Even if you’ve watched Monty Python’s 1979 Biblical satire, “Life of Brian,” a skillion-and-one times and thus know by heart the song for which Python member Eric Idle named his “sortabiography” – “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” (Crown Archetype, 304 pp., ★★★ out of four) – you probably should reacquaint yourself with Idle’s song before starting his book.  

The first reason is because it’s funny. The second is that the song comes up a lot throughout this affable, leisurely and occasionally enlightening tour of a full and, generally, happy life. Punch up the song in your head or on your computer while we list five things you learn from Idle’s book, beginning with a question:

1. Does the world need another book about Monty Python’s Flying Circus?

Idle kind of raises this not-bad question in citing “memoirs, diaries, books about the Pythons, books by the Pythons about the other Pythons, articles about the books about the Pythons, countless interviews, autobiographies, documentaries…so many documentaries…”

You get the picture. But Idle presumes, correctly, that there’s still a lot we don’t know about him as opposed to say, Sir Robin, the nervous knight he played in the 1975 spoof, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which almost 30 years later provided the foundation for Idle’s Tony-winning hit musical, “Spamalot.”

So Idle, 75, keeps the focus on his own life with other members of the zany British comedy troupe – the late Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin – along with the rock stars, movie directors and dozens of others who fly into his orbit.

2. A classic Graham Chapman story, Bavarian-style.

The Pythons were once asked to come to Germany and make a comedy special for Bavaria TV. After arriving in Munich, the guys were spirited off in cars and, for reasons still obscure to Idle, were whisked to Dachau, getting lost along the way and, thus, arriving at the erstwhile concentration camp so late that they were told it was about to close. “Tell them we’re Jewish,” Chapman said. Which apparently was enough to get them in. “Luckily,” Idle adds, “they let us out again.”

3. And the award for Eric Idle’s Best Rock Star Friend goes to…

George Harrison, a devoted Python fan, who helped Idle research his 1978 fake-Beatles TV mock-u-mentary, “The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash.” He also paid the entire $4.5 million budget for “Life of Brian” because the controversial subject matter scared off other potential investors and producers. “I wanted to see the movie,” Harrison explained. Observes Idle: “It is still the most anyone has ever paid for a cinema ticket.”

4. You can’t have a bright side without a dark side.

Harrison’s death in 2001 and its immediate aftermath strike some of the saddest and most resonant chords in the book, whose latter section also takes time to mourn some of Idle’s other absent friends, notably Robin Williams, whose own comedic genius is recounted in shrewdly observed short takes. Chapman’s earlier death, in 1989, is also recounted with both melancholy and wit, which is about as much a summation of the human condition as anything could be.

5. For meanness, pettiness, envy and other “tell-all” memoir elements…look elsewhere.

Idle has no interest in settling scores because he apparently has none to settle. What you see in “Always Look…” is what you get: A very funny Englishman with a wicked sense of humor, a long and happy marriage and, despite intimations of mortality that crop up now and then, a sunny, agreeable disposition.

 To quote from one of Idle’s more legendary Python routines: Say no more.  

 

Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2QoAgMy