In 1963, John Cleese decided to follow his interest in comedy. He had been in a Footlights show called Cambridge Circus. Cleese soon landed a job writing jokes for BBC Radio. He later made the move to television, working on a new venture called Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a zany comedy series. Cleese created a new TV series, Fawlty Towers, in 1975. He has since starred in films and written several books.
After he earned his degree in 1963, Cleese decided to follow his interest in comedy. He had been in a Footlights show called Cambridge Circus (first known as A Clump of Plinths) that year at the university, which later went to London. “I had a choice between earning 12 a week working as an article clerk in a law firm or 30 a week in the theater. I thought, ‘This sounds a bit more interesting,'” he told Back Stage West. Cleese even traveled with the show when it ran on Broadway for several weeks in October 1964.
Cleese soon anded a job writing jokes for BBC Radio. He later made the move to television, becoming a writer and performer on The Frost Report featuring David Frost. Other members of the writing staff included Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones. Based on weekly themes, each episode of the program would feature musical satire and sketch comedy. He also starred in At Last the 1948 Show with Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Marty Feldman in 1967.
Cleese started working on a new television venture with Chapman, Idle, Palin, Jones, and Terry Gilliam. Together they developed Monty Python’s Flying Circus, an outlandish comedy series featuring off-the-wall sketches and odd animation segments. At first, the BBC and the public did not know what to make of this unusual show when it debuted in October 1969. Monty Python avoided standard punchlines in their skits, which threw off audiences at the time.
At 6-feet 5-inches tall, Cleese towered over most of the cast. He often played authority figures and showed a talent for hurling insults. Cleese, with his crisp speaking style, took on a number of memorable roles, including the stuffy representative of the Ministry of Silly Walks or the consumer who buys a dead parrot. “John’s performances were the linchpin of Python,” Michael Palin told People.
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