Autobiographies haven’t always agreed with me.
Granted, I have attempted to read a very limited number of books in this particular genre, and have finished considerably less than I’ve started. So, why…So, Anyway…?
I’ll share a secret with you — I really am quite fond of John Cleese. He’s a brilliant comedian, a part of some of the funniest British comedy troupes — and Monty Python, most of all. He is terribly clever, he’s intelligent, introspective and insightful. Most of all — and that, you’ll learn, is what matters most to him — he is funny!
So, Anyway… is not the kind of autobiography the author uses as a way to inform his readers of numerous slights and affronts they’ve suffered through, nor is it an unchecked ego trip. Lucky for me, since I’m no fan of digging for old dirt. John Cleese chooses to go at this whole autobiographical business from a much more pleasant angle, and even when he’s critical towards old acquaintances and friends, he does it with such absurdity and good humor that it’s difficult to fault.
Who is this book for?
- If you’ve ever loved anything John Cleese has had a hand in writing, you will enjoy witnessing his growth, from a pampered little daddy’s boy with a ‘precious thumb’ to a clumsy young man, to someone who eventually grows comfortable with success. Mostly.
- Are you interested in, or already writing comedy? You’ll find a lot to learn, parts of the book can be read, or listened to, as a master class in comedy.
- Do you enjoy humour that doesn’t ask you to lock your intelligence away somewhere in order to get the full experience?
The audiobook version
Is voiced by John Cleese himself, and excellent. He cracks up multiple times, which is hilarious. The fact that he enjoys recalling, reliving these memories is nothing short of contagious. If you enjoy audiobooks, you simply must get it!
Don’t take my words for any of it, read these here quotes from a couple of humorous remembrances of John’s:
“Mother told me once that some Westonians privately criticised Dad for retreating so soon. They apparently felt it would have been more dignified to have waited a week or so before running away. I think this view misses the essential point of running away, which is to do it the moment the idea has occurred to you. Only an obsessional procrastinator would cry, “Let’s run for our lives, but not till Wednesday afternoon.”
“The Germans were a people famous for their efficiency, so why would they drop perfectly good bombs on Weston-super-Mare, when there was nothing in Weston that a bomb could destroy that could possibly be as valuable as the bomb that destroyed it?
The Germans did return, however, and several times, which mystified everyone. Nevertheless I can’t help thinking that Westonians actually quite liked being bombed: it gave them a significance that was otherwise lacking from their lives. But that still leaves the question why would the Hun have bothered? Was it just Teutonic joi de vivre? Did the pilots mistake the Weston seafront for the Western Front? I have heard it quite seriously put forward by older Westonians that it was done at the behest of William Joyce, the infamous “Lord Haw-Haw”, who was hanged as a traitor in 1944 by the British for making Nazi propaganda broadcasts to Britain during the war. When I asked these amateur historians why a man of Irish descent who was born in Brooklyn would have such an animus against Weston that he would buttonhole Hitler on the matter, they fell silent. I prefer to believe that it was because of a grudge held by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering on account of an unsavoury incident on Weston pier in the 1920s, probably involving Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan.
My father’s explanation, however, makes the most sense: he said the Germans bombed Weston to show that they really do have a sense of humour.”
“British journalists tend to believe that people who become good at something do so because they seek fame and fortune. This is because these are the sole motives of people who become British journalists. But some people, operating at higher levels of mental health, pursue activities because they actually love them.”
“Yes, I know it’s easy to make fun of the organised churches, but has it occurred to anyone to wonder why it’s so easy?”
“I found Toronto an immensely likeable city, spacious and gentle and slightly dignified, but in a low-key, friendly way. The only people who didn’t seem to think much of it were its inhabitants, who could hardly wait for you to ask directions, because that gave them the perfect opportunity to apologise for it. What they were apologising for I never understood. I think they felt uninteresting, compared with America. I took the opposite view; I remember reading about the doctrine of American “Exceptionalism” and thinking that what I liked so much about Canadians was that they consider themselves unexceptional. This modest, unthreatening attitude seems to produce a nation that is stable, safe, decent and well respected. It’s just a shame that for seven months of the year it’s so cold that only Canadians would put up with it.”
“One minute, I was saying, “Hello, Mr. Bunny!” and smiling at its sweet little face and funny floppy ears. The next, the fucker savaged me.”
My apologies, I might’ve slightly overdone it with the quotes. There’s so many more I would like to share with you all, but the quotes are already quite a bit longer than my own review, and so I will resist the impulse.
What a wonderful autobiography. Filled with self-depreciation, a healthy dose of dislike for overt political correctness and a genuine love for comedy, ‘So, Anyway. . . ‘ is a funny, compelling look at a portion of John Cleese’s life.
If I had any complaints, they would have to do with the somewhat abrupt ending and the fact that a fairly large period between Monty Python and the reunion tour is left blank. The hope remains for a second book, then!
Five out of Five Black Stars.
Thank you for reading!