British actor John Cleese, best-known for his role in the legendary comedy group Monty Python, will be the face of a new campaign by the Czech Olympic Committee to promote the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. The comedian spent five days in Prague last week shooting video clips to be aired by Czech TV in which he will present of some Britain’s icons in a most unusual setting.
Nearly 40 years ago, the British comedy group Monty Python presented a worldwide sporting event in their 1972 sketch Silly Olympics in which John Cleese portrayed one of the competitors in the 3,000 metre steeplechase... a steeplechase for people who though they were chickens.
This time, the English actor and Monty Python co-founder John Cleese plays a different, if still less than serious role: he will be the face of a new media campaign by the Czech Olympic Committee to promoter the London Olympics. After the shoot wrapped up, Mr Cleese described what his new role entailed.
“I’ve been asked as a sort of representative of the old Britain. I thought of a joke the other day which is to have a film start, and you think, ‘Where is this, Lebanon, is it Rio, or is it Cleveland?’
“And then somebody walks into a shop wearing a bowler hat, and you go, ‘Ah, London, yes’. And then somebody shouts ‘Cut!’, and the guy in the bowler hat is of course in a movie because you don’t see people in bowler hats in London any more.”
Mr Cleese’s idea has apparently not made the final cut; in those that did, he will be enlightening Czechs about some of Britain’s greatest inventions such as tea, the red phone box, the miniskirt, and others. But the British comedian did add some ideas of his own.
“We changed two of them; there were two that just did not work. Fortunately, we were able to get ideas to use the basic set-up with a different punch line. For example, there was something about rain and umbrellas and pole vaulting that didn’t work, and I suggested that the athlete who appears should actually be using the large umbrella to do the pole vault. So that sort of brought it together, it was a very simple idea.”
John Cleese is promoting the Summer Olympics in London, where he lived for many years, but probably won’t have a chance himself to see any of the events next summer. He now lives in the United States and is not planning to return to London for some time.
“I’m in a very strange situation. Because of the tax situation in the UK and because I have to pay this enormous alimony every year of one million dollars, I discovered that if I live in London, which I was intending to do, I have to make two million dollars before I keep a penny. That’s quite a lot. So I’m not going to be living in London. The result of that for at least a year, I’m hardly allowed to go back there at all.”
The Monty Python group ridiculed sports in many sketches, including Silly Olympics, the Twit Race, and others. But John Cleese, who apparently did well at boxing and cricket in his youth, was also an avid spectator of athletics.
“I’ve always loved sports but somehow over the years, I got more interested in ball games, and no so much in athletics. I used to watch the athletics obsessively.
“One of the problems of getting so old is that you have seen it all so many times before. I can remember the 1948 cup final, the 1953 Wimbledon men’s singles final. After you watch this for many, many years, it all becomes a little bit familiar. It’s a little bit like comedy because you simply get to know all the jokes.”
The Czech Olympic Committee plans to first air the clips featuring John Cleese on Czech TV in October, and will run them until the end of the London Summer Olympics in August 2012.