Harvard Business Review interviews John Cleese

This struck me as a meeting of opposites, the Ministry of Silly Walks meets the straight-laced Harvard Business Review. But I did enjoy it, this bit in particular:

Q: As a scripted comedian, what do you think about the rise of improv?

A: The delights of improv have always rather escaped me. I don’t know why it’s considered a major art form. I don’t mean that it’s not interesting or skillful. But over the years all the comedians that I’ve respected—I could also say all the comic writers—are people who put words down on paper and went on working on them until they felt they couldn’t improve them anymore. That seems to me the most important and interesting part of comedy. The other is sort of a party trick, which I respect, but it doesn’t seem to me that it should be regarded at the same level. I got an Oscar nomination for the script of A Fish Called Wanda, which had been through 13 drafts, and by the end of it, I really felt I had brought it all together. That is not a feeling I have with improv. They don’t really build to any kind of dramatic climax or comedic climax.

Fascinating guy.

  • There is nothing unusual about a business review talking to Mr. Cleese. He is a business man himself – through and through (in the best sense). And he is spot on. When you do your job properly, you don’t take chances.

  • Moeskido

    HBR gives me the impression of institutionalized thinking that tries to pass itself off as something other than that. Their article in which a consultant suggested treating creatives as moody, easily-placated children was particularly instructive, although not as intended.

  • sleepcountry

    These guys are from Harvard and yet they still throw up a full-page, content-obscuring “DO YOU WANT THE MOBILE APP” banner.

    Facepalms for all.

  • Nick

    Love him but what bull…has he not seen “Waiting for Guffman,” “A Mighty Wind,” “Best in Show,” or any other of brilliant director Christopher Guest’s work? Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard etc. are doing way more than a “parlor trick,” they’re comedic geniuses. What an incredibly ignorant statement.

    • they still had scripts, even when ad libbing it.. ala Curb Your Enthusiasm. and they work based on the strength of the actors, but in no small part due to the solid foundation of….writing. the writing comes first.

      improve sans writing is indeed a parlor trick, the sort at local comedy shows or Whose Line Is It Anyway.

      • Nick

        Ummmm….I worked on all of Chris’ movies. No scripts, sorry. Not one word. Wonder where you came up with that.