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John Cleese

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This inspired, revolutionary group of anarchic satirists are probably second only to The Marx Brothers as the best-known comedic collective of this century. The Five U.K.-born members of the group were all TV writers (Cleese, Idle, and Chapman wrote for David Frost, whom they later frequently lampooned) before concocting their own show in the late 1960s, in which they acted mainly because they thought no one else would. Gilliam had met Cleese when the latter toured the United States in another comedy troupe; finding that Gilliam had moved to England to work as a cartoonist, Cleese recruited him to do the bizarre cutout animation for the show. Their first feature-film foray, And Now for Something Completely Different (1972, directed by their regular series helmer Ian McNaughton), consisting of refilmed sketches from their show, was met by blank indifference and befuddlement by an American public that had never heard of them. But the troupe became a cult item when episodes of the series began airing in the United States shortly thereafter; around that time a couple of Python record albums also became must-owns among collegiate cognoscenti and others in the know. By the time their sec- ond film, the medieval sendup Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, codirected by Jones and Gilliam), opened in the States, America-or a particularly demented portion thereof-was ready for them. The troupe's TV series ended in the mid-1970s-tall "silly walks" master Cleese had actually departed before its last season, to work on his own hysterical series "Fawlty Towers"-but Python's worldwide popularity reunited the group for two more proper film projects, both controversial.Life of Brian (1979, directed by Jones), a religious satire that targeted the corruption of Christ's message rather than Christ himself, was widely condemned by many who thought it sacrilegious. The ultra-bleak Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983, directed by Jones) was an hysterical compendium of bad taste and extremely pointed, bitter satire. In the meantime, all the members of the troupe were pursuing their own individual projects. In 1977, Gilliam directed his first solo feature, the Middle Ages fantasyJabberwocky he then helmed the sleeper hit Time Bandits (1981) and wrangled with studio heads over his futuristic satire Brazil (1985; which earned him an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay). His spectacular, big-budgetThe Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) fizzled, but Gilliam came back with a 1991 surprise hit,The Fisher King a more optimistic (and for Gilliam, conventional) project starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. Idle acted in and cowrote a funny produced-for-TV Beatles sendup,All You Need Is Cash (1978, akaThe Rutles and has acted in numerous comedies, including National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985, as a Brit with a truly stiff upper lip), Gilliam's Baron Munchausen the minor hit Nuns on the Run (1990), and the terrible Mom and Dad Save the World (1992). He also cowrote and executive produced Splitting Heirs (1993). Palin and Jones stayed in projects closer to England, together concocting a veddy British series called "Ripping Yarns." Jones directed but did not act in the prostitution-tweaking comedy Personal Services (1987) and wrote, appeared in, and helmed the flop comedy Erik the Viking (with Tim Robbins and Cleese; based on a children's book by Jones, who's an acknowledged expert on the period of history in which it's set) in 1989. Jones also directed an episode of TV's short-lived "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles." Palin wrote and coproduced a starring vehicle for himself, The Missionary (1982), but has mostly stuck to acting, as in A Private Function (1985), and was memorable as the stuttering fish-fancier in the Cleese-written hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda in 1988. He then embarked on a pair of madly ambitious TV projects, "Around the World in 80 Days" (1990) and "Pole to Pole" (1993) in which he documented his farflung travels. He also cowrote and starred in American Friends (1991). Chapman's last project before he died in 1989 was the failed pirate parody Yellowbeard (1983), which he cowrote. Cleese is the most visible Python member, appearing in many films and TV ads on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Privates on Parade (1982), Silverado (1985, incongruously cast in a Western), Clockwise (1986), and the aforementioned Wanda (which earned Cleese an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay). He won a 1987 Emmy for his appearance in an episode of "Cheers," and provided a villainous voice for An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991). He then took a supporting role in Eric Idle's Splitting Heirs (1993). Cleese also runs a company that makes unusual, comic-oriented training films for executives. There has been a good deal of cross-pollination in the solo projects of the Python individuals, but the death of Chapman effectively ruled out the possibility of any full-scale reunion of the troupe.
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