In the years 1987/1988 BC, I spent a severe amount of time with Monty Python's incomparable witticist/screenwrite Graham Chapman as he wandered about the Ontario campus touring circuit twixt Waterloo and The Big Smoke. I had two interviews with Graham during two different visits to Canada. This chat is taken from an interview circa 1988 Toronto's Sutton Place Hotel into the wee hours...
The Life of Graham
Spam spam spam lovely Graham. Monty Python’s tall thin and not spotty but still dead Graham Chapman, talks about the Life of Brian.
Monty Python online gospel,The Daily Llama reports that Britain's Channel Four hails Monty Python's Life of Brian the greatest film comedy of all time. Seems the character of Brian Cohen was born in Paris...
Graham Chapman: "Initially after the Holy Grail, I suppose we were all thinking, well, where next? Perhaps they find it, (the Grail) or whatever, what happens? We were thinking this kind of thought while actually doing some promotional work in Paris for Holy Grail in a Chinese restaurant I think, and Eric Idle suggested a ridiculous title which we all laughed at but were outraged by at the same time, for our next movie as being called Jesus Christ, Lust for Glory. We thought no, we can't possibly do that. Shut up, Eric. But then we thought, wait a minute! Something set in those times would be rather good so originally it was going to be about a character Brian who was the 13th apostle basically, so it was going to be the gospel according to Saint Brian. He was always late turning up for miracles and that sort of thing and we began to write that script. We were looking forward to it, because it was a fascinating era.
"We came to a point where we had to write a nativity scene and thought it ought to be Brian in it and if Brian was going to be the Apostle, he ought to see something he didn't know about. It fell to John and myself to write that particular scene and we couldn't quite see how to do it because you've obviously got to have Himself there with the big H. Then we hit on the idea of the three wise men going to the wrong manger, the one next door, and thereby going to see Brian and then we thought,well,we'll follow Brian, so that's how the whole idea came about. It wasn't to offend. Rather more, it was to enlighten I think. Cohen was a good Jewish name. I mean Jesus was a bit Semitic, after all.
"We are interested obviously in Brian querying whether people are believing things in the right way, whether they've got hold of the right aspect or not. To us in all this Christianity business, love your neighbour is the important thing, not dressing up and belonging to a club, and not allowing other people to belong to it. It doesn't seem to particularly Christian, does it?"
The Life of Spam.....
Once upon a time I asked two friends for an unusual favour.
I bade my playwright friend Kenneth Emberly and his then lady wife Therese bring me two specific presents from the land of England – Spam, and Soil.
Kenneth and Therese had planned to travel to Kent, the home of Monty Python’s now deceased Graham Chapman who once lived in a rambling abode called The Old Hermitage.
I was recently watching Monty Python’s Personal Best – Graham Chapman on PBS, and laughed uproariously when the other Python lads mentioned that Graham made a lot of ‘instant friends.’ on the road, which in my case, was very true.
When Chapman was touring Canada in the late 80’s, we spent the night together – not what YOU wankers think – we stayed up all night talking about comedy, and Python’s pithy forefathers. I had written a piece for now defunct pop-culture gospel Graffiti Magazine called Life After Python and we simply continued our discussion from the first meeting.
For Graffiti, I had Graham comment on various Python solo projects from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and John Cleese’s Clockwise, to Terry Jones’ Personal Services and Michael Palin’s The Missionary. I felt quite comfortable further discussing the various genres of Brit wit – yes there is a difference between Oxford and Cambridge comedy schools of thought.
So when Kenneth and Therese said they were going to Kent I concocted my madcap Spam and Soil scheme. The Emberlys and good pal driver Derek who recently joined Graham in his heavenly domain, drove off to find Barming, Kent. Kenneth told me when they reached the town, the word Barming on the sign had been crossed out and replaced by 'Barmy. '
They couldn’t find the Old Hermitage but did, manage to bring me some Barming soil and -selfish me- I didn’t even stop to think of the mad cow disease risk! Oh Barmy..my lionheart...
My Spam wish also came true with great panache. I received the classic square tin from life during wartime complimented by the modernized round can model.To the curiosity of many friends, I proudly displayed the Spams in my kitchen window, and sadly with time, the labels faded and the tins rusted.
If opened, the Spams would explode, the stench of rotting luncheon meat spewing everywhere as if five million volts had been pumped through it.
Kenneth and Therese think I am Barmy. I know Derek, to whom I dedicate this blog, had a delicious sense of humour, and called me Red, thought I was.
And Tosh, I did ask the Mighty Graham - why Spam?
He took a long drawn out puff on his pipe, and quietly replied ...“there’s not an easy answer to that question…"