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Hit Musical Spamalot on Stage in San Diego

Above: "Spamalot"

Audio

Aired 9/10/09

These Days Host Maureen Cavanaugh speaks with KPBS film critic about "Spamalot"

"Spamalot" is currently on stage at the San Diego Civic Theater through September 13th. You can read more of Beth's interview with Christopher Gurr on her blog, Cinema Junkie.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The play "Spamalot" is named after a line in a song from the movie "Monty Python's Holy Grail." It goes, we ate – 'we eat ham and jam and Spam-a-lot in Camelot,' which gives you an idea of the kind of crazy back and forth references, and loopy Pythonian humor that has made the musical a Tony Award winner on Broadway in 2005. Those who are familiar with the Monty Python troupe may recognize a lot of the business in "Spamalot." With lyrics, book and a lot of the music written by original Python member Eric Idle, it revives the humor of catapulting cows and the Knights of Ni and men playing the part of screeching Cockney women. To those who are new to the inspired silliness of the Python, so far, it seems the old routines are standing the test of time. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando is one of the world's biggest Monty Python fans, so she's stepping out of the movie theater to tell us about the San Diego run of "Spamalot." And welcome, Beth.

BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: So, as I say, you're a huge Monty Python fan. Did you have any concerns when you first heard that Monty Python's "Holy Grail" was being turned into a Broadway musical called "Spamalot?"

ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah, of course I did because at first they were turning so many things into Broadway musicals and I was thinking, oh, please, leave Python alone. But then Eric Idle was going to be the chief one in charge of translating the film to the stage so I felt a bit relieved thinking that he would do them justice and bring it to the stage in a manner that would befit Python, and I think he has. But it is very much Eric Idle's brand of Python humor.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us a little – tell us what the story is about. For those who haven't see "The Holy Grail" or "Spamalot," what should they know about the story going in?

ACCOMANDO: Well, in typical Python fashion, there is a – the gist of a plot which is King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable are on a quest to find the Holy Grail. But whenever you're dealing with Python that, you know, A-to-B kind of linear line is repeatedly interrupted for little side trips to all over the place. So this one, for example, opens with a Finnish song and dance musical number that involves slapping fish, so…

CAVANAUGH: That would be from Finland.

ACCOMANDO: That would be from Finland, yes. Yes. And the slapping fish are – is a routine that Michael Palin and John Cleese had done in "Flying Circus." So, yeah, it's – right off the bat, they tell – they start off by saying don't expect this to be exactly what you think it's going to be.

CAVANAUGH: And so, yes, it is the Arthurian legend. They're searching for the Holy Grail. They go through a number of different forests and meet knights and wizards and…

ACCOMANDO: A very expensive forest. As they are – they are to point out, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you say that you felt better when you heard that "Spamalot" was being created by Eric Idle. Tell us who Eric Idle is and what his particular brand of humor is like.

ACCOMANDO: Sure, he's – Monty Python was a troupe of mostly British. They were–the only American in the group was Terry Gilliam—British performers. And they went to either Oxford or Cambridge. They were very smart guys. And they produced a TV show for awhile, "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which a lot of people here in the U.S. got on, you know, Public Broadcasting stations…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …because my mom was watching it at ten o'clock at night while folding laundry and we would hear her laughing at, you know, when we were…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …kids. We'd gone to bed and we're like, what are you laughing at? That sounds so funny. And then from the TV show, they went to movies and they did "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Life of Brian," "The Meaning of Life." And Eric Idle, a particular brand of comedy, he tends to be very verbal, rather silly. He has a penchant for naughtiness, not crude, lewd humor but just kind of playful naughtiness. So – And he's always done a lot of music in the Python films, so he's – he did all – he wrote "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," and in the TV show he did, you might remember, "Sit On My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me." So…

CAVANAUGH: No, I actually don't remember that.

ACCOMANDO: You can – you can tell kind of his style of humor from that. And so for him to do a Broadway musical does make some sort of sense because he's always had this penchant for music and this enjoyment in doing kind of musical numbers.

CAVANAUGH: Now Eric Idle has been criticized, though, for exploiting the Python legacy. Can you say a little bit more about what's – what the criticism has been?

ACCOMANDO: Sure. Well, the Python group broke up. They get together every now and then for benefits and, you know, some of them have paired off. Terry Gilliam has worked with Michael Palin in some of the films. But Eric Idle basically went back to some of their old routines and to the old film "Holy Grail" to kind of make this patchwork that is "Spamalot." So some people have said, well, he's going back, he's, you know, raiding the coffers, and the other Pythons aren't really officially involved in the production. But he's met with it in typical Python fashion by saying, yes, I'm a greedy bastard. And I think he wrote a biography or something called the – about greedy bastard. So he – he embraced it. All the Pythons were there at the Broadway premiere. Some of them haven't voiced the most enthusiastic support for the play but they've all, you know, pretty much signed on, some sort of tacit approval at least. But, so, yeah, some people have just said, you know, why bother to go back and do this to Python? But it's fun.

CAVANAUGH: Well, for those of us who have not – didn't hear mom laughing while she was folding laundry, give us an idea of what a quintessential Monty Python Flying Circus gag is like.

ACCOMANDO: Well, I think what makes Python Python is the fact that there is no such thing as a quintessential gag because they would do anything and everything. I think there's an underlying smartness to all the stuff they do and probably the key factor is irreverence, that they just don't take anything seriously, nothing is sacred, not the Queen, not your mother, not children, nothing. So everything is up for grabs. And so I think that would be kind of the key factor to it. I brought a clip from one of my favorite skits, although it's hard to pick a favorite. But I thought I wanted to play something that typifies Eric Idle's style. And in this scene, if you're a Python fan, you'll know the nudge-nudge, wink-wink scene, it's the end of it. But listen to it. It's very typical of his kind of verbal comedy and his kind of playful naughtiness.

(audio of clip from Monty Python skit)

ACCOMANDO: That's pretty typical of Eric Idle style of humor.

CAVANAUGH: Now you interviewed Christopher Gurr, is that how you pronounce it?

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: He's one of the actors in "Spamalot." Did he say how he approached the Python style of comedy?

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he talked about it. He, like many of the other actors in the play, actually play multiple roles, so he has not only played the more dignified authority figure of King Arthur but he also plays what he calls the Pepper Pot Women, I think that's what he calls these screechy Cockney kind of women, which is Mrs. Galahad. So he's kind of spanned the spectrum of the broadest comic character in the play to the straightest comic character in the play. So he's – But he said that, you know, that they all do share a similarity and there is this underlying smartness and fun to them. And when I asked him about it, too, he said that he's been a fan for a long time and he says that it is the smartness and intelligence that kind of makes them fun and able to revisit them and here's what he had to say.

CHRISTOPHER GURR (Actor in "Spamalot"): One of the reasons why you can revisit Python material over and over and over again because the things that made me laugh at it when I was 13 are different than the things that make me laugh at it at 42 because of that very reason. Yeah, they all went to either Cambridge or Oxford, smart, smart boys. One of the main things about the Python humor—and you have to remember that their anniversary is the exact same anniversary as Woodstock—so they will respond to a lot of the same things that – things like Woodstock responded to. So it's antiestablishmentarianism to use this big old fancy word. And that means that a lot of their comedy is about, you know, knocking the legs out from under authority figures, whoever that authority figure is, and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a huge example of that because basically that's all it's about. It's just you keep knocking King Arthur down and he keeps getting up and you knock him down and he keeps getting up.

CAVANAUGH: And so he's American.

ACCOMANDO: Yes, he is. I think most of the cast members are American for the touring company.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that's interesting. Now did he say anything about how hard it is to run that gamut of characters from this screechy Cockney woman to, you know, King Arthur?

ACCOMANDO: Well, a couple of things for him, I mean, in all the – I talked to another performer, too. He says playing multiple roles really keeps you fresh because you're moving, you know, so much from one thing to another. But he said that even though the characters are vastly different in terms of kind of the reality of the character, he said all of them share one thing and, he says, you really have to kind of find the truth in the character. And this is what he had to say about that.

GURR: At the root of all of them basically, and this is a, you know, truism of comedy, not stand up comedy but charac – when you're playing a comedic character, you've got to tell the truth. You have to tell the truth. The truth may be an extreme situation but you have to be telling the truth. If you're going out there to be wakka-wakka-wakka funny in Python-land, that really doesn't deliver the goods. So, you know, there's probably the greatest distance between Mrs. Galahad and the truth of the audience and that's what I have to bridge, but if I don't absolutely believe that she thinks she's the most normal thing on the face of the planet, then I fail in that role.

CAVANAUGH: You know, it sounds a little bit like we talked to a lot of actors who are playing comedy roles this summer in San Diego. They were all saying the same thing. You got to play it straight basically, and find the truth in the character. Now another thing that's sort of startling about this production of "Spamalot," at least the one on Broadway, was that it was directed by Mike Nichols and he's, of course, well known as a movie director.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Graduate," many, many others. A distinguished stage career. So at first glance it seems it's a rather odd pick as – for director of "Spamalot."

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, at first I was kind of surprised by it, too. I was thinking that wasn't a perfect match but I would say that the things that Mike Nichols does have, that he shares with Python, is, I think, there is this sense of irreverence. I think there is this underlying intelligence as well that makes it easy for him to work with the material. But when I talked to Christopher Gurr, he mentioned that there was still this kind of creative tension between Eric Idle, who wrote the book and the lyrics, and Mike Nichols, who directed it, both on Broadway and the touring company. So here's what he had to say about that kind of collaboration between the two of them.

GURR: The dynamic that I think is most obvious with "Spamalot" is the tension between Eric Idle's sense of comedy and Mike Nichols' sense of comedy. And I don't think the show would have the legs it has without that particular dynamic. No one other – overpowers the other. Mike's a big, big presence with us constantly—and I think about him all the time—and almost always it's about his core note, which is, you know, you have got bring heart to this, you have to tell the truth even though it's an extreme truth, and his big, big thing, which is hard to hear as an actor but really important, which is you are not funny; the material is funny. And that's low. I mean, you know, egos and actors, we tend to have them. So that's a hard thing to take to heart and yet, intellectually, I know he's absolutely right.

CAVANAUGH: And it's been wonderful to hear this lead actor in this production of "Spamalot" talk to us through you about this but I think that we actually haven't asked you whether you liked it.

ACCOMANDO: I did like it a lot. It was a lot of fun. I think it did take a lot of what was funny in Python and make it work on the stage. And actually what was – I was actually impressed with was the set design, too. The set actually plays into a lot of the gags and I would say that the killer rabbit and the catapulted cow alone were probably worth the price of admission. Yeah, the killer rabbit on his own, I think, was phenomenal. So – But it's a lot of the silliness that is Python. It's not exactly Monty Python, it's Monty Python – it's like a sixth of Monty Python. It's taking Eric Idle's version of how he sees Python and patching it together. Kind of like Spam, you know, it's that compressed meat and, you know, you take a lot of different parts and put them all together and come up with something new.

CAVANAUGH: And I was interested in your blog. You said, you know, some of – some of the people in the audience that you were in were so familiar with the gags that they were sort of laughing just at the set-up.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, they were so primed to laugh. People were laughing as the overture played, just anticipating. As soon as they show you the stage and it's got the battlements that you know the French are going to – the snooty French are going to come out on, people were laughing and you could see people mouthing the lines along with it. I mean, I joked with one of the actors, I said have – has anybody ever forgotten a line and looked to the audience to get the line fed to them? And he laughed, he says, no but, you know, they definitely could give us any of our lines.

CAVANAUGH: Well just to wrap up, you know, obviously "Spamalot" is going to be a hit with people who already love Monty Python but if perhaps, you know, you're not really familiar with it, maybe "Spamalot" is over your head because – Where should – would you suggest people begin to really get what Monty Python is all about?

ACCOMANDO: Well, "Holy Grail" is a great film. It's really enjoyable. So I would suggest starting with that or just grab any episode of "Flying Circus" because it's such a diverse collection of skits usually that you can get a sampling of maybe there's a little bit of musical bit, a verbal comedy, a sight gag, a bit of Terry Gilliam's animation, so I would say either start with one of those.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for coming in and…

ACCOMANDO: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …telling us about it. Beth Accomando is the KPBS film critic and author of the KPBS film blog, Cinema Junkie. And I want everyone to know that "Spamalot" is currently on stage at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, September 13th. And there's more of that interview with Christopher Gurr on Cinema Junkie blog at KPBS.org. We're going out with a song from "Spamalot," originally from "Life of Brian," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." And we'll be back in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

(audio clip from "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life")

# # #

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The play "Spamalot" is named after a line in a song from the movie "Monty Python's Holy Grail." It goes, we ate – 'we eat ham and jam and Spam-a-lot in Camelot,' which gives you an idea of the kind of crazy back and forth references, and loopy Pythonian humor that has made the musical a Tony Award winner on Broadway in 2005. Those who are familiar with the Monty Python troupe may recognize a lot of the business in "Spamalot." With lyrics, book and a lot of the music written by original Python member Eric Idle, it revives the humor of catapulting cows and the Knights of Ni and men playing the part of screeching Cockney women. To those who are new to the inspired silliness of the Python, so far, it seems the old routines are standing the test of time. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando is one of the world's biggest Monty Python fans, so she's stepping out of the movie theater to tell us about the San Diego run of "Spamalot." And welcome, Beth.

BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: So, as I say, you're a huge Monty Python fan. Did you have any concerns when you first heard that Monty Python's "Holy Grail" was being turned into a Broadway musical called "Spamalot?"

ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah, of course I did because at first they were turning so many things into Broadway musicals and I was thinking, oh, please, leave Python alone. But then Eric Idle was going to be the chief one in charge of translating the film to the stage so I felt a bit relieved thinking that he would do them justice and bring it to the stage in a manner that would befit Python, and I think he has. But it is very much Eric Idle's brand of Python humor.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us a little – tell us what the story is about. For those who haven't see "The Holy Grail" or "Spamalot," what should they know about the story going in?

ACCOMANDO: Well, in typical Python fashion, there is a – the gist of a plot which is King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable are on a quest to find the Holy Grail. But whenever you're dealing with Python that, you know, A-to-B kind of linear line is repeatedly interrupted for little side trips to all over the place. So this one, for example, opens with a Finnish song and dance musical number that involves slapping fish, so…

CAVANAUGH: That would be from Finland.

ACCOMANDO: That would be from Finland, yes. Yes. And the slapping fish are – is a routine that Michael Palin and John Cleese had done in "Flying Circus." So, yeah, it's – right off the bat, they tell – they start off by saying don't expect this to be exactly what you think it's going to be.

CAVANAUGH: And so, yes, it is the Arthurian legend. They're searching for the Holy Grail. They go through a number of different forests and meet knights and wizards and…

ACCOMANDO: A very expensive forest. As they are – they are to point out, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you say that you felt better when you heard that "Spamalot" was being created by Eric Idle. Tell us who Eric Idle is and what his particular brand of humor is like.

ACCOMANDO: Sure, he's – Monty Python was a troupe of mostly British. They were–the only American in the group was Terry Gilliam—British performers. And they went to either Oxford or Cambridge. They were very smart guys. And they produced a TV show for awhile, "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which a lot of people here in the U.S. got on, you know, Public Broadcasting stations…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …because my mom was watching it at ten o'clock at night while folding laundry and we would hear her laughing at, you know, when we were…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …kids. We'd gone to bed and we're like, what are you laughing at? That sounds so funny. And then from the TV show, they went to movies and they did "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Life of Brian," "The Meaning of Life." And Eric Idle, a particular brand of comedy, he tends to be very verbal, rather silly. He has a penchant for naughtiness, not crude, lewd humor but just kind of playful naughtiness. So – And he's always done a lot of music in the Python films, so he's – he did all – he wrote "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," and in the TV show he did, you might remember, "Sit On My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me." So…

CAVANAUGH: No, I actually don't remember that.

ACCOMANDO: You can – you can tell kind of his style of humor from that. And so for him to do a Broadway musical does make some sort of sense because he's always had this penchant for music and this enjoyment in doing kind of musical numbers.

CAVANAUGH: Now Eric Idle has been criticized, though, for exploiting the Python legacy. Can you say a little bit more about what's – what the criticism has been?

ACCOMANDO: Sure. Well, the Python group broke up. They get together every now and then for benefits and, you know, some of them have paired off. Terry Gilliam has worked with Michael Palin in some of the films. But Eric Idle basically went back to some of their old routines and to the old film "Holy Grail" to kind of make this patchwork that is "Spamalot." So some people have said, well, he's going back, he's, you know, raiding the coffers, and the other Pythons aren't really officially involved in the production. But he's met with it in typical Python fashion by saying, yes, I'm a greedy bastard. And I think he wrote a biography or something called the – about greedy bastard. So he – he embraced it. All the Pythons were there at the Broadway premiere. Some of them haven't voiced the most enthusiastic support for the play but they've all, you know, pretty much signed on, some sort of tacit approval at least. But, so, yeah, some people have just said, you know, why bother to go back and do this to Python? But it's fun.

CAVANAUGH: Well, for those of us who have not – didn't hear mom laughing while she was folding laundry, give us an idea of what a quintessential Monty Python Flying Circus gag is like.

ACCOMANDO: Well, I think what makes Python Python is the fact that there is no such thing as a quintessential gag because they would do anything and everything. I think there's an underlying smartness to all the stuff they do and probably the key factor is irreverence, that they just don't take anything seriously, nothing is sacred, not the Queen, not your mother, not children, nothing. So everything is up for grabs. And so I think that would be kind of the key factor to it. I brought a clip from one of my favorite skits, although it's hard to pick a favorite. But I thought I wanted to play something that typifies Eric Idle's style. And in this scene, if you're a Python fan, you'll know the nudge-nudge, wink-wink scene, it's the end of it. But listen to it. It's very typical of his kind of verbal comedy and his kind of playful naughtiness.

(audio of clip from Monty Python skit)

ACCOMANDO: That's pretty typical of Eric Idle style of humor.

CAVANAUGH: Now you interviewed Christopher Gurr, is that how you pronounce it?

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: He's one of the actors in "Spamalot." Did he say how he approached the Python style of comedy?

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he talked about it. He, like many of the other actors in the play, actually play multiple roles, so he has not only played the more dignified authority figure of King Arthur but he also plays what he calls the Pepper Pot Women, I think that's what he calls these screechy Cockney kind of women, which is Mrs. Galahad. So he's kind of spanned the spectrum of the broadest comic character in the play to the straightest comic character in the play. So he's – But he said that, you know, that they all do share a similarity and there is this underlying smartness and fun to them. And when I asked him about it, too, he said that he's been a fan for a long time and he says that it is the smartness and intelligence that kind of makes them fun and able to revisit them and here's what he had to say.

CHRISTOPHER GURR (Actor in "Spamalot"): One of the reasons why you can revisit Python material over and over and over again because the things that made me laugh at it when I was 13 are different than the things that make me laugh at it at 42 because of that very reason. Yeah, they all went to either Cambridge or Oxford, smart, smart boys. One of the main things about the Python humor—and you have to remember that their anniversary is the exact same anniversary as Woodstock—so they will respond to a lot of the same things that – things like Woodstock responded to. So it's antiestablishmentarianism to use this big old fancy word. And that means that a lot of their comedy is about, you know, knocking the legs out from under authority figures, whoever that authority figure is, and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a huge example of that because basically that's all it's about. It's just you keep knocking King Arthur down and he keeps getting up and you knock him down and he keeps getting up.

CAVANAUGH: And so he's American.

ACCOMANDO: Yes, he is. I think most of the cast members are American for the touring company.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that's interesting. Now did he say anything about how hard it is to run that gamut of characters from this screechy Cockney woman to, you know, King Arthur?

ACCOMANDO: Well, a couple of things for him, I mean, in all the – I talked to another performer, too. He says playing multiple roles really keeps you fresh because you're moving, you know, so much from one thing to another. But he said that even though the characters are vastly different in terms of kind of the reality of the character, he said all of them share one thing and, he says, you really have to kind of find the truth in the character. And this is what he had to say about that.

GURR: At the root of all of them basically, and this is a, you know, truism of comedy, not stand up comedy but charac – when you're playing a comedic character, you've got to tell the truth. You have to tell the truth. The truth may be an extreme situation but you have to be telling the truth. If you're going out there to be wakka-wakka-wakka funny in Python-land, that really doesn't deliver the goods. So, you know, there's probably the greatest distance between Mrs. Galahad and the truth of the audience and that's what I have to bridge, but if I don't absolutely believe that she thinks she's the most normal thing on the face of the planet, then I fail in that role.

CAVANAUGH: You know, it sounds a little bit like we talked to a lot of actors who are playing comedy roles this summer in San Diego. They were all saying the same thing. You got to play it straight basically, and find the truth in the character. Now another thing that's sort of startling about this production of "Spamalot," at least the one on Broadway, was that it was directed by Mike Nichols and he's, of course, well known as a movie director.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Graduate," many, many others. A distinguished stage career. So at first glance it seems it's a rather odd pick as – for director of "Spamalot."

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, at first I was kind of surprised by it, too. I was thinking that wasn't a perfect match but I would say that the things that Mike Nichols does have, that he shares with Python, is, I think, there is this sense of irreverence. I think there is this underlying intelligence as well that makes it easy for him to work with the material. But when I talked to Christopher Gurr, he mentioned that there was still this kind of creative tension between Eric Idle, who wrote the book and the lyrics, and Mike Nichols, who directed it, both on Broadway and the touring company. So here's what he had to say about that kind of collaboration between the two of them.

GURR: The dynamic that I think is most obvious with "Spamalot" is the tension between Eric Idle's sense of comedy and Mike Nichols' sense of comedy. And I don't think the show would have the legs it has without that particular dynamic. No one other – overpowers the other. Mike's a big, big presence with us constantly—and I think about him all the time—and almost always it's about his core note, which is, you know, you have got bring heart to this, you have to tell the truth even though it's an extreme truth, and his big, big thing, which is hard to hear as an actor but really important, which is you are not funny; the material is funny. And that's low. I mean, you know, egos and actors, we tend to have them. So that's a hard thing to take to heart and yet, intellectually, I know he's absolutely right.

CAVANAUGH: And it's been wonderful to hear this lead actor in this production of "Spamalot" talk to us through you about this but I think that we actually haven't asked you whether you liked it.

ACCOMANDO: I did like it a lot. It was a lot of fun. I think it did take a lot of what was funny in Python and make it work on the stage. And actually what was – I was actually impressed with was the set design, too. The set actually plays into a lot of the gags and I would say that the killer rabbit and the catapulted cow alone were probably worth the price of admission. Yeah, the killer rabbit on his own, I think, was phenomenal. So – But it's a lot of the silliness that is Python. It's not exactly Monty Python, it's Monty Python – it's like a sixth of Monty Python. It's taking Eric Idle's version of how he sees Python and patching it together. Kind of like Spam, you know, it's that compressed meat and, you know, you take a lot of different parts and put them all together and come up with something new.

CAVANAUGH: And I was interested in your blog. You said, you know, some of – some of the people in the audience that you were in were so familiar with the gags that they were sort of laughing just at the set-up.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, they were so primed to laugh. People were laughing as the overture played, just anticipating. As soon as they show you the stage and it's got the battlements that you know the French are going to – the snooty French are going to come out on, people were laughing and you could see people mouthing the lines along with it. I mean, I joked with one of the actors, I said have – has anybody ever forgotten a line and looked to the audience to get the line fed to them? And he laughed, he says, no but, you know, they definitely could give us any of our lines.

CAVANAUGH: Well just to wrap up, you know, obviously "Spamalot" is going to be a hit with people who already love Monty Python but if perhaps, you know, you're not really familiar with it, maybe "Spamalot" is over your head because – Where should – would you suggest people begin to really get what Monty Python is all about?

ACCOMANDO: Well, "Holy Grail" is a great film. It's really enjoyable. So I would suggest starting with that or just grab any episode of "Flying Circus" because it's such a diverse collection of skits usually that you can get a sampling of maybe there's a little bit of musical bit, a verbal comedy, a sight gag, a bit of Terry Gilliam's animation, so I would say either start with one of those.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for coming in and…

ACCOMANDO: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …telling us about it. Beth Accomando is the KPBS film critic and author of the KPBS film blog, Cinema Junkie. And I want everyone to know that "Spamalot" is currently on stage at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, September 13th. And there's more of that interview with Christopher Gurr on Cinema Junkie blog at KPBS.org. We're going out with a song from "Spamalot," originally from "Life of Brian," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." And we'll be back in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

(audio clip from "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life")

# # #

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The play "Spamalot" is named after a line in a song from the movie "Monty Python's Holy Grail." It goes, we ate – 'we eat ham and jam and Spam-a-lot in Camelot,' which gives you an idea of the kind of crazy back and forth references, and loopy Pythonian humor that has made the musical a Tony Award winner on Broadway in 2005. Those who are familiar with the Monty Python troupe may recognize a lot of the business in "Spamalot." With lyrics, book and a lot of the music written by original Python member Eric Idle, it revives the humor of catapulting cows and the Knights of Ni and men playing the part of screeching Cockney women. To those who are new to the inspired silliness of the Python, so far, it seems the old routines are standing the test of time. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando is one of the world's biggest Monty Python fans, so she's stepping out of the movie theater to tell us about the San Diego run of "Spamalot." And welcome, Beth.

BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: So, as I say, you're a huge Monty Python fan. Did you have any concerns when you first heard that Monty Python's "Holy Grail" was being turned into a Broadway musical called "Spamalot?"

ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah, of course I did because at first they were turning so many things into Broadway musicals and I was thinking, oh, please, leave Python alone. But then Eric Idle was going to be the chief one in charge of translating the film to the stage so I felt a bit relieved thinking that he would do them justice and bring it to the stage in a manner that would befit Python, and I think he has. But it is very much Eric Idle's brand of Python humor.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us a little – tell us what the story is about. For those who haven't see "The Holy Grail" or "Spamalot," what should they know about the story going in?

ACCOMANDO: Well, in typical Python fashion, there is a – the gist of a plot which is King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable are on a quest to find the Holy Grail. But whenever you're dealing with Python that, you know, A-to-B kind of linear line is repeatedly interrupted for little side trips to all over the place. So this one, for example, opens with a Finnish song and dance musical number that involves slapping fish, so…

CAVANAUGH: That would be from Finland.

ACCOMANDO: That would be from Finland, yes. Yes. And the slapping fish are – is a routine that Michael Palin and John Cleese had done in "Flying Circus." So, yeah, it's – right off the bat, they tell – they start off by saying don't expect this to be exactly what you think it's going to be.

CAVANAUGH: And so, yes, it is the Arthurian legend. They're searching for the Holy Grail. They go through a number of different forests and meet knights and wizards and…

ACCOMANDO: A very expensive forest. As they are – they are to point out, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you say that you felt better when you heard that "Spamalot" was being created by Eric Idle. Tell us who Eric Idle is and what his particular brand of humor is like.

ACCOMANDO: Sure, he's – Monty Python was a troupe of mostly British. They were–the only American in the group was Terry Gilliam—British performers. And they went to either Oxford or Cambridge. They were very smart guys. And they produced a TV show for awhile, "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which a lot of people here in the U.S. got on, you know, Public Broadcasting stations…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …because my mom was watching it at ten o'clock at night while folding laundry and we would hear her laughing at, you know, when we were…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …kids. We'd gone to bed and we're like, what are you laughing at? That sounds so funny. And then from the TV show, they went to movies and they did "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Life of Brian," "The Meaning of Life." And Eric Idle, a particular brand of comedy, he tends to be very verbal, rather silly. He has a penchant for naughtiness, not crude, lewd humor but just kind of playful naughtiness. So – And he's always done a lot of music in the Python films, so he's – he did all – he wrote "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," and in the TV show he did, you might remember, "Sit On My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me." So…

CAVANAUGH: No, I actually don't remember that.

ACCOMANDO: You can – you can tell kind of his style of humor from that. And so for him to do a Broadway musical does make some sort of sense because he's always had this penchant for music and this enjoyment in doing kind of musical numbers.

CAVANAUGH: Now Eric Idle has been criticized, though, for exploiting the Python legacy. Can you say a little bit more about what's – what the criticism has been?

ACCOMANDO: Sure. Well, the Python group broke up. They get together every now and then for benefits and, you know, some of them have paired off. Terry Gilliam has worked with Michael Palin in some of the films. But Eric Idle basically went back to some of their old routines and to the old film "Holy Grail" to kind of make this patchwork that is "Spamalot." So some people have said, well, he's going back, he's, you know, raiding the coffers, and the other Pythons aren't really officially involved in the production. But he's met with it in typical Python fashion by saying, yes, I'm a greedy bastard. And I think he wrote a biography or something called the – about greedy bastard. So he – he embraced it. All the Pythons were there at the Broadway premiere. Some of them haven't voiced the most enthusiastic support for the play but they've all, you know, pretty much signed on, some sort of tacit approval at least. But, so, yeah, some people have just said, you know, why bother to go back and do this to Python? But it's fun.

CAVANAUGH: Well, for those of us who have not – didn't hear mom laughing while she was folding laundry, give us an idea of what a quintessential Monty Python Flying Circus gag is like.

ACCOMANDO: Well, I think what makes Python Python is the fact that there is no such thing as a quintessential gag because they would do anything and everything. I think there's an underlying smartness to all the stuff they do and probably the key factor is irreverence, that they just don't take anything seriously, nothing is sacred, not the Queen, not your mother, not children, nothing. So everything is up for grabs. And so I think that would be kind of the key factor to it. I brought a clip from one of my favorite skits, although it's hard to pick a favorite. But I thought I wanted to play something that typifies Eric Idle's style. And in this scene, if you're a Python fan, you'll know the nudge-nudge, wink-wink scene, it's the end of it. But listen to it. It's very typical of his kind of verbal comedy and his kind of playful naughtiness.

(audio of clip from Monty Python skit)

ACCOMANDO: That's pretty typical of Eric Idle style of humor.

CAVANAUGH: Now you interviewed Christopher Gurr, is that how you pronounce it?

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: He's one of the actors in "Spamalot." Did he say how he approached the Python style of comedy?

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he talked about it. He, like many of the other actors in the play, actually play multiple roles, so he has not only played the more dignified authority figure of King Arthur but he also plays what he calls the Pepper Pot Women, I think that's what he calls these screechy Cockney kind of women, which is Mrs. Galahad. So he's kind of spanned the spectrum of the broadest comic character in the play to the straightest comic character in the play. So he's – But he said that, you know, that they all do share a similarity and there is this underlying smartness and fun to them. And when I asked him about it, too, he said that he's been a fan for a long time and he says that it is the smartness and intelligence that kind of makes them fun and able to revisit them and here's what he had to say.

CHRISTOPHER GURR (Actor in "Spamalot"): One of the reasons why you can revisit Python material over and over and over again because the things that made me laugh at it when I was 13 are different than the things that make me laugh at it at 42 because of that very reason. Yeah, they all went to either Cambridge or Oxford, smart, smart boys. One of the main things about the Python humor—and you have to remember that their anniversary is the exact same anniversary as Woodstock—so they will respond to a lot of the same things that – things like Woodstock responded to. So it's antiestablishmentarianism to use this big old fancy word. And that means that a lot of their comedy is about, you know, knocking the legs out from under authority figures, whoever that authority figure is, and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a huge example of that because basically that's all it's about. It's just you keep knocking King Arthur down and he keeps getting up and you knock him down and he keeps getting up.

CAVANAUGH: And so he's American.

ACCOMANDO: Yes, he is. I think most of the cast members are American for the touring company.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that's interesting. Now did he say anything about how hard it is to run that gamut of characters from this screechy Cockney woman to, you know, King Arthur?

ACCOMANDO: Well, a couple of things for him, I mean, in all the – I talked to another performer, too. He says playing multiple roles really keeps you fresh because you're moving, you know, so much from one thing to another. But he said that even though the characters are vastly different in terms of kind of the reality of the character, he said all of them share one thing and, he says, you really have to kind of find the truth in the character. And this is what he had to say about that.

GURR: At the root of all of them basically, and this is a, you know, truism of comedy, not stand up comedy but charac – when you're playing a comedic character, you've got to tell the truth. You have to tell the truth. The truth may be an extreme situation but you have to be telling the truth. If you're going out there to be wakka-wakka-wakka funny in Python-land, that really doesn't deliver the goods. So, you know, there's probably the greatest distance between Mrs. Galahad and the truth of the audience and that's what I have to bridge, but if I don't absolutely believe that she thinks she's the most normal thing on the face of the planet, then I fail in that role.

CAVANAUGH: You know, it sounds a little bit like we talked to a lot of actors who are playing comedy roles this summer in San Diego. They were all saying the same thing. You got to play it straight basically, and find the truth in the character. Now another thing that's sort of startling about this production of "Spamalot," at least the one on Broadway, was that it was directed by Mike Nichols and he's, of course, well known as a movie director.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Graduate," many, many others. A distinguished stage career. So at first glance it seems it's a rather odd pick as – for director of "Spamalot."

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, at first I was kind of surprised by it, too. I was thinking that wasn't a perfect match but I would say that the things that Mike Nichols does have, that he shares with Python, is, I think, there is this sense of irreverence. I think there is this underlying intelligence as well that makes it easy for him to work with the material. But when I talked to Christopher Gurr, he mentioned that there was still this kind of creative tension between Eric Idle, who wrote the book and the lyrics, and Mike Nichols, who directed it, both on Broadway and the touring company. So here's what he had to say about that kind of collaboration between the two of them.

GURR: The dynamic that I think is most obvious with "Spamalot" is the tension between Eric Idle's sense of comedy and Mike Nichols' sense of comedy. And I don't think the show would have the legs it has without that particular dynamic. No one other – overpowers the other. Mike's a big, big presence with us constantly—and I think about him all the time—and almost always it's about his core note, which is, you know, you have got bring heart to this, you have to tell the truth even though it's an extreme truth, and his big, big thing, which is hard to hear as an actor but really important, which is you are not funny; the material is funny. And that's low. I mean, you know, egos and actors, we tend to have them. So that's a hard thing to take to heart and yet, intellectually, I know he's absolutely right.

CAVANAUGH: And it's been wonderful to hear this lead actor in this production of "Spamalot" talk to us through you about this but I think that we actually haven't asked you whether you liked it.

ACCOMANDO: I did like it a lot. It was a lot of fun. I think it did take a lot of what was funny in Python and make it work on the stage. And actually what was – I was actually impressed with was the set design, too. The set actually plays into a lot of the gags and I would say that the killer rabbit and the catapulted cow alone were probably worth the price of admission. Yeah, the killer rabbit on his own, I think, was phenomenal. So – But it's a lot of the silliness that is Python. It's not exactly Monty Python, it's Monty Python – it's like a sixth of Monty Python. It's taking Eric Idle's version of how he sees Python and patching it together. Kind of like Spam, you know, it's that compressed meat and, you know, you take a lot of different parts and put them all together and come up with something new.

CAVANAUGH: And I was interested in your blog. You said, you know, some of – some of the people in the audience that you were in were so familiar with the gags that they were sort of laughing just at the set-up.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, they were so primed to laugh. People were laughing as the overture played, just anticipating. As soon as they show you the stage and it's got the battlements that you know the French are going to – the snooty French are going to come out on, people were laughing and you could see people mouthing the lines along with it. I mean, I joked with one of the actors, I said have – has anybody ever forgotten a line and looked to the audience to get the line fed to them? And he laughed, he says, no but, you know, they definitely could give us any of our lines.

CAVANAUGH: Well just to wrap up, you know, obviously "Spamalot" is going to be a hit with people who already love Monty Python but if perhaps, you know, you're not really familiar with it, maybe "Spamalot" is over your head because – Where should – would you suggest people begin to really get what Monty Python is all about?

ACCOMANDO: Well, "Holy Grail" is a great film. It's really enjoyable. So I would suggest starting with that or just grab any episode of "Flying Circus" because it's such a diverse collection of skits usually that you can get a sampling of maybe there's a little bit of musical bit, a verbal comedy, a sight gag, a bit of Terry Gilliam's animation, so I would say either start with one of those.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for coming in and…

ACCOMANDO: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …telling us about it. Beth Accomando is the KPBS film critic and author of the KPBS film blog, Cinema Junkie. And I want everyone to know that "Spamalot" is currently on stage at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, September 13th. And there's more of that interview with Christopher Gurr on Cinema Junkie blog at KPBS.org. We're going out with a song from "Spamalot," originally from "Life of Brian," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." And we'll be back in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

(audio clip from "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life")

# # #

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The play "Spamalot" is named after a line in a song from the movie "Monty Python's Holy Grail." It goes, we ate – 'we eat ham and jam and Spam-a-lot in Camelot,' which gives you an idea of the kind of crazy back and forth references, and loopy Pythonian humor that has made the musical a Tony Award winner on Broadway in 2005. Those who are familiar with the Monty Python troupe may recognize a lot of the business in "Spamalot." With lyrics, book and a lot of the music written by original Python member Eric Idle, it revives the humor of catapulting cows and the Knights of Ni and men playing the part of screeching Cockney women. To those who are new to the inspired silliness of the Python, so far, it seems the old routines are standing the test of time. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando is one of the world's biggest Monty Python fans, so she's stepping out of the movie theater to tell us about the San Diego run of "Spamalot." And welcome, Beth.

BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: So, as I say, you're a huge Monty Python fan. Did you have any concerns when you first heard that Monty Python's "Holy Grail" was being turned into a Broadway musical called "Spamalot?"

ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah, of course I did because at first they were turning so many things into Broadway musicals and I was thinking, oh, please, leave Python alone. But then Eric Idle was going to be the chief one in charge of translating the film to the stage so I felt a bit relieved thinking that he would do them justice and bring it to the stage in a manner that would befit Python, and I think he has. But it is very much Eric Idle's brand of Python humor.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us a little – tell us what the story is about. For those who haven't see "The Holy Grail" or "Spamalot," what should they know about the story going in?

ACCOMANDO: Well, in typical Python fashion, there is a – the gist of a plot which is King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable are on a quest to find the Holy Grail. But whenever you're dealing with Python that, you know, A-to-B kind of linear line is repeatedly interrupted for little side trips to all over the place. So this one, for example, opens with a Finnish song and dance musical number that involves slapping fish, so…

CAVANAUGH: That would be from Finland.

ACCOMANDO: That would be from Finland, yes. Yes. And the slapping fish are – is a routine that Michael Palin and John Cleese had done in "Flying Circus." So, yeah, it's – right off the bat, they tell – they start off by saying don't expect this to be exactly what you think it's going to be.

CAVANAUGH: And so, yes, it is the Arthurian legend. They're searching for the Holy Grail. They go through a number of different forests and meet knights and wizards and…

ACCOMANDO: A very expensive forest. As they are – they are to point out, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you say that you felt better when you heard that "Spamalot" was being created by Eric Idle. Tell us who Eric Idle is and what his particular brand of humor is like.

ACCOMANDO: Sure, he's – Monty Python was a troupe of mostly British. They were–the only American in the group was Terry Gilliam—British performers. And they went to either Oxford or Cambridge. They were very smart guys. And they produced a TV show for awhile, "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which a lot of people here in the U.S. got on, you know, Public Broadcasting stations…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …because my mom was watching it at ten o'clock at night while folding laundry and we would hear her laughing at, you know, when we were…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ACCOMANDO: …kids. We'd gone to bed and we're like, what are you laughing at? That sounds so funny. And then from the TV show, they went to movies and they did "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Life of Brian," "The Meaning of Life." And Eric Idle, a particular brand of comedy, he tends to be very verbal, rather silly. He has a penchant for naughtiness, not crude, lewd humor but just kind of playful naughtiness. So – And he's always done a lot of music in the Python films, so he's – he did all – he wrote "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," and in the TV show he did, you might remember, "Sit On My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me." So…

CAVANAUGH: No, I actually don't remember that.

ACCOMANDO: You can – you can tell kind of his style of humor from that. And so for him to do a Broadway musical does make some sort of sense because he's always had this penchant for music and this enjoyment in doing kind of musical numbers.

CAVANAUGH: Now Eric Idle has been criticized, though, for exploiting the Python legacy. Can you say a little bit more about what's – what the criticism has been?

ACCOMANDO: Sure. Well, the Python group broke up. They get together every now and then for benefits and, you know, some of them have paired off. Terry Gilliam has worked with Michael Palin in some of the films. But Eric Idle basically went back to some of their old routines and to the old film "Holy Grail" to kind of make this patchwork that is "Spamalot." So some people have said, well, he's going back, he's, you know, raiding the coffers, and the other Pythons aren't really officially involved in the production. But he's met with it in typical Python fashion by saying, yes, I'm a greedy bastard. And I think he wrote a biography or something called the – about greedy bastard. So he – he embraced it. All the Pythons were there at the Broadway premiere. Some of them haven't voiced the most enthusiastic support for the play but they've all, you know, pretty much signed on, some sort of tacit approval at least. But, so, yeah, some people have just said, you know, why bother to go back and do this to Python? But it's fun.

CAVANAUGH: Well, for those of us who have not – didn't hear mom laughing while she was folding laundry, give us an idea of what a quintessential Monty Python Flying Circus gag is like.

ACCOMANDO: Well, I think what makes Python Python is the fact that there is no such thing as a quintessential gag because they would do anything and everything. I think there's an underlying smartness to all the stuff they do and probably the key factor is irreverence, that they just don't take anything seriously, nothing is sacred, not the Queen, not your mother, not children, nothing. So everything is up for grabs. And so I think that would be kind of the key factor to it. I brought a clip from one of my favorite skits, although it's hard to pick a favorite. But I thought I wanted to play something that typifies Eric Idle's style. And in this scene, if you're a Python fan, you'll know the nudge-nudge, wink-wink scene, it's the end of it. But listen to it. It's very typical of his kind of verbal comedy and his kind of playful naughtiness.

(audio of clip from Monty Python skit)

ACCOMANDO: That's pretty typical of Eric Idle style of humor.

CAVANAUGH: Now you interviewed Christopher Gurr, is that how you pronounce it?

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: He's one of the actors in "Spamalot." Did he say how he approached the Python style of comedy?

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he talked about it. He, like many of the other actors in the play, actually play multiple roles, so he has not only played the more dignified authority figure of King Arthur but he also plays what he calls the Pepper Pot Women, I think that's what he calls these screechy Cockney kind of women, which is Mrs. Galahad. So he's kind of spanned the spectrum of the broadest comic character in the play to the straightest comic character in the play. So he's – But he said that, you know, that they all do share a similarity and there is this underlying smartness and fun to them. And when I asked him about it, too, he said that he's been a fan for a long time and he says that it is the smartness and intelligence that kind of makes them fun and able to revisit them and here's what he had to say.

CHRISTOPHER GURR (Actor in "Spamalot"): One of the reasons why you can revisit Python material over and over and over again because the things that made me laugh at it when I was 13 are different than the things that make me laugh at it at 42 because of that very reason. Yeah, they all went to either Cambridge or Oxford, smart, smart boys. One of the main things about the Python humor—and you have to remember that their anniversary is the exact same anniversary as Woodstock—so they will respond to a lot of the same things that – things like Woodstock responded to. So it's antiestablishmentarianism to use this big old fancy word. And that means that a lot of their comedy is about, you know, knocking the legs out from under authority figures, whoever that authority figure is, and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a huge example of that because basically that's all it's about. It's just you keep knocking King Arthur down and he keeps getting up and you knock him down and he keeps getting up.

CAVANAUGH: And so he's American.

ACCOMANDO: Yes, he is. I think most of the cast members are American for the touring company.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that's interesting. Now did he say anything about how hard it is to run that gamut of characters from this screechy Cockney woman to, you know, King Arthur?

ACCOMANDO: Well, a couple of things for him, I mean, in all the – I talked to another performer, too. He says playing multiple roles really keeps you fresh because you're moving, you know, so much from one thing to another. But he said that even though the characters are vastly different in terms of kind of the reality of the character, he said all of them share one thing and, he says, you really have to kind of find the truth in the character. And this is what he had to say about that.

GURR: At the root of all of them basically, and this is a, you know, truism of comedy, not stand up comedy but charac – when you're playing a comedic character, you've got to tell the truth. You have to tell the truth. The truth may be an extreme situation but you have to be telling the truth. If you're going out there to be wakka-wakka-wakka funny in Python-land, that really doesn't deliver the goods. So, you know, there's probably the greatest distance between Mrs. Galahad and the truth of the audience and that's what I have to bridge, but if I don't absolutely believe that she thinks she's the most normal thing on the face of the planet, then I fail in that role.

CAVANAUGH: You know, it sounds a little bit like we talked to a lot of actors who are playing comedy roles this summer in San Diego. They were all saying the same thing. You got to play it straight basically, and find the truth in the character. Now another thing that's sort of startling about this production of "Spamalot," at least the one on Broadway, was that it was directed by Mike Nichols and he's, of course, well known as a movie director.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Graduate," many, many others. A distinguished stage career. So at first glance it seems it's a rather odd pick as – for director of "Spamalot."

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, at first I was kind of surprised by it, too. I was thinking that wasn't a perfect match but I would say that the things that Mike Nichols does have, that he shares with Python, is, I think, there is this sense of irreverence. I think there is this underlying intelligence as well that makes it easy for him to work with the material. But when I talked to Christopher Gurr, he mentioned that there was still this kind of creative tension between Eric Idle, who wrote the book and the lyrics, and Mike Nichols, who directed it, both on Broadway and the touring company. So here's what he had to say about that kind of collaboration between the two of them.

GURR: The dynamic that I think is most obvious with "Spamalot" is the tension between Eric Idle's sense of comedy and Mike Nichols' sense of comedy. And I don't think the show would have the legs it has without that particular dynamic. No one other – overpowers the other. Mike's a big, big presence with us constantly—and I think about him all the time—and almost always it's about his core note, which is, you know, you have got bring heart to this, you have to tell the truth even though it's an extreme truth, and his big, big thing, which is hard to hear as an actor but really important, which is you are not funny; the material is funny. And that's low. I mean, you know, egos and actors, we tend to have them. So that's a hard thing to take to heart and yet, intellectually, I know he's absolutely right.

CAVANAUGH: And it's been wonderful to hear this lead actor in this production of "Spamalot" talk to us through you about this but I think that we actually haven't asked you whether you liked it.

ACCOMANDO: I did like it a lot. It was a lot of fun. I think it did take a lot of what was funny in Python and make it work on the stage. And actually what was – I was actually impressed with was the set design, too. The set actually plays into a lot of the gags and I would say that the killer rabbit and the catapulted cow alone were probably worth the price of admission. Yeah, the killer rabbit on his own, I think, was phenomenal. So – But it's a lot of the silliness that is Python. It's not exactly Monty Python, it's Monty Python – it's like a sixth of Monty Python. It's taking Eric Idle's version of how he sees Python and patching it together. Kind of like Spam, you know, it's that compressed meat and, you know, you take a lot of different parts and put them all together and come up with something new.

CAVANAUGH: And I was interested in your blog. You said, you know, some of – some of the people in the audience that you were in were so familiar with the gags that they were sort of laughing just at the set-up.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, they were so primed to laugh. People were laughing as the overture played, just anticipating. As soon as they show you the stage and it's got the battlements that you know the French are going to – the snooty French are going to come out on, people were laughing and you could see people mouthing the lines along with it. I mean, I joked with one of the actors, I said have – has anybody ever forgotten a line and looked to the audience to get the line fed to them? And he laughed, he says, no but, you know, they definitely could give us any of our lines.

CAVANAUGH: Well just to wrap up, you know, obviously "Spamalot" is going to be a hit with people who already love Monty Python but if perhaps, you know, you're not really familiar with it, maybe "Spamalot" is over your head because – Where should – would you suggest people begin to really get what Monty Python is all about?

ACCOMANDO: Well, "Holy Grail" is a great film. It's really enjoyable. So I would suggest starting with that or just grab any episode of "Flying Circus" because it's such a diverse collection of skits usually that you can get a sampling of maybe there's a little bit of musical bit, a verbal comedy, a sight gag, a bit of Terry Gilliam's animation, so I would say either start with one of those.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for coming in and…

ACCOMANDO: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …telling us about it. Beth Accomando is the KPBS film critic and author of the KPBS film blog, Cinema Junkie. And I want everyone to know that "Spamalot" is currently on stage at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, September 13th. And there's more of that interview with Christopher Gurr on Cinema Junkie blog at KPBS.org. We're going out with a song from "Spamalot," originally from "Life of Brian," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." And we'll be back in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

(audio clip from "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life")

# # #

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Avatar for user 'scott_farrell1'

scott_farrell1 | September 10, 2009 at 4:44 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Don't forget to listen to Christopher Gurr's interview on the Chivalry Today Podcast, which is produced right here in San Diego. (www.ChivalryToday.com) It'll give you a whole new perspective of Spamalot!

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