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Ahlan! Chats to Comedy Legend John Cleese

20 Aug 2013

Fawlty Towers and Monty Python star John Cleese, 73, on Dubai, George Clooney and how his daughter's following in his comedy shoes

You’re on a world tour that’s returning to Dubai. What can people expect?
I’m going to be in Canada in September and October with 22 shows, and I was just in South Africa six weeks ago and I’ve just done 54 shows in Australia. I’ve been to Dubai on one other occasion and I hope I get some time to look around. I’m looking forward to it. It’s such an interesting place. I want to make it clear that it’s basically the same show as before but it’s very much polished and some of the material is different. It starts out as more personal, an autobiography to do with the early part of my life, where I was born, where I grew up. Then I start talking about my showbiz career which started with a review at Cambridge that transferred to the West End, and then going to America, coming back, writing for people, and then getting together with the Pythons, Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. And I do a Q&A. People are too polite, asking nice, respectful questions. If they ask you a slightly rude question, like "Why have you been married so often?", it’s better to answer.

You’re one of the best-known faces in comedy but we hear you recently suffered a case of mistaken identity.
It’s true! When I was in a cab, the cabbie said to me “John Cleese”. I was doing a sudoku in the back. And I said, that’s right. He said "Oh, when you got in the cab I thought you were George Clooney". I was very flattered.

Which TV show phrases and sketches do people shout at you in the street the most?
It depends on where I am, probably equally divided between Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda and Monty Python. The dead parrot one? People know all the lines. I can’t even do it anymore!

We hear your daughter Camilla has followed you into comedy.
She’s doing stand up and we’ve gone back to writing together. But because of the alimony I haven’t been able to do much (John has to pay £8 million in money and assets to his third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, plus £612,000 every year until 2016). I think I’ve got two more years and 42 million to pay off, and, of course, I have to earn twice that and pay 50 per cent tax, and then I’ll be able to spend more time on slightly more interesting projects.

What’s next for you?
I’ve done a good first draft of the book for the musical of A Fish Called Wanda, and there’s a couple of other projects which I’m not allowed to talk about which you can read about in the next few weeks. Could it be with the remaining pythons? It could.

INFO: John Cleese, 5 to 9 November 2013, Madinat Theatre, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, 04 366 6546, www.madinattheatre.com