Jun 28, 2018

[Books] So, Anyway Audible Review

My love for Monty Python has directed me to start exploring the memoirs of the various Pythons (or at least those who have ventured into writing). This leads us to John Cleese's autobiography So, Anyway, which I hoped to be an interesting look into his peculiar brain and maybe glean more insights into how the every-hilarious Monty Python came to be.

Of course there is much more to John Cleese's life than his time on Monty Python and this book is one big reminder of that fact. I sort of expected this given other biographies I've read but I was still gambling on there being more than less.

And while this book wasn't quite as Python-focused as I wanted it to be, it still provided a lot of great insight into John Cleese as an individual and that in turn informs his later work.

Synopsis: So, Anyway is the autobiography of John Cleese. This review is specifically focused on the audiobook version of the book as read by John Cleese himself as was made available on Audible.

Up front, the book obviously about John Cleese's life but it doesn't necessarily cover his entire career. In an approach that feels quite similar to other books, it ends at the part that may be of most interest to readers. So we cover John Cleese's childhood including his limited memories of World War II and we end just as Monty Python is about to go on the air.

To be fair, that does not mean the book is without substance. There's a lot that most do not know about John Cleese and his early career. More than anything he is a writer and this book features a lot of stories about his writing efforts and his thoughts on the complexity of comedy writing. And it's all told in a very "John Cleese" manner, if that makes more sense with the quote there.

What I Liked: While this may be a little hit or miss, the audio book being read by John Cleese adds another dimension to the work that I suspect the book would never be able to convey. On the one hand you have him sounding more like many of his sketch characters given the crass-ness and rudeness. On the flip side there's him just genuinely being amused with his old stories and there's a lot of bits that just involve him laughing or possibly gasping for air. At the very least it's clear that he enjoyed his own book.

The biggest takeaway from this biography is not a story of how Monty Python came to be but instead more a glimpse of Cleese's relationship with Graham Chapman as writing partner. There is no question that this is still a book about John Cleese, but in the absence of material about Chapman, this book provides a rare look at the man from someone who worked very closely with him for many years on a good number of projects.

Lastly, the audio book also includes a few recordings of sketches from various shows that John Cleese worked on before Monty Python, which are pretty rare given how many of these shows original film reels were destroyed (or mainly reused) by the BBC.

What Could Have Been Better: The level of detail that John Cleese explores his past can at times be a bit too much as you will spend quite a bit of time on his childhood in Weston-super Mare and eventually his college years. This includes his extended stays in the US for this or that touring effort and quite a lot of discussions about reusing sketches over and over again.

It's a long book with a lot of detail about things that are harder to associate with as we mainly know Cleese for Python and perhaps Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. And that makes for tough reading and I'm glad I opted to focus on the audiobook versus trying to slug through the actual written book.

TL;DR: So, Anyway delivers in its effort to tell us more about John Cleese's life and not much else. If you really want to enjoy this book, I strongly recommend listening to the audio book as John Cleese's narration and fits of laughter make it a lot more entertaining. Thus the audio book gets a good 4 Monty Python references out of 5.

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