a fan of his work, never have been. Not sure why he's on the podcast. John, how are you? I'm fine, you bastard. Now we're on the right track, you know what I mean? You're going to take that tone. I don't think we're going to get anywhere. Lots, but this is not some assignment you've been given. This is a joyous occasion.
It's been your lifelong dream to do a podcast with Conan O'Brien. Today is the realization of that dream, sir. And I read today this little blurb about the show that I'm now a leading thinker. Yeah, I was. You are thrilled because I knew I was a comedy icon and a legend, but I've never known I was a leading thinker. So I'm feeling very sort of puffed up.
Well, you should feel puffed up. You've written this wonderful book, John Cleese. It's called Creativity A Short and Cheerful Guide. I'm just reminding you, in case you forgot, it is a spectacular book. And I want to tell everyone listening. It's a very short book, but one of the most insightful books I've read about creativity. It's really quite lovely. You touch on a number of things I've given a lot of thought to because I've been in the business of trying to be.
This is sound like nothing to you, but for over 30 years I've spent chunks of every day trying to think of something funny, and I have a thousand theories about how that process works. And I'm stunned that in such a short book, you were able to hit the nail on the head so many times. It's really lovely.
I could not be more happy because I tell you what, I wanted to put everything into the book that you needed to know in order to become more creative. And you know that phrase. I think it's attributed to Mark Twain and lots of people about I'm sorry this is such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a short you. Yes, I always love that. Well, I had time to write a shorter book. Yes.
Yes. I've I think about this stuff for so long.
I was able to put it together quite simply. But it does correspond pretty much does what the book says to your own experience coming up with funny stuff. Yes.
Assuming that what I come up with is funny, that's very kind of you. I will say this. One of the points you make in the book is that the human brain often operates on a subconscious level. And I and you talk about this in the book that when you when you say that people tend to think, oh, Freud and sleeping with your mother and all the things I'm obsessed with, but what you're talking about is quite different.
And I've noticed this many, many times. I hit my head against a wall for hours at a time with a with a legal pad in front of me or a pen and paper. I don't think I'm getting anywhere. Then I go to sleep and when I wake up, I see things more clearly and I have ideas that didn't exist before. Yes. That's sort of the point of the book. Yes.
I couldn't agree with you more. It's almost embarrassing because we have to say mine, you know what I mean?
What I realise now is the moment you feel under real pressure, you always go for what's derivative, what you've done before. That's what stereotypical thinking is, is for it to give you a quick result that doesn't require any great gimmicky.
Yes, it's I think of it as muscle memory. There's a great anecdote that I think will ring true for you. And because it's so much of what you're talking about in your book, I believe it was Jack Warner, some stereotypical studio head of the nineteen forties. He was walking through the studio and he was walking past the writers bungalows and he didn't hear any typewriters. And he got angry and he said, you know, I want to fire all these people because they're not working.
Every time I walk past those bungalows, I want to hear typewriters going, because that is an uncreative person's concept of what thinking is, is constant movement. You have to hear they liken having an idea to its work and it should be like, I'd better hear those shovels moving. That coal as opposed to so much of writing is agonizing and wandering around and procrastinating and looking out the window and carving an apple and making an excuse to go buy a new desk because the one you have isn't right.
There's thinking that's going on then. And it's it's sort of denigrated, but it shouldn't be here.
Absolutely right. I could never figure out why it was in the morning that I couldn't just sit down and write what I couldn't. It was like two poles of a magnet. I just couldn't just sit right. So what I would do is I sort of sharpened pencils or I tidy my desk or I make another cup of coffee or I go and sort my socks or something like that. I thought white collar, get straight down to write. And I realized that all that sharpening of.
It was just beginning to get from one frame of mind to another from the frame of mind when you just taking care of everything and making sure everything gets done and there's nothing creative about that that doesn't need to be. But it's a different part of the brain that you use from the one that you use when you're aging. And it takes a little time to get from one to the other.
There was a period of time in my 30s when if I didn't have an idea, I would go out and randomly murder people, people like anonymous people, people that could never be traced back to me. And this was mostly in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, Tacoma. And I would I would kill people while killing well, while strangling ideas would come to me, you know, that were that. And I found that to be and I didn't know why I was doing it.
And I later realized that this was all part of the process for me.
It was torturing small animals. Yes, I we having fun.
And then all of a sudden you think I know how I'm going to end that sketch, you know, but you know, that woman's story, I've heard that before.
And I think it's a wonderful example. But what I also heard, which amused me enormously, was that when the writers discovered what Warner was up to, they hired someone who sat in that block writer's block where they used to work. And when they saw when he saw Warner coming, he set off an alarm and they'd all pull the sheets out of their typewriters. They would try to put a BlackBerry just like crazy, just clack away, just click away for no reason.
And then the little guy would say, he's gone. They could paper back in and gone thinking, yeah, you know, it's funny to you discuss this in the book.
And I think that when you're early in your career, you need to start with people, inspire you, and you almost write in their style. But for me, I even wrote sketches when I was in my late teens and I looked at them later on and they're Monty Python sketches and I even have a clipped British accent when I would perform them for people. And it's embarrassing to me now because I thought, well, no, I was just writing in the style of what I wanted.
This was the most creative comedy that I had encountered. So I wanted to write in that style.
I wonder what it is. A lot of people, Americans have said to me, the people I've met after the show afterwards, and it's very touching. So to shake your hand and say thank you for making me laugh for 40 years, and there's literally a tear in there and you can see that it's touch something with them. And I think, oh, yeah, some people have a sense of the ridiculous. And I think American companies are not very strong on the ridiculous.
I know exactly what you're talking about. I've always knelt at the altar of silly. I've never I've never wanted to be trenchant. I've never wanted to be particularly political. I've never wanted anyone to watch anything that I've done and come away from it and say, I really learned something or you've changed my point of view. I just want to always to be silly.
And I've actually had people from the UK over the years who've seen my sillier stuff say, yeah, you don't really belong in America and I want you to come off this interview stupider than you were before.
You're I'll do my best because I have a question to ask you. Yes.
If you go back in the history of American comedy, who I think you can't get sillier than the Marx Brothers. Yeah, the Marx Brothers in their purest form, whether it's tonight at the opera or Duck Soup. It is. And there's a very famous story about this. They do duck soup. And of course, it comes out just around the time that Hitler is seizing power. And duck soup is a lot about people seizing power and taking control of a nation.
And someone said to Groucho, this is a very wonderful scathing of Nazi Germany and Hitler. And Groucho said, What are you talking about? We're just four Jews trying to get a laugh.
You've got to correct me on this. But I think one of the funniest lines ever found is music is much better than it sounds.
Let me say this, Mr. Coughlan, what the funny thing about I think you just called me Mr. Continent, I think you just which means that by just speaking to me, I have made you stupider. That's right. That's working. You're working really hard right now.
If you're joining us just now, I'm turning to John Cleese into a blithering more.
Well, I had a question for you, which is in your book, you talk about this surprise at encountering the footlights and starting to work with people like Graham Chapman and starting to realize that this is something you could do.
But the one thing that you don't talk about in the book that I think needs to be brought up is that you're one of my favorite physical comedians of all time. There was no way you could have discovered that at 19 or 20, you had to know that growing up.
No, I didn't. That's a strange thing. But you're right. I do do some physical comedy very well. But I remember when I was twenty two, I looked at some of the people around me and I thought they were really much more talented than I was because I had no musical talent and my my attempts to dance made me look like an Oxford philosophy professor. You just heard. But I couldn't play sports. And I think there's something about the sense of timing.
You know, when you hit a forehand and the ball just things away because you hit it in the sweet spot. And I had something like that when I was doing comedy. I could time I could time align. And I thought that that's I honestly thought when I was about twenty two, I thought, that's all I can do. I've got good timing. So the whole business of learning to move finally just sort of drifted towards me, partly because Chaplin was a wonderful mime.
And when we were on the floor rehearsing, he would do all sorts of things. He would do very funny impersonations of animals. And then he and I would would be giraffes. You see what I mean? And then we'd be ice skaters taught me how to slide my foot. So it looks so I think being around him got me interested in and I had a certain certain sort of rhythm, nothing to do with being able to dance, but a rhythm that enabled me to make the movements in a sort of very correct style.
I could learn how to drive a golf ball or how to play in Australia or how to play back. And I think those two types of timing seem to kind of come together and help each other.
Some of my strongest, favourite images next to Marx Brothers up there with Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields early comedy and the comedy of Peter Sellars. Is that your performance in Ministry of Silly Walks?
Or when the famous German episode of Don't Mention the war episode of Fawlty Towers, your physical comedy is absolutely stunning and a completely absurd. And it's wild and it's stick. It's in my head right now. I don't I think I think about it. It pops into my head once every two or three weeks and it's very erotic.
When it does, I'll take it back.
I used to love people who could do a film called Centric Dancing. Yes, you know what I mean. There were three people called Wilson Capron, Bachi, and they used to be in a musical in vaudeville and they would come on stage and they have this sort of pitch and pitch and they were dressed as Egyptians and they would just get into the pit and just start making funny movements, sort of slightly like hieroglyphs. And I've seen people get completely hysterical watching them and they're not saying anything.
It's just the sheer absurdity of it. But I was always drawn to people who could move in that wonderful, eccentric way, like Groucho Marx is a wonderful example. And when you think how skillful W.C. Fields is, I mean, that's the sketch that he does, the pool table, which he shot several times. But I mean, it's nominally skilful and terribly creative. You couldn't think of that, really. You don't have to stumble across it when you're fooling around.
So anybody who could do things that were physically clever attracted me. And I suppose I slowly learned how to do some of them.
You're very tall and I'm tall as well. And I always knew that because I was tall and lean, there was certain things that I could do that really popped in comedy. My physicality was kind of silly. I am very long. I've a very long legs like a crane.
And then I have a short. I have. The torso of about a three year old girl, a very short torso, and because of that, if I pull my pants up a little bit and use my long legs and I realize this is just I could really make people laugh. And it was just because of the body I was given. And I think there is a kind of tall person physical comedy that I'm sure I've borrowed a lot from you, which I just watching you move very rapidly, very manically or maniacally, just something that if you had a smaller body, it would not have been as funny.
What I love about that kind of stuff is that it's funny, as you were saying earlier, but it's hard to say exactly why some of the funniest things that Hyson done, like the fish slapping dance. I always make a joke that in future for student media studies, we'll have to write an essay on what it means, you know?
Yeah, I think it's when my least favorite conversation is when people want to dissect why something is funny, because I think what's that famous line? The only way to dissect something is to kill it. But, you know, that's the problem in comedy is that I don't want someone to explain to me why I have and it's the same thing with music. There's just certain, obviously, songs that really moved me. When something's really funny. I don't want it discussed too much.
There's a certain amount of analysis that's kind of fun and helpful. And then you just got to stop and say, oh, my God, that was that gave me a lot of joy and I'm not going to think about it anymore. I think that's right.
I think it's fun to talk about it, provided you don't take it too seriously. And if you start trying to figure out principles which you then use when you are actually trying to write funny stuff, that just doesn't work, it has to come really from inside. And anything original is in the book comes from the unconscious. So it's by playing around without any particular aim that you hit on. Something was very silly.
I mean, when Graham and I wrote the sketch about the man who had three buttocks doesn't mean anything but is just silly.
And I remember you were talking about people who want to try and find meaning in saying, know, I remember coming offstage after a show one time and Michael and I had just done the sketch and this very intense young man said, Can I ask you something? And I said, yes. He said, the sketch is about the Vietnam War.
I, by the way, always my assumption. You got that? Yes, I did. Yes. Yes.
And people thought about the charge of the light brigade.
But, you know, I always got it. It's that reference at the end of the Tet Offensive that made me realize, OK, it's the Vietnam War.
Did you see President Trump saying that the flu epidemic of 1918 had been instrumental in causing the end of the Second World War? Did you notice that?
I I don't know what it's like for you on your island, but here in America, the only way to survive is to tune some of this stuff out.
So, you know, up there with what music is much better than it sounds. Yeah. He he might be our best comedian right now.
Working, Lenny, when he's talking, I do get hysterical with my loved one. Evilest.
Well, that must be nice not to be a citizen here. Must be really fun. I have daughters in America, so I don't have my moments with terror. You know, one of the things that I think your targets, you chose things that people hadn't really thought of as fertile comedy ground before, say, I don't know of the crucifixion of Christ and not other people were saying, now, here we go.
We did see when we thought of doing life and we do think this is relatively uncharted territory.
There's some beautiful comedy moments in it. And one of my favorites is when you as the as the Roman centurion find Brian writing, you know, basically anti Roman graffiti on a wall and then you think, OK, I would never have seen this turn coming in a million years. And I still think it's one of my one of the most brilliant turns in comedy. You're the heavy. You've got him. He's now he's screwed. And you are very stern with him.
And you tell him that his Latin is wrong. You spend thirty six hours making or all night making him get it right, which means covering all of Rome with horrible graffiti. And that's had to have come from your education, which is oh my God, Latin declensions.
My God, this is the worst I like you see, because I think I was quite a scared little kid because my mother was very psychotic. And I think what happened was that when I realized that you got more marks from my sunglasses than anything else, I just figured out that I'd try and become good at those. And they're very simple, logical subjects. You just have to learn rules and apply them. You showed them most of the on the subject just out of control.
My gums come on the skin and that's why I got into Cambridge. I think down I went down the science route without anyone ever saying to me that I had any creative ability at all.
For example, when I was 15, I was told to write an essay on the subject of time, and I wrote a full length essay on the fact that I had not had time to write this article when I had read The Master.
And you just said to me, this isn't a proper essay. And I think that's exactly how the playfulness is quite kindly extracted from us while we're at school.
Well, I think you've found this, too. I found it from thousands and thousands of hours of being and in front of audiences talking to people. And I found that the mistakes are golden. You can't there's a part of the brain that's like a schoolmaster that's saying that's shooting down ideas way too quickly just before they have a chance to grow. That's very rigid. And I know myself, that's a weakness of mine, is that I am very judgmental with myself and with others.
And sometimes I can kill an idea way too quickly because I have well, there's no better word than judgmental, very judgmental, like, nope, that's no good. And I want to kill it rather than. No, no, no. Stop play with this idea for a minute. Yeah. Let's see where it goes. If it's nothing, it's nothing but let go. Yeah.
If it's nothing, it's nothing and it doesn't matter. And that's why I keep saying there's no when you're being creative before you bring your critical faculties later to decide whether what you come up with is any good. That's the latest stage for the stage when you're just having fun, there's no such thing as a mistake any more than you would say. Just children who play together know that you've got that wrong mistake.
Well, it's true in writers rooms is, you know, people can go off on wild tangents. And one of my favorite places to be is in a writers room. And I'll go on a wild, very inappropriate tangent. We're all having a wonderful time and laughing. And then I think, well, we can't do that. And sometimes some of the room says, well, wait a minute, yes. Some of it you can't do on television.
But, you know, and I was just playing. I'm just playing or the other writers were just playing that that's the strange thing, is that it's it's learning to be less rigid about letting that part of you go. Yeah.
Less less conventional. And you reminded me then of something that I'd forgotten for many years when we were writing. You see, the Python team Vivus used write excuse me for David Frost Show, and we would often come up with pyenson ideas before Python existed. And the producer director was a lovely guy called Jimmy Gilbert. I would say very funny boys, but they won't get it in Bradford, meaning no industrial town. And this became. Get that in Bradford, and in fact, what we did was we when we started to play, we kind of took the attitude, well, maybe there'll be somebody in Bradford you.
That's right. Well, in America, it's it'll never play in Peoria. That's right. That's right. Our our Bradford is Peoria. And there is something about divorcing yourself from making you and your group of people that you're doing the comedy with delightfully happy and not worrying too much. How are people going to feel about it? And that is another thing is you need to anesthetize the part of your brain that's so worried about what's everyone going to think. You need to almost put that part to sleep and say this.
We love this. We absolutely love this. And maybe we'll put this out there. And it's not our business what people think of it.
Yes, I think that's right. Provided some people enough people think it's funny. I mean, it's hard for anybody now to believe this, but when we started bus in 1969, we had no idea what the viewing figure was. There was this appreciation index and they ask a few people, and if that was high, it usually meant it was a good quality program. But all we ever wanted to do was try to be funny. And we always hope there'd be enough people out there to justify them giving us the money for the next series.
But it was as simple as that. We never thought it was going to catch on. We knew it was quite strange and the head of the comedy department thought it was absolutely awful. He cornered the director in an elevator after about four shows and says, What is this Monty Python? Is it supposed to be funny? I think it's absolutely terrible. That was the guy in charge of the department. But we found the whole way through. And I what I find now is with TV executives that the poor deluded creatures think they know what they're doing, you know what they're doing.
But the trouble is they think they do. And that's what gives them confidence or as they never seem to go to anybody who's actually done something and made audiences laugh and say to them, do you think this will work? And of course, we have all better qualified to judge on those things.
And now it's part of the system that a lot of people are paid to have opinions. And so they need to they need to have them.
Yes, that's right. I've got a big desk. I remember I had an experience with Disney. I had co-written a film with the lovely guy to make. It was based on the road story called The Twits. So we were very happy with the first draft and the woman, I think her name was need a drink. You said 75 percent of the way here. We don't get first dressed like this and we got six notes and we went away, rewrote it.
And when we got it, they were looking for new writers and stuff. And I went in and she said, well, you know, some notes we said, here's what we did in all the notes. But I didn't know they'd come from her. I thought they'd come from the producers who had no idea what they were talking about, who ignored them completely. And she said, well, I want this done in this early start on this one.
And I said to her, absolutely honesty. I said, I don't think I can do that. And she said, Well, why not? And I said, well, I don't think I know how to make it worse.
That's a slow launch.
Well, I'm sure that meeting ended very nicely and they brought small rises and it's now somewhere in the vaults of working title. It was, of course, never made. And it's probably the best thing that I ever wrote together.
You know, it's it's fantastic that you talk about whenever you have a meeting in Los Angeles where someone says, we love it, this is fantastic. I can't imagine this being any better. You know, you're screwed. Absolutely screwed.
Best thing they can say, what's the most encouraging thing they can say?
Probably. And it's something that rings of truth would be it would be fantastic. You know, if if you if I heard a little bit of and also encouragement mixed with some kind of because I've always trust I really listen to people when when they have a nuanced view. I think, you know, whenever someone's just like this is boffo. I love it. Yeah. I and I think that's a great line. I think Nathaniel might be I hope I'm not misquoting, but it might be Nathaniel West in the locus.
But he said L.A. is I think he said L.A. is the only town where you can die of encouragement when everybody's clapping you on the back and telling you you're the best and then you realize your career is over.
Nobody told you funny.
You know, I did want to ask you, we're going to wrap this up because I. But you had a wonderful definition of humor that you came across, and it's by the philosopher Henri Bergson. I can read it to you because I know after talking to me for forty five minutes, you probably have very little gray matter in revision.
Well, I've reduced him to a puddle of pudding. He's done.
And I was in bed in my dream as John Cleese calling me Conan for the rest of my life. Here we go, he said, defined humor as a social sanction against inflexible behavior. And I love that. I absolutely love that.
And I think your career and your work, I mean, you've you've followed through on that quest very nicely. The I want to make sure I tell people this this book, John Cleese Creativity, a short and cheerful guide is the best concise, I would say, discussion of what creativity is, how it works and how it can be applied.
This is not a book for comedy writing.
That's the other thing I love about it. It's just about being creative. And the one thing I wanted to mention that's been important to me all my life and that you brought up in this book and it blew me away. You say fear and anxiety at the outset. Getting nervous is sadly an important ingredient, and I have always found that to be true. I've had struggles with anxiety, but when I need to write a speech or I need to write a sketch or I need to write something important, there's a nervousness that I feel and it actually turns into fuel that helps me sit down and get to work.
It's a form of energy, isn't it, that if you don't let that overcome you and if you think that this is this just because I don't know if I can do it today, somebody told me. What was that? Claude Monet.
Sorry, Moon Blue Moon. The French preclude Monet when he was about to paint his head would shake because he wasn't sure if he could do it today. Yeah, when you're doing anything creative, you don't know if it's going to happen today. You see what I mean? If you're an actor. Yes, pull back on technique. Even though you're not feeling much, your technique is good enough. The audience doesn't notice. But if you're trying to come up with something in the writing room, it may not happen.
You may have the blank sheets of paper. At the end of the day. The important thing is to know that's part of the routine. Some days it comes, you just sit there, but don't take anxiety too seriously because it's because you cannot guarantee that you can do it on any given day.
There's also something neurological. We don't understand it. But Hemingway used to say, I've got about two good hours in me a day and you have to. This isn't fun for people to hear, but you have to give this creative process that you describe in the book time. So if you leave it to the very last minute, the chances that you're going to just come up with everything you need is probably nil.
The only trouble is some people get confused about this because they say if it wasn't for deadlines, I'd never write what I want to say. Yes, but you're writing it in your head before you ever sit down at the desk with the pencil. There's no one of his best plays in two days because you've been thinking about it for a year. So the creative process is going all along. Just sometimes you've got to say to a writer, now you have to put it down because you simply has to get it done.
You should have at that point is putting stuff down there, which is the best stuff that your subconscious has accumulated over the previous few months or weeks. But it's that's it's not the deadline that's causing the creativity. It's the deadlines causing the creativity to actually put on the paper. That was rather good. I thought that was very good.
I found that when I was murdering sometimes sometimes I would be murdering and realizing I haven't given this any thought. And then I realized, no, I stalked this person for a while. You know, I thought about it. I thought about where to trap them.
Yeah, you really do remember. Yes, yeah. Yeah. And it was a little subconscious, but I was, you know, driving around in my van and looking for the people. And and then when the murder happened, it was the culmination of all that thought. Yes, but I don't get is when you when these ideas would pop in your head when you were murdered. It was. Yes, it wasn't while you were actually stabbing, surely.
No, no, no, no, no. Well, I was stalking. Ideas were accumulating about how. And then, yes, we all I think people are too obsessed with the part of murder where it's the stabbing. And I've always found that to be myself, the boring part. It's that's just you stab them and then that's the blood comes out and then they're they're inanimate and you run away. But, yes, for me, it. Was the thinking on it?
Yeah, it was the stalking and the thinking and all the time I put into it, yeah, I think that's the stalking one when I was torturing small animals like.
I would think that's great. Reminds me of a song. Yeah. Well, the the book John Cleese Creativity is Certain Cheerful Guide, and the subtitle is How to Murder is Out There and Just Get This book.
And John Cleese, I will say this. If someone had told me at any point in my life that I would be talking to you about comedy, I'd have said, you're an idiot, and then shot myself in irrational reaction. But this is a dream come true, and I'm really delighted. And I can't wait to join you on your island and spend time with you.
So you just come out and then tell me all about those wonderful Sherlock Holmes stories.
OK, again, there's some confusion. All right. John Cleese, thank you so much, sir. That was a joy in that. Normally, we don't try to refer to things visually necessarily on here, but I think that this one is a good reason to sometimes people send in pictures of of people that look like you, you know, Kannon like whether it's Tilda Swinton or the is it the Norwegian president, Finnish Finland.
Whenever people find someone, I look like it tends to be either a a woman. It's really weird because it's all over the map, but it's either a very attractive woman or the character from the movie Mask or Chucky. Oh, come on.
It's like, oh, you do not look like Rajeeb Dennis. Of course you would know the name that was so mean. Hey, look, I'm proud you should be that. Well, my hair grew really long during covid and someone wrote in online, you look like the kid from Mars. Oh, man. And you do not at least the women that they're comparing you to are beautiful women. I think as a woman, I'm striking. Yeah, I think as a man, I'm I'm OK.
I think as a woman, I'm a stunner. Well, how would you feel about being compared to a mailbox? I'm OK with that. This is one of the most striking resemblances I've ever seen. And we'll put a picture of this up on the Instagram. It is a dilapidated envelope stuck in the red flag of a mailbox that looks like you. I'm going to share my screen. Wait, what?
Oh, my God. Yeah, I see it was. I see it. That's the see, it's the flag is down. There's an envelope in there that sort of molded. So you can see the curl on the front of the hair and then you can see see that. And then there's a sharp chin, sharp chin. I mean, like that's the jaw line down there. Yeah. He's facing towards the the curled around part. Some is not seeing it.
You're not seeing it. This is like Jesus and toast. I feel like this is super clear and kind of divine. OK, this is from Twitter user named Eric Block. I saw it right away, but Seona Son is not seeing it.
That's your profile. Oh, come on. Why don't you see it? Is this a big are you guys doing it now that look see the that's the curl in the front. The front is your hair curl your pop. Yeah. OK. And then below that you sort of see I mean, yes, it's a mangled mess underneath. It's like the white dress blue dress thing. Maybe you know this. You know what I see. Yeah. I think you'll either see it or you won't.
I do think that's interesting. I think this is going to be one of those things where you see it or you don't. I saw it and I see it immediately. You see it on Gawley sees it immediately sonand. Still doesn't see it.
Are we looking at that mangled part on top or the actual bottom? No, no, no.
The hair is the top, OK? It's like a three quarter profile soon is freaking out. She doesn't see it. Yeah. Are these your eyes? I guess that's an I mean, that's where it's a little messed up. Yeah. The face is kind of impressionistic. There's maybe a nose in the middle there, but the hair, the profile and the silhouette. We'll put this on Team Coco podcast's.
It's as if I mean, the face sideburns. Yeah. You got to check out the face. It's as if I was in a terrible accident and then Picasso painted it. Yeah, that's that's what it I think you've got to let the face go. It's more just what it suggests. And I think it suggests it's like if you were in the show, Max Headroom, maybe I don't think anyone listening is going to get that reference.
Make it all right. Take it easy.
OK, I'm beginning to see it now. I don't I would be nice if it had a mouth, but I get it. It's the top with the sideburn eyes. Nose. I get it. You know what?
I get it. But I'm not sure it's divine. Divine is also usually attributed to like deities. Yeah, I was being ironic. Yeah. Like a Jesus or a Virgin Mary crying or something, you know, that was a virgin for a very long time and it made me cry.
So you're you're saying you and the Virgin Mary, you're the face. You know, there are similarities, that's all.
OK, I don't know. I mean, I think we're going to have to wait and see what people on line say. Yeah, you see it. Do you not see it? Maybe we could do a Twitter poll to or like a it. It's not flattering.
I will say that. No, but it's not meant to be. It's not. It's just your you know, it's an assemblance. It's in essence. Yeah. Someone saw that. Right.
If that were recovered millions of years from now by an archaeologist, it would suggest the figure that was Conan didn't I mean, you you're saying that archaeologists a million years from now, you never they'll know who I know, OK?
The clips will play forever and I'll probably be on coinage, so.
Oh, my God. First, do you compare yourself to the Virgin Mary? Now you're saying you're going to be on. I have a friend. I had a friend that was so nerdy that I remembered being at a someone's backyard party once and this is in high school.
And he took out a handful of coins and he was just dropping them randomly on the lawn at this high school outdoor party. And they said, what do you do? And he said, I'm dropping these coins. It will. Few's future archaeologists who will think this was a place of business. Oh, my God, I like what you're playing a prank that depends on archaeologists excavating this place 800000 years from now and finding these coins and then saying this was a place of business when they just excavated a 7-Eleven down the street.
And this is your friend. Very good friend.
Oh, still a friend. Still a friend. Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah, it's you know what it is eard. It's that. No, it's not. I mean, he was hanging out with me in high school, so he was different.
I always ran with a different crowd. We were very imaginative. And we like to confuse we'd like to play pranks were the aha moment, the I gotcha moment played out, you know, 40 to 50000 years in the future.
OK, everyone loves a bit where you never see the payoff.
Sometimes I write letters and because you know how I still write letters and I type them out and people sometimes I back date. I'm a few years just to confuse biographer's. Oh OK.
That's how I hope when that when your head's on a coin that they use this image for the coin. Yeah. Maybe that'll be the image they use. I don't know. We'll see, you know, we'll see Garley as hey as long as they're talking about me it's good publicity. Trump taught me that oh you don't look like this thing literally.
No, I know. I understand. I always went for a certain easily to depict, look, you know, sharp cheekbones, the iconic Roman nose, the Paul Newman eyes. Wow.
When I'm not describing me him describe describe this guy. I suppose that someone sees a mailbox and and sees you. That means that you're really in in people's minds a lot. Yeah, sure. About you.
OK, I don't know. I'm trying.
Conan O'Brien needs a friend with Sunim Obsession and Conan O'Brien has himself produced by me, Matt Cawley, executive produced by Adam Sachs, Joanna Solotaroff and Jeff Ross at Team Coco and Collin Anderson and Chris Bannon at Airwolf. Theme song by The White Stripes. Incidental Music by Jimmy Zino. Our supervising producer is Aaron Belayer and our associate talent producer is Jennifer Samples. The show is engineered by Will Beckton. You can rate and review the show on Apple podcast, and you might find your review featured on a future episode.
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